The Gwen Ifill non-issue issue

The day before the Joe Biden – Sarah Palin debate, the story broke that Gwen Ifill, the vice presidential debate moderator, is biased towards Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.  This must mean, after all, that Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin will not receive fair questions from Ifill.

This is what the Republicans are claiming.  Former Republican Congressman John Hostettler from Indiana has called for Ifill to step aside. 

Greta Van Susteren from Fox News claims to have broken this story to the McCain campaign.  They claim that they were unaware of Ifill’s book.  

GretaWire (Van Susteren’s blog) asked 2 questions from her ‘What do YOU think?’ post. 

To clean up some confusion…the Gwen Ifill moderator issue is simply this set of questions:

1/ will Gwen Ifill’s book sell better if Senator Obama wins? if the answer is that it won’t make a difference in sales, then her bias should not be questioned. If yes, then it should be.

2/ the book apparently has only a few pages about Senator Obama..then why is HIS name on the cover in the title? coincidence? or as a specific marketing tool to sell more books (i.e. make more money?)

I think these questions are fair.  Is Van Susteren suggesting that a professional journalist can not put aside personal opinion in order to fairly moderate a debate?  Was she offended when George Stephanopoulos asked Barack Obama about William Ayers and Weather Underground in the Democratic Primary?  The question was given to Stephanopoulos by Sean Hannity who we all know loves Obama.  And let’s not forget that Stephanopoulos was the communications director in the Bill Clinton administration and Hillary Clinton was in this debate where Stephanopoulos asked a clearly biased question.  If I recall, Greta was quiet after that debate nor did she state any objections prior to the debate about Stephanopoulos’s selection as moderator.

On Inauguration Day 2009, Ifill’s book ‘The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama’ will be released.  It was announced in July.  Here is the synopsis of the book from Amazon.

In THE BREAKTHROUGH, veteran journalist Gwen Ifill surveys the American political landscape, shedding new light on the impact of Barack Obama’s stunning presidential campaign and introducing the emerging young African American politicians forging a bold new path to political power.

Ifill argues that the Black political structure formed during the Civil Rights movement is giving way to a generation of men and women who are the direct beneficiaries of the struggles of the 1960s. She offers incisive, detailed profiles of such prominent leaders as Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and U.S. Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama, and also covers up-and-coming figures from across the nation. Drawing on interviews with power brokers like Senator Obama, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vernon Jordan, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and many others, as well as her own razor-sharp observations and analysis of such issues as generational conflict and the “black enough” conundrum, Ifill shows why this is a pivotal moment in American history.

THE BREAKTHROUGH is a remarkable look at contemporary politics and an essential foundation for understanding the future of American democracy.

Sounds pretty biased to me. 

Last second responses of feign outrage by the right:

Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin wrote in yesterday’s New York Post:  “she’s so far in the tank for the Democratic presidential candidate, her oxygen delivery line is running out.”

Greta Van Susteren:   “In law, this would create a mistrial.”

Former Florida Republican congressman Joe Scarborough who currently hosts Morning Joe on MSNBC stated:  “Let’s get real here. What would journalists say if in 2004 Jim Lehrer wrote a book called ‘Breakthrough, the age of Bush?’ ”

Joe, I refer you to my comment above about Stephanopoulos.

But not all on the right were critical:

John Weaver, former advisor to John McCain:  All of this hand-wringing, excuse-making and whining keeps McCain’s economic recovery plan away from the public.  Gwen Ifill is as honorable and fair a journalist as there is, and all of us in our business know that.”

John McCain told Fox News that Miss Ifill is “a professional” and said he thought “she will do a completely objective job.”

Sarah Palin said, “I’m not going to let it be a concern.”

Gwen Ifill:  “I have to let people judge me by my work.”

*  *  *  *  *

The Timeline:

July 23rd: The Washington Post published an article about the book’s release.  This story was picked up in hundreds of newspapers nationwide including the conservative Washington Times.

August 21st:  Ifill wrote an article for Time Magazine discussing her book.

August 21st:  The Obama and McCain campaigns have agreed to terms on the moderators for the debates.

August 29th:  Sarah Palin is selected as John McCain’s running mate.

Mid September:  An article appeared in The Washington Post discussed Ifill’s book and her role as vice presidential debate moderator.

October 1st:  Feign outrage by the right as they appear stunned that Ifill has a ‘pro-Obama’ book coming out.

*  *  *  *  *

So, this begs the question:  Has Ifill ever been accused of partiality?   Is there any evidence that she has bias?

Did Chris Wallace treat former President Bill Clinton with the same respect that he had Republican politicians?  Did Bill O’Reilly treat Barack Obama with the same respect as his Republican interviews?  Once again, was George Stephanapolous and Charles Gibson unbiased toward Obama? 

Some believe that this is yet another ploy by the Republicans to further lower the bar.  By calling the moderator biased, they are hoping that Ifill thinks twice before asking any tough questions.  It also gives them yet another claim of gotcha journalism. 

I think this is an embarrassment to the campaign.  If this really is an issue AND the McCain campaign didn’t know about the book until Greta told them, then this is not a campaign that should get anywhere near the White House.  It proves that they impulsively selected Palin without vetting her.  It proves that everything he and his campaign have done over the last 2 weeks has been impulsive. 

Gwen Ifill’s response sums it up perfectly.

“I’ve got a pretty long track record covering politics and news, so I’m not particularly worried that one-day blog chatter is going to destroy my reputation.  The proof is in the pudding. They can watch the debate tomorrow night and make their own decisions about whether or not I’ve done my job.”




11 responses to “The Gwen Ifill non-issue issue

  1. It is obvious that Ifill’s book will make her a lot more money if Obama is elected than if he isn’t – especially with her getting all the free publicity of moderating the VP debate. This creates a clear conflict of interest that “In law, this would create a mistrial.”

