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.