In Defense of Gwen Ifill

The conservative blogosphere gave us a preview today of what tomorrow’s post-debate talking points and spin will sound like. The short version: It’s Gwen Ifill’s fault.

The problem, apparently, is a “pro-Obama” book she plans on releasing on Inauguration Day that led Matt Drudge and other bloggers to question her objectivity as the moderator of tomorrow’s VP debate.

I skeptically use quotations because the book is about how the black political structure of the civil rights movement is giving way to men and women who have benefited from the struggles over racial equality. That trend has been observed by many scholars in the last year and isn’t exactly a sign of political bias. The title, “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” might raise some eyebrows. But honestly, how can you write a serious book about changes in the black political structure without making Obama the central focus?

Ultimately, this has nothing to do with the book. It’s a continuation of the right wing’s war on the media. They’ve seen the Couric interviews and they’re worried about Palin’s performance in the debate. And they’re once again going after media bogeymen (and women) to 1) intimidate Ifill (and others) into taking it easy on Palin, and 2) set up an excuse in case she performs poorly.

Sorry, but you’ve cried wolf one too many times this campaign season for that to work.

McCain, to his credit, has said he has confidence that Ifill will do a professional job and hasn’t called for her to step aside.

But as I said above, this isn’t about getting a different moderator (they think the entire press is liberal, so where would they find one except from Fox News?). It’s about intimidation and scapegoating. Nate Silver and Andrew Sullivan think Obama should call the bluff and ask Ifill to step aside. Both candidates have been preparing for Ifill’s style, and Biden will be better able to adjust to a new moderator, the reasoning goes.

But I agree with Marc Ambinder: Republicans have perfected the art of “playing the refs,” and the press shouldn’t cave in to unsubstantiated bullying.

The people who are going to use the Ifill excuse for Palin’s performance aren’t going to suddenly admit that she’s unqualified if she makes the same mistakes with another moderator. They’ll just look for another excuse.


  • T-Steel

    But it doesn’t now. “The Fix” talk started before I posted about this topic today. In Election ’08, you can’t have a person writing a book about a candidate and write a nice but fluffy piece about the Obamas in a magazine moderate a debate. That is the way it is. I don’t like it but that’s the way it goes. Jim Lehrer should moderate the debate.

  • JSpencer

    In an earlier post I suggested that while I have much respect for Gwen Ifill, perhaps another choice might have been better. I’ve had time to think about this since, and have decided my comment was premature, and gave the opinions of her critics undeserved credit. In review I see very little in Ifill’s career to suggest she would act as anything but a fair and impartial moderator. Here’s another general link about the “issue”.

    I agree with Elyas, this is really little more than a continuation of the right wing’s war on the media. Enough is enough. Ifill will do a fine job of moderation tomorrow, of this I have no doubt.

  • GreenDreams

    As I pointed out on that previous post, Ifill didn’t write the questions and both candidates answer the same question. How, exactly, is Ifill supposedly going to bully the shrinking violet pitbull barracuda?

  • Davebo

    When you’re worried you haven’t done enough to promote the infamous “soft bigotry of low expectations” you have to bring something else, anything else to the table.

    Desperation folks, pure and simple.

  • Ricorun

    Apparently both McCain and Palin are okay with Ifil. They’re on video saying it. So I think that could complicate things if the wingnuts go after her too hard — not that they won’t try if the wheels fly off Palin’s caboose, of course.

  • elrod

    What a joke. The right is terrified that Palin will do poorly so they’re trying to discredit the moderator. Whatever.

    You know, Tom Brokaw has some particularly nice things about John McCain and some not-so-nice things about MSNBC’s pro-Obama coverage. Does that mean he should not moderate the later debate? Some on the left think so. I think that’s baloney.

    Unless they act like idiots during the debate there should be no issue about it.

  • DdW

    After seeing the latest Curic interview with Palin (on the Supreme Court decisions), I don’t think having Rush Limbaugh as the moderator tomorrow night would help Sarah Palin.

  • DdW


  • kritt11

    I guess I could see that argument having validity if Ifill had previously revealed bias in her professional life— or if Palin had not bombed in other venues.

    McCain himself said that Ifill was a fine choice for moderator.

  • T-Steel

    We will see. Hopefully Ifill doesn’t become the talked about issue. If she doesn’t, I will post an apology on TMV for doubting her.

