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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Ifill quells no qualms by being defensive

I'm particularly proud of this sentence in my latest guest-post on HughHewitt.com: "They won't be black dollars, or white dollars, but green dollars."


[Copied here for archival purposes on November 5, 2008, from the post linked above at HughHewitt.com.]

(Guest Post by Bill Dyer a/k/a Beldar)

When accused of an ethical failure, almost anyone's first reaction is to take umbrage.

A true professional's first reaction, however, should be to shut his or her mouth for a while and ponder whether one's judgment has already been compromised — before going into self-defense mode or, worse, counterattack mode.

I'll stand by what I wrote this morning, in which (like John McCain) I expressed some confidence in her professionalism and noted her fairness during the 2004 vice presidential debate. But I'm not at all encouraged by Gwen Ifill's initial reaction, as quoted by the Associated Press, to questions about whether she can be impartial in tomorrow night's vice presidential debate:

"I've got a pretty long track record covering politics and news, so I'm not particularly worried that one-day blog chatter is going to destroy my reputation," Ifill said. "The proof is in the pudding. They can watch the debate tomorrow night and make their own decisions about whether or not I've done my job." ...

In its online description of the book, Doubleday says that Ifill "surveys the American political landscape, shedding new light on the impact of Barack Obama's stunning presidential campaign and introducing the emerging young African American politicians forging a bold new path to political power." ...

Ifill said Obama's story, which she has yet to write, is only a small part of the book, which discusses how politics in the black community have changed since the civil rights era. Among those subjects is Colin Powell, secretary of state in the Bush administration.

The host of PBS'"Washington Week" and senior correspondent on "The NewsHour" said she did not tell the Commission on Presidential Debates about the book. The commission had no immediate comment when contacted by The Associated Press. A spokeswoman for John McCain's campaign did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages. [But see the update at the foot of my original post below, quoting McCain as as saying he trusts in Ifill's professionalism. — Beldar]

She said it was the publisher, not herself, who set the Inauguration Day release date. It will be released then whether Obama wins or loses.

Although Malkin raised the topic of Ifill's impartiality the day before the debate, the PBS journalist said that Time magazine noted she was writing a book in August, and that it has been available for pre-sale on Amazon.com. The book also is mentioned in a Sept. 4 interview she gave the Washington Post.

Ifill questions why people assume that her book will be favorable toward Obama.

"Do you think they made the same assumptions about Lou Cannon (who is white) when he wrote his book about Reagan?" said Ifill, who is black. Asked if there were racial motives at play, she said, "I don't know what it is. I find it curious."

There are several problems with this.

First, the fact that Ms. Ifill hasn't written the portion of the book on Obama yet doesn't excuse anything. In fact, it leaves her free now to tailor the book knowing of the furor over her earlier non-disclosure to the campaigns and Commisson.

Second, the "nobody caught me until now" excuse is ridiculous and offensive. As a professional journalist, she is responsible for patrolling her own ethics. Ms. Ifill ought to have disclosed the plans for the book to the Commission and to both campaigns. Now, even with both campaigns consenting to her going forward, she still owes a duty to the public to re-disclose her personal financial stake in the election at the beginning of the debate.

Finally, it doesn't matter whether she ends up being critical or favorable in what she eventually writes about Obama. The title of the book has the phrase "Age of Obama" in it! For pete's sake, how many bestsellers have we seen with the phrase "the Age of Kerry" or "the Age of Dole" or "the Age of Dukakis" in them? I guarantee you that I am not an Obama supporter, but I bought a copy of each of his two books — despite the fact that that would put a few more coins in his pockets — because I sometimes read stuff about, and sometimes even written by, people I distrust, dislike, or even despise. Moreover, there's also no doubt that moderating this debate will raise Ifill's own general public profile — with tens of millions watching this debate, a large multiple of the audiences she gets on the PBS NewsHour or PBS' Washington Week.

No one can seriously doubt that if Obama wins, she'll sell more copies of this book — based on its title alone — which, in turn, will put anything from a few more dollars to a several tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars directly into her own pocket. They won't be black dollars, or white dollars, but green dollars. Yet she finds it "curious" and jumps to racism as a possible explanation for people's concerns? For her to pretend she doesn't understand the nature of the conflict and the potential for bias here smacks, at best, of self-deception. Self-deception can lead to plain old deception.

I won't say that journalistic ethics require it, but a well developed sense of decency requires that Ms. Ifill now add to her disclosure at the debate a public apology to those who've raised concerns about it. She has no one but herself to blame for this.

— Beldar

Posted by Beldar at 10:12 PM in 2008 Election, Mainstream Media, McCain, Obama, Palin, Politics (2008) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Ifill quells no qualms by being defensive and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) A.W. made the following comment | Oct 2, 2008 10:04:38 AM | Permalink

You know, somewhere I heard a point which i find actually pretty convincing. Ifill is now the single best chance Palin has for a fair debate. Most of the media is in the tank for Obama, but this one has actually be revealed to have more or less, placed a bet on his success. It is so spectacularly unethical, that she might actually feel the need to be extra fair as a result. Where by comparison, the other journalists would feel their biases were better hidden, allowing them to go hog-wild.

Anyway, let's hope that is true.

(2) Dai Alanye made the following comment | Oct 2, 2008 10:53:39 AM | Permalink

You're certainly correct. Ifill hasn't shown deliberate bias before, as far as I've observed, but her defensive response is a bad indicator. So is her reaction after Palin's convention speech, which was on the order of: "But she's a hockey mom; she said so herself!"

I'd also feel a little better about her if she knew the correct adage. It's not "The proof is in the pudding." Try--The proof of the pudding is in the eating. What's next, A stitch in time saves?

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