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April 15, 2010

Gwen Ifill: The Scars

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Last week a noted Public Broadcasting host spoke at Gettysburg College for about 25 minutes from prepared remarks and then took 16 questions from the audience for another half-an-hour on everything from her thoughts on the “Tea Party” movement, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, to the national debt.


Gwen Ifill observed that it is getting harder and harder to give presentations and answer questions for a person in her position, because there is always someone in the audience ready to record a misstep.


She emphasized that at Washington Week and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, we assume that you can decide what you think. That “all we need to do is to provide you with the information and the tools to think with…


“We assume that we are not ever going to be confused with cable television. We hope that you never know our opinion…”


Ms. Ifill quickly shared that depending on what you read about what has been written about me, I am either in the hip pocket of Barack Obama or Sarah Palin.


“I am not a pundit. I will not tell you what I think,” said Ms. Ifill.


Over the years, I have found that I have differed with Ms. Ifill’s approach to political matters, but I have always found in her a first-rate mind and I have always gotten value from reading and watching her.


Although I must admit I often listen and watch PBS and National Public Radio to gain insights into the left-leaning point of view.


Perhaps this is best understood in the context that Ms. Ifill was the moderator for the vice presidential debates during the presidential elections in 2004 and 2008.


It was in the preceding weeks before the much anticipated debate between then-Senator Joe Biden (D) and then-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin (R) in the fall of 2008 for which Ms. Ifill was the object of stinging criticism because she was in the throes of writing her book about the breakthrough politics of African-American leaders in the “Age of Obama.”


In the end, if Ms. Ifill did have predispositions about the value of either candidate, she successfully kept them concealed during the debate and conducted herself with a well-informed dignity, class and consummate impartiality in spite of her journalistic lapse at the 2008 Republican National Convention when she was so dismissively damned Governor Palin’s speech with faint and anguished praise. (Watch it here:


The story, as it was, blew over quickly. That is, it blew over for everyone except Ms. Ifill, who seems to have not forgotten the slings and arrows of bitter partisanship that clearly raised its head high which she unfortunately obliquely implied that her critics are racists.


It was yet another scar which she wore prominently, if not unnecessarily, on her sleeve throughout her talk.


However, the situational ethics of the elite media are often bewildering. Can you only imagine the reaction if the moderator of the event was in the midst of writing a book that surveyed “the American political landscape, shedding new light on the impact of Sarah Palin’s stunning vice-presidential campaign and introducing the emerging young female politicians forging a bold new path to political power.


“Drawing on interviews with power brokers like Rep. Michele Bachmann, Condoleezza Rice, Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Kay Bailey Hutchison, and many others, as well as her own razor-sharp observations and analysis of such issues as generational conflict and the female conundrum, Ifill shows why this is a pivotal moment in American history.”


Yeah right…


Later in her presentation, she played inside baseball to address other slights to conservative candidates for which she has, in the past been criticized, by making light of the examples.


Such as in the 2004 vice presidential debate, which she moderated, when according to old notes “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 Mr. 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.”


The fifth-child of an African Methodist Episcopal minister, both her parents are immigrants to the U.S. from Panama and Barbados.


This may account for both her relentless drive to excel and her admirable work ethic which caused one person to question her later in the Q and A segment, “How many hours do you sleep?”


Her commentary about the rewards of pursuing a career in journalism certainly demonstrated to any budding young college student that it is worth the difficulty.


“Politics has got to be about something more than people yelling at each other…  It’s got to be about something that affects people’s lives…”


Her words about being a journalist in today’s chaotic milieu were insightful and illuminating and flavored with a delightful sense of humor and clever wit.


If only she had emphasized more about the mechanics of good journalism and the rewards of wisely placed patience and the persistence of endeavor that have gained her such success.


“Never take “no” for an answer,” said Ms. Ifill. “No career worth having wasn’t worth fighting for…”


Many can identify and be inspired with her remark that all too often that to be black or a woman, being underestimated is the daily price of admission. That she was able to get past the stereotype that to be a woman and a leader is not mutually exclusive.


Ms. Ifill shared that it was her passion to search for justice and truth, which are not incompatible with journalism and are, in fact, what attracted her to journalism.


Wherein lies the rub, who determines what is the truth and what is justice?


More tomorrow!


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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