  • CharlieC

    I just heard on TV that Gwen Ifill will make a Min.$350,000 if obama loses, the sky is the limit if Obama wins.. Seems the book is the moderators motivator. We all know how money can influence people,

  • hrtshpdbox

    Gwen Ifill’s book will sell far more copies if Obama wins; that is clearly a conflict of interest. She didn’t inform the debate commission about her upcoming book, and that is simply wrong. Those who point out that there would have been howls of Democrat outrage if a journalist with an upcoming book called “The Age of McCain” was selected to moderate a debate are absolutely correct. This is just one more example of the type of double standard we see in this election.

  • SeanFromNY

    Before I even heard about this book I noticed a bias last week on NewsHour. When doing the candidate profiles she put different spins on the introduction. With McCain she said “now a profile on how McCain makes decisions” then the following day she said “now Obama as a leader”. I was disappointed to say the least.

    She is definitely not impartial as a journalist….

  • kritt11

    Oh, Brother….

  • mikegimmi

    Look, avoiding potential conflicts of interest protects everyone. I believe with all my heart that Gwen Ifill can and will be objective during this debate. It’s not the point.

    The point is that by writing a book that positively analyzes, at least partially, Barack Obama’s candidacy, it automatically creates excuses, both for Palin’s supporters and Palin’s antagonists. As a thirty-year veteran, Ms. Ifill knows very well the dangers of appearing (emphasis on appearing) anything less than objective.

    Clearly what happened, in my opinion, is that Ms. Ifill moderated the debate in 2004 and therefore the Commission felt she didn’t need to be vetted a second time. On the other hand, at any point before yesterday (emphasis on yesterday) Ms. Ifill could have let them know that she was writing the book. Again, it is clear to me that she didn’t because they would probably have removed her to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

    I’m a registered Democrat and I believe this whole situation could easily have been rectified without incident months ago. All this is going to do is set up a month of conservative whining — especially if Palin loses the debate — and a month of self-righteous liberal responses. How is this good for the election?

  • AaronFromLouisiana

    “Right Wing war on Media” The “Right Wing” is opposed to the “Media” because the main stream media leans to…, no not leans, they are in bed with the left.

    If “the Media” was in the middle and not choosing sides there would be no war on the leftist, democrat, socialist media.

    Say good bye to the USA, it will soon be renamed USSA: United Socialist States of America, unless you stop it.

  • Jim_Satterfield

    The book is not about Obama. Read the title carefully and find a decent summary of it. Secondly, never assume that the author came up with the title, be it non-fiction or fiction. In fact the section on Obama isn’t even written yet.

  • FlaLady

    Stop it. You’re sending a thrill up my leg. There’s no journalistic bias here.

  • mikegimmi

    It doesn’t matter if Sen. Obama takes up 1% or 100% of Ms. Ifill’s book. Conflicts are created all the time by innocent means, but they are still conflicts.

    1) She hasn’t written the section on Obama because she’s waiting until after Election Day. Of course, the whole scope of her book would hinge on whether he won or lost.

    2) Sure, she probably didn’t write any of the marketing copy of her book. Even if the summary was written by an overzealous marketer looking to capitalize on pro-Obama sentiment with no connection to Ms. Ifill, it still creates the appearance of impropriety, even if it’s only an illusion. On the other hand, I don’t see her clamoring to change the title or any other part of the display copy.

    3) I absolutely cannot see why Ms. Ifill would not have foreseen that the book would be a contentious enough issue that she’d have to clear it with the CPD. Note what I’m saying here: She has the right to publish anything she wants, and many people (including me) will buy the book whether or not Obama wins.

    But if you’ve given your word to a nonpartisan commission that you will moderate a debate between candidates of two rival political parties, do you then decide to write a book that discusses only one of those candidates (whether positive or negative), and then not advise the commission that you’re writing it?

  • CharlieC

    All you people are doing is giving the book free advertisement. Ifill is not dumb she is using all of us !!

  • GreenDreams

    Still no comment I see on the smear-killer here. Ifill didn’t write the questions and both candidates get the same questions. How exactly is she supposed to act out her “bias”?

    BTW, about Ifill not “telling them” that she was writing the book. It was announced to the public in July.