    For the sake of avoiding the appearance of impropriety and bias, Ifill should have recused herself from the selection process for moderator of the debate.

    As it stands now the debates have been poisoned by Ifill’s inclusion as moderator. If she asks hard questions of Palin or avoid any questioning that might hit Palin’s strong points or Biden’s weak points, the Republicans claim bias. If Ifill fails to do these things, the Democrats will claim she overcompensated and gave Palin a “free pass.”

    There is one clear point to me. The losers of this debate are Ifll, who will be seen as compromised by half the country no matter what she does and the American voters, who will have to parse the moderator as well as the debaters.

  2. Jonolan,
    Your comments make sense and seem logical – but they aren’t consistent.

    Where were you when ABC had their Hillary-fest during the primaries and Stephanopoulos was clearly impartial? George after all was part of the Clinton administration.

    Where were you 2 months ago when Ifill was selected as moderator and her book was already announced. The Washington Times had published a story about Ifill and mentioned both the debate and her book?

    It’s a little convenient that Greta and the right come out the day before the debate in order to deflect attention away from Palin’s pre-debate flaws and McCain’s falling poll numbers.

    By the way, nice job running down the talking points.

  3. Two months ago the release date of the book hadn’t been announced – at least not anywhere where I would have seen it, so I couldn’t comment. That information seems to have been made public 5 days ago. Frankly, I wasn’t that concerned over the whole thing at all until it went public and I realized that Ifill had a CLEAR conflict of interest due to the combination of her book’s subject matter and the timing of its release.

    Of course all of this is moot. The debate will happen with Ifill as the moderator and it’s doubtful that anyone will believe that she’s impartial – for one reason or the other.

  4. Fair enough.

    My argument is that for whatever reason, there will always be questions of bias in debates and interviews.
    Everything has become a ‘Gotcha’ moment.
    For example, the media loves their deregulation so when either Kucinich or Edwards (I can’t recall off hand) said that they would regulate the media, their coverage quickly was reduced.

    I can say that I have seen Ifill before and I never saw any bias in her work. She’s always been extremely objective.

  5. Fair enough 🙂

    I’m really only upset because this was a “gotcha moment” that could have easily been avoided. Ifill has always seemed very intelligent and objective in her coverage of people and events and to see her fail to recognize the problem of her moderating the debates is a harsh disappointment and very little is worse than when someone we respect disappoints us.

  6. Agreed.

    She said that the publisher selected the publication date for the book and of course that’s what they do.

    I just believe that the good journalists can perform in an unbiased way and sadly there aren’t too many around today.

  7. Choose the good candidate
    Just saw the debate, she has been well prepared it seems.

    But you have to remember thant a VP job is more than a well polished debate…

    Check out what she’ve said and see if you’re compatible

  8. Palin seemed more like a pageant contestant than a debater. She still talked in circles and generalities.

    She did better than she did in the Couric interviews but that wasn’t hard to do.

    McCain was ridiculous in choosing her. Plus, she’s now acting like Cheney. And McCain said this week he always aspires to be a dictator.

    Biden was right: they are Bush/Cheney.

    He won the debate hands down.

  9. Got another gotcha for ya…did you see the article earlier this week from Tom Brokaw about his friendship with McCain and all of that. And he is the moderator for this weeks debate. So should he step down since he is so obviously in the tank for McCain and not Obama??

    He makes no bones about his GOP leanings anytime he talks or interviews anyone. I hate watching MTP anymore. And they are talking of putting David Gregory on there after the election. That would be just as bad. I can’t believe they would replace someone as fair as Tim Russert with someone like that.
    Just my opinion.

  10. Didn’t the GOP continually tell us that Brokaw was part of the ‘liberal media?’
    Brian Williams hosted MTP one week and it was horrible.

    I liked Gregory until I saw him dance with Rove. Ever since then, he seemed more partisan.

    I actually think Gwen Ifill would be good on MTP.

  11. Here are some of the quotes that back up my reasoning for what I said. He states while they are not “personal friends they are friendly” whatever that means….lol The McCain campaign was going to refuse the debate with NBC as moderators until they said Brokaw would be moderator then said they would do it. So evidently there is something there. I am just saying that there is enough smoke on this as there is on the Gwen Ifill story about a chapter of a book she hasn’t even written yet. A book that isn’t even about Obama but about AA politics in general. She just calls in in the Age of Obama because he is the central figure right now. It is a catchy title. Yep it will sell really well if he is elected or not. Just because he is running and has gotten as far as he has will make it worth a lot more. Try going to the library or a book store and find one of his books, you can’t hardly find one on the shelves. That should tell you a lot. And the same can probably be said about McCain’s books. But by the same token if she had titled it In the age of Jesse Jackson would anyone buy it???

    Brokaw said he has also conducted some “shuttle diplomacy in recent weeks” between NBC and the McCain campaign. Last week during the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, Mr. Brokaw said, he spoke briefly with Mr. McCain, who has not appeared on “Meet the Press” since Mr. Russert’s death. While Mr. Brokaw said he and the Republican nominee are not personal friends, he did say they are “friendly” and “always had a great relationship.”
    Mr. Brokaw said that over the summer he had “advocated” within the executive suite of NBC News to modify the anchor duties of the MSNBC hosts Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews on election night and on nights when there were presidential debates. Their expressions of strong political opinions from the MSNBC anchor desk has run counter to the more traditional role Mr. Brokaw played on “NBC Nightly News” for more than two decades. NBC said earlier this month that the two hosts would mostly relinquish their anchor duties to Mr. Gregory, while being present as analysts.