Gwen Ifill is an icon in the field of broadcast journalism. An intellectual, no one can question her qualifications and experience. When reporting or hosting her show Washington Week on PBS, Ifill always displays her breadth and depth of knowledge on every issue of the day both domestically and globally. The questions she raises in her interviews and round tables with her peers are thought-provoking. Two days before the Vice Presidential debate, Ifill fell down some stairs and broke her ankle. The dedicated professional, she arrived at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri as though nothing happened. However, as moderator of the 2008 Vice Presidential Debate with Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Joe Biden, she threw easy pitches to both candidates, in particularly to Palin.
Perhaps it was the last minute pressure by conservatives and whisperers from the McCain campaign? They complained that Ifill was in the tank for Obama because she wrote a book that was made public in July of this year called, The Breakthrough: Politics in the Age of Obama. It is hard to believe that would disturb her. A woman who shows little emotion on television except when she flashes that warm smile, it is incomprehensible that hassles from the McCain camp could influence her in any way. No, that can't possibly be the reason why Ifill allowed Governor Palin, without rebuttle, to tell Joe Biden and her to basically kiss her butt because she does not have to answer the questions posed to her the way they want it -- Dog gonnit, Palin's talkin' to the American peeps!
Ifill proved she could be more than a fair and balanced moderator, but she may have sacrificed quality follow-up questions that could have been posed to each candidate by challenging their answers when they were vague or lacked certain types of facts. Perhaps it was just the style of the debate or the laid back nature of PBS reporting, but the questions were so basic that both candidates, particularly Palin (even if she did not make complete sense), was able to have matching talking points to answer the questions. When Palin referenced Civil War General McClellan leading the war in Afghanistan when he has been dead for going on two centuries, veered off from questions about nuclear weapons use and wrongfully claimed troops had returned to "pre-surge" levels in Iraq, Ifill said nothing. When Biden made the statement that McCain would not sit down with the government of Spain, Ifill did not probe further. MSNBC's Chris Matthews called Ifill's questions "predictive."
Although all of the major polls showed she was trounced by Biden, it was Palin who controlled the debate. She walked off the stage a winner because she completely did it her way -- which by the way was not too much!
The media has received a lot of backlash this 2008 campaign season -- Former Presidential candidate Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and now the McCain campaign have complained about the biasness, sexism and preferential treatment given to Obama. Palin, feeling good about her debate performance the other night is now bold enough to say that CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric annoyed her because she did not ask the right questions. Queried on what newspapers and magazines she has read is much too harsh for her. There might be some fear among reporters and anchors about fiercely challenging candidates like Palin. There is anxiety over being labeled as Ifill was.
Perhaps Ifill's soft questioning and at times repetitive questions at the beginning and end of the debate was her way to prove to conservatives she was not playing favorites. In as much as she tried to show justice between the two candidates when lobbing questions, conservatives still gave Ifill an F for her effort. Ifill does not deserve a failing grade, but she, along with her colleagues, may want to consider the words of Edward R. Murrow. "We cannot make good news out of bad practice." For the remainder of the Presidential campaign season, Ifill and her colleagues must get back to the good practice of being tough journalists.
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