The moderator of tomorrow’s vice-presidential debate is writing a book to come out on the day the next president takes the oath of office that aims to “shed new light” on Democratic candidate Barack Obama and other “emerging young African American politicians” who are “forging a bold new path to political power.”
Gwen Ifill of the Public Broadcasting Service program “Washington Week” is promoting “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” in which she argues 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.
Ifill declined to return a WND telephone message asking for a comment about her book project and whether its success would be expected should Obama lose. But she has faced criticism previously for not treating candidates of both major parties the same.
During a vice-presidential candidate debate she moderated in 2004 – when Democrat John Edwards attacked Republican Dick Cheney’s former employer, Halliburton – the vice president said, “I can respond, Gwen, but it’s going to take more than 30 seconds.”
“Well, that’s all you’ve got,” she told Cheney.
Ifill told the Associated Press Democrats were delighted with her answer, because they “thought I was being snippy to Cheney.” She explained that wasn’t her intent.
But she also was cited in complaints PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler said he received after Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin delivered her nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., earlier this month.
Some viewers complained of a “dismissive” look by Ifill during her report on Palin’s speech. According to Getler, some also said she wore a look of “disgust” while reporting on the Republican candidate.
At that time she said, “I assume there will always be critics and just shut out the noise. It is surprisingly easy.”
A clip of Ifill’s coverage of Palin can be seen here:
PBS viewer Brian Meyers of Granby, Conn., said he was “appalled” by Ifill’s commentary directly following Palin’s convention speech.
“Her attitude was dismissive and the look on her face was one of disgust,” Meyers said. “Clearly, she was agitated by what most critics view as a well-delivered speech. It is quite obvious that Ms. Ifill supports Obama as she struggled to say anything redemptive about Gov. Palin’s performance.”
Columnist Michelle Malkin, in a post on her blog today, wonders how Ifill can objectively moderate the debate tomorrow night with the personal interest she has in the election’s outcome.
“My dictionary defines ‘moderator’ as ‘the nonpartisan presiding officer of a town meeting.’ On Thursday, PBS anchor Gwen Ifill will serve as moderator for the first and only vice presidential debate. The stakes are high. The Commission on Presidential Debates, with the assent of the two campaigns, decided not to impose any guidelines on her duties or questions.
“But there is nothing ‘moderate’ about where Ifill stands on Barack Obama. She’s so far in the tank for the Democrat presidential candidate, her oxygen delivery line is running out,” Malkin writes.
“Ifill and her publisher are banking on an Obama/Biden win to buoy her book sales. The moderator expected to treat both sides fairly has grandiosely declared this the ‘Age of Obama.’ Can you imagine a right-leaning journalist writing a book about the ‘stunning’ McCain campaign and its ‘bold’ path to reform timed for release on Inauguration Day – and then expecting a slot as a moderator for the nation’s sole vice presidential debate?”
Malkin cited Ifill’s previous reporting on Obama for “Essence” magazine, an article titled, “The Obamas: Portrait of an American Family.” Ifill’s “neutral analysis” about Michelle Obama, Malkin said with irony, was, “A lot of people have never seen anything that looks like a Michelle Obama before. She’s educated, she’s beautiful, she’s tall, she tells you what she thinks and they hope that she can tell a story about Barack Obama and about herself. …”
Fox News commentator Greta Van Susteren reported the McCain campaign didn’t know about the book.
“It simply is not fair – in law, this would create a mistrial,” she said.
Coming to Ifill’s defense was Juan Williams, a senior correspondent with National Public Radio.
“I think Gwen has been a terrific journalist,” he told Fox News.
But Williams admitted the appearances could cause difficulties.
“She spent a lot of time with Obama. She praises him in the book,” he said. “The book’s success [is] invested in Obama. … Suddenly everyone’s going to be saying Gwen Ifill is somewhat biased against Gov. Palin.”
Ifill, who also works with her network’s “NewsHour,” told BlackAmericaWeb.com she thinks debates “are the best opportunity most voters have to see the candidates speaking to issues.”
She said she is concerned only about getting straight answers from Palin and Democratic rival Sen. Joe Biden.
“You do your best to get candidates to answer your question. But I also trust the viewers to understand when questions are not answered and reach their own conclusions,” Ifill told BlackAmericaWeb.
“Four years ago, when neither John Edwards nor Dick Cheney proved capable of answering a question about the domestic epidemic of AIDS among African-American women, viewers flooded me with reaction,” she said.
She said she will make her own decisions about what questions to ask, adding “the big questions matter.”
In the Amazon.com promotion for her book, Ifill is described as “drawing on interviews with power brokers,” such as Obama and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
In an online video promoting her book, she is enthusiastic about “taking the story of Barack Obama and extending it.”
It focuses on four people, “one of them Barack Obama of course,” she said.
“They are changing our politics and changing our nation,” she said.
On Amazon.com, Ifill is praised for her “incisive, detailed profiles of such prominent leaders as Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and U.S. Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama.”
“Ifill shows why this is a pivotal moment in American history,” the review says.
She told AP her view of Obama: “I still don’t know if he’ll be a good president. I’m still capable of looking at his pros and cons in a political sense.”
She also describes how she met him at the 2004 Democratic convention and since then has interviewed the Illinois senator and his family.
She also boasted that by the time of the debate, “I’ll be a complete expert on both” Palin and Biden.
The debate will be held at Washington University in St. Louis, which has posted information about the evening’s events online. Debate officials have made inactive their media page on the Debates website, and officials did not respond to a WND e-mail requesting a comment.
Ifill’s profile on the website describes her as a longtime correspondent and moderator for national news programs and includes her service as moderator of the 2004 debate between Edwards and Cheney.
However, there’s no mention of her upcoming book. Nor does the website for the Commission on Presidential Debates mention her book.
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