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Three Reasons to Attack Gwen Ifill -- VP Debate Moderator Under Fire

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Oct 02, 2008

There were three compelling reasons that PBSs Gwen Ifill was dumped squarely on the hot seat on the eve of her stint as moderator for the VP debate between GOP contender Sarah Palin and her Democratic rival Joe Biden. The squeal about her had absolutely nothing to do with her book, "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama" and by inference her alleged pro-Obama bias.

Her book isnt even on the stands yet and wont be until January 2009. Its anything but a pro-Obama book. True, hes the obvious spur for the book, but only that. The book profiles and interviews a bevy of black politicians, civil rights leaders, and black notables, young and old, and tells in their words and hers what impact theyve had on Obama and the new breed of black officials.

The eleventh hour attack on Ifills debate credentials also has nothing to do with her ability to be a fair and objective moderator. The Republican National Committee and the McCain campaign committee approved her weeks ago for the job. There were no gripes about her objectivity in 2004 when she moderated the VP debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic VP opponent John Edwards.

True reason number one for the anti-Ifill blast is VP candidate Sarah Palin: In the run-up to the debate, GOP operatives and the McCain campaign have kept up a drumbeat attack on the media for its alleged sexist, dismissive, and gender double-standard bash of Palin. The attacks have shown some signs of working. There has been a spate of articles that put a happy spin on her family, her positions on terrorism, the bailout, and the energy crisis. The attacks and the happy-face articles have slightly defused the lop-sided, obsessive and negative hits on Palin while deflecting attention from her colossal real and perceived inadequacies, lapses, and in some cases flat-out ignorance of crucial foreign policy and economy issues. That was, of course, the idea behind the media attacks.

A too-deep probe by Ifill into Palins empty space on these issues before what shapes up to be a record-smashing viewing audience for a vice presidential debate could be a election game-changing disaster for McCain.

True reason number two for the Ifill knock is her longstanding role as a senior correspondent on PBSs Lehrer News Hour. Though the Lehrer show generally gets high marks from conservatives for balance in its guests, topics and interviews. PBS is still the bane of many conservatives. They assail the network as a bastion of liberal bias, and have never stopped trying to exorcise that imagined bias from the network by on occasion pressuring Congress and the Bush administration to slash its funds and by trying to bully producers and management into spotlighting conservative preachments.

True reason number three for the Ifill rap is race. McCain and the Republican National Committee have carefully sanitized any thing that smacks of race from the campaign. But Ifill is a different matter. She is a black woman. That makes her an instant, and very convenient, way to reinforce the notion that African-Americans will go any lengths to get Obama elected solely because hes black. That mantra has been firmly etched in Election 2008 stone. Ifill is the breathing, talking symbol of the race card being flipped for Obama.

Ifill is a consummate professional, and her broken ankle notwithstanding, she shrugged off the pro-Obama bias attack and went about her business of doing the best job that she or anyone else could do as a debate moderator. That made the pro-Obama knock against her and the insidious method behind it so much silliness.

NAM Editor Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Related Articles:

Did Palin Really Say She Wouldnt Hire Blacks?

The Palin Effect Stops at Koreatown

Despite Anti-Immigrant GOP, Some Latinos Are Sticking With McCain




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