Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gwen Ifill becomes the story

PBS journalist Gwen Ifill will moderate Thursday night’s debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin... an event to which the entire English-speaking world will pay attention.

But Ms. Ifill today found herself on the hot seat.

Pro-McCain opinionators such as Michelle Malkin and Dick Morris accused Ifill of having a conflict of interest... because of her upcoming book, “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.”

I agree with them.

Not that I question Gwen Ifill’s professional integrity. Surely she will perform her debate duties without bias or favor. But, obviously, more people will buy Ifill’s book (which comes out in January) if Barack Obama is elected president. She has a financial stake in the outcome of this race.

For that reason alone, Gwen Ifill shouldn’t be moderating a debate this go-round.

But it’s too late now. The McCain campaign approved of her weeks ago. And the title of Ifill’s book has been publicly known since July. If McCain staffers didn’t know about the book, then they’re incompetent.

Team McCain isn’t asking for Ifill to be replaced. But it seems that they are spinning the media to put subtle pressure on her. If Ifill is too rough with Palin, or is perceived as tricky or snarky, she’ll be attacked as “in the tank” for Obama.

Or maybe McCain is simply laying out a ready-made excuse in case Sarah Palin performs poorly tomorrow. “The deck was stacked against her from the beginning.” It’s all in the game.

Below is a 3-minute promo video from Doubleday Publishing, in which Ms. Ifill discusses her book. It has been up on YouTube (and other video websites) for two weeks.


Joe Crawford (artlung) said...

Interesting points and I think I agree about the disqualification. I also the McCain campaign is showing us that a McCain administration will be shoot from the hip and not very detail oriented.

My current worry is that expectations for Palin's performance in the debate have dropped so much -- she apparently can't name a magazine she's read, a newspaper she's read, or a Supreme Court Decision she takes issue with -- that any kind of non-shoddy performance will end up looking like a win.

This article in particular has me wondering: What it's like to debate Sarah Palin.

Regina said...

If the McCain camp is just now getting around to making noise about this(when the book news has been around for a while), then shouldn't we be worried about their ability to run an entire country??

neptune said...

Apparently Ifill has an easy out if she wanted to recuse herself because she broke her ankle recently. At the very least she needs to make some kind of disclaimer. I wonder if she's specifically being used--via backdoor dealings with her publisher--as a ready-made excuse for Palin's possible poor performance.

eclectique916 said...

All points taken here. The book news is old news that the McCain campaign should've caught earlier before signing off. Or are they being sexist against Gwen Ifill? I'm being sarcastic of course. But she is a woman and the only woman moderating a debate. Don't women stick together too? Or do women tear each other apart? You just don't know about these women? (Smile) Gwen broke her ankle on her birthday while researching for the debate. Will that earn her a pitty point. But Black women are supposed to be strong if they're woman enough, but never a lady. If Palin is a success, Gwen's not the problem; if Palin out does her Katie Couric interview, then Gwen's the focus and easy out. Or they could just suspend the campaign again and rush to DC to deal with the fiscal crisis.

maria said...

having watched many, many debates i do not believe ifill will have much impact.

i mean, look at how lehrer was...nearly invisible.

she's not going to throw the debate to get obama elected. isn't her book just about politics? it's not a pro-obama book.

who would be considered fair? someone who's never written about either candidate or politics or what? and that person would be who...?

mcCain is...again...grasping at straws.

i also disagree: my expectations for both candidates are extremely high.

she might confirm she's an idiot but that's the purpose of the debate. she's got to prove the impossible: that she's qualified.

short of a little wire in her ear and box on her back she's not going to do it.

that dude said...

Black folks have succeeded in situations where the deck was stacked against them many, many times. Let some white folks sweat it out for a change.

jjbrock said...

UBM I don't think Gwen should step aside because, the book is not even finished and who can say without reading the book if she can be fair or not.

Gwen's book is about black politics. Don't you think it would be stupid for her too omitted Barack Obama despite what her own personal leanings are?

Why didn't they attack her resume and her race? because that would be to oblivious so let's attack the book deal. Please! Maybe they heard that most Black Women don't care for Palin (except for Sherri of the View).

Gwen was chosen to be the moderator way before, we even knew who the VP was so, no way should she give into this foolishness. Stand strong Gwen!

makheru bradley said...

I think McCain is looking for a scapegoat in the event Palin implodes.

James C. Collier said...

Ifill's reputation and history indicates that she'll be fair. But what is still a conflict is the book release date, inauguration day 2009. The publisher is putting her in the position of gaining financially if Obama wins, and that just ain't kosher. They need to change the date, IMHO.

Thembi said...

So it sounds like what you're implying is that the McCain camp didn't fully vet Iphill? Imagine that...

Francisco said...

I like Gwen but I have to agree with UBM here, it just adds another confounding element and an excuse for the GOP to pretend there was any bias, even if there isn't any because Gwen Ifill will be fair.

Paging Elvis Mitchell!!

Mes Deux Cents said...


I really hope that Gwen will pull-out of the debate. I really want to enjoy Palin falling on her face without the Rove run McCain campaign having an excuse on Friday morning.

eeaster said...

Silly reasoning y'all.

Whether Obama wins or not, his role as a change agent vis a vis black politics has already happened. The premise of the book as described is not significantly enhanced by a victory because the premise is already proven.

If Obama wins, Obama retrospectives - especially photo books - are what will sell. That kind of "inside politics" book that Gwen wrote has a finite DC-NY corridor audience. It will make for a nice book party, show up on the NYT for a week or two and disappear, just like the rest of those inside books -- with the exception of Woodward's stuff.

The reverse is true, she gains most financially from the massive visibility/name recognition with a a debate so watched, and from being as fair as possible.

bklyn6 said...

Apparently Ifill has an easy out if she wanted to recuse herself because she broke her ankle recently.

Hmmm.... Sounds like a Tanya Harding move right there.

phx said...

In agreeance with UBM. I love Gwen and I have no doubt she can be fair, but it's still a conflict of interest and she should have recused herself. Did the sponsors of the debate know about the book? Yeah, the McCain people should have known, but more important Gwen should have protected her own reputation for integrity by letting everyone know up front. It's too bad.

destruction said...


I'd be more inclined to buy a book with "Politics and Race" in its title....if Obama lost. What other reason could there be for him losing?


"Gwen should have protected her own reputation for integrity by letting everyone know up front. It's too bad."

You're assuming that McCain's people didn't know something that was not a secret and that there's something in the book that hurts her reputation for integrity. Could you pls explain why they didn't know and what the reputation tidbit is?

phx said...

I don't know why the McCain people didn't know; all I heard was that they DIDN'T know. I doubt that there's anything in the book itself that hurts her reputation for integrity.
What I think hurts her REPUTATION for integrity - regardless of how much integrity she has, and I always believed she had a lot - is that she didn't offer to remove herself from the debate b/c of a possible conflict of interest.
That said, I thought she did a great job moderating the debate.

destruction said...


I didn't believe them...and here's one reason why: