11/02/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Politics of Distraction

Tonight, Gwen Ifill will moderate the Vice-Presidential Debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. The announcement was made on August 5th, 2008, by the Presidential Commission on Debates and the moderators were approved by both campaigns.

Also previously announced was Ifill's book, "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama," which has been at the center of a political kerfuffle for the past two days. Voices on the right feel that this indicates bias in favor of Obama, even though examining a legitimate political shift in this country is a legitimate enterprise for any journalist to undertake. Ifill is black, which would probably give her some extra insight into the topic. But in this case, that insight is being taken to mean preferential treatment, and an existence of bias.

Earlier today I mused on Twitter, "If Ifill were writing about how amazing this election had been for a new generation of up-and-coming women, it would not be an issue." I think that is true. I doubt the Obama-Biden camp would have protested. That got me thinking: What if Bob Schieffer was writing a book about what our nation's distinguished seniors had to contribute to the political process? He and McCain are a year apart. What if Tom Brokaw was working on a book about a generation of war heroes, or a book about the Sixties? Oh, right: He's already done both. He wrote The Greatest Generation and then followed up with Boom! Voices of the Sixties, for which John McCain was interviewed. I don't hear anyone complaining.

This is just another distraction by the McCain campaign and the right, to take the focus off the facts and instead try to distract from them. The facts are that Sarah Palin didn't need Katie Couric to trip her up in those interviews — she did all that on her own. (The exact same Supreme Court question was asked of Joe Biden, which is about as fair as it gets.) Nevertheless, Couric is accused of asking a "gotcha" question, Charlie Gibson is accused of being patronizing, the New York Times is a pro-Obama propaganda rag, NBC is in the tank, the media is sexist, and just for good measure Tina Fey is sexist too.

As Obama might say, enough! Enough of the distractions, which is all these tactics are. Actually, as McCain might correct me, it's part of an overall strategy: To try desperately to shift the focus from a sinking campaign with absolutely no integrity. It's a campaign which is now flailing around wildly thanks to McCain making one of the most cynical decisions in modern politics: Picking a running mate based on one conversation, with no vetting and no investigation and no clue what she really knew or stood for or whether she was up for the job.

That should be the focus. What does Palin know — and when did she know it? And when did John McCain know she didn't know it, if ever? And what does that say about the kind of president he'd be? When we debate whether the NYT is liberal or Gwen Ifill is in the tank or Katie Couric was mean and nasty or whether pigs have lipstick, we are all missing the point. That is precisely what the McCain campaign wants — and what they need. Because as soon as we start talking about facts and substance, they're dead in the water.

So no, I don't think Gwen Ifill is in the tank, or should modify a single questions she had planned for tonight. She should just go forth and do her job. And McCain can take that as a lesson — because if he had done his, he wouldn't need the distractions in the first place.