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Attacking Gwen Ifill: Working the refs, or something more?



Until this week started, PBS host Gwen Ifill looked like a pretty lucky woman.Gwenifill

Though critics complained that she, the only non-white, non-senior citizen moderating a major debate in this year's election, got stuck with the lower-tier vice presidential contest, Sarah Palin's emergence as a hot-button issue ensured this content would be widely watched.

But then Ifill broke her ankle after tripping at home with a bunch of debate materials. And then on Wednesday, the attacks started.

The first one came from Michelle Malkin, the conservative columnist of color who has made a career of attacking issues related to people of color in ways white pundits cannot risk. She noted the name of Ifill's upcoming book, The Breakthrough: Race and Politics in the Age of Obama, then observed: "There is nothing “moderate” about where Ifill stands on Barack Obama. She’s so far in the tank for the Democrat presidential candidate, her oxygen delivery line is running out."

That was all Fox News needed to post an article titled "VP Debate Moderator Pens Pro-Obama Book" despite the fact that the book hasn't been released yet, and its subject matter seems to be more about the rise of a different kind of black politician in America, as exemplified by Obama. Anchor Meghan Kelly picked out words Ifill used to describe Obama's campaign including "stunning" and "a pivotal moment in American history" -- curiously, those were also words many reporters used to describe Obama when he won the Democratic nomination.

Here's a further description of the book from "Ifill argues that the Black political structure formed during the Civil Rights movement is giving way to a generation of men and women who are the direct beneficiaries of the struggles of the 1960s. She offers incisive, detailed profiles of such prominent leaders as Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and U.S. Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama, and also covers up-and-coming figures from across the nation. Drawing on interviews with power brokers like Senator Obama, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vernon Jordan, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and many others, as well as her own razor-sharp observations and analysis of such issues as generational conflict and the "black enough" conundrum, Ifill shows why this is a pivotal moment in American history."

It seems obvious to me this is more about "working the refs" -- positioning Ifill publicly so that any stumbles by Palin during tonight's debate can be blamed on the moderator rather than the candidate. And, although it seems unlikely knowing Ifill's tough nature, there's the bonus of maybe intimidating her into asking questions that  aren't so tough tonight.

Which is too bad; it seems we have reached the point where journalists can't even acknowledge and explore the history-making dimensions of Obama's campaign without being accused of the worst sort of partisanship.

Compare coverage between CNN and Fox News:


[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:52pm]


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