I put myself on a political diet this week, but wouldn’t you know it – there HAD to be a story that made me turn my back on my one-politics-post-a-week promise to myself. It all started with Matt Drudge posting his main story about Gwen Ifill today. All last night and most of today, there was Gwen’s smiling face as a target for right-wing hatred, being accused of bias before she’s even had the opportunity to moderate the debate. But here’s the thing — there were quite a few facts about the Gwen Ifill story that Drudge got wrong. So allow me to speak my piece. Because I sincerely respect and admire Gwen Ifill like that.
Fact — Gwen Ifill’s book is called The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. Drudge’s blaring headline referred to it simply as the “Age of Obama” book. An obvious attempt to start a fire, fan the flames, and enjoy watching a useless blaze while real news takes a backseat.
Fact – Gwen Ifill’s book is not a “pro-Obama book,” and it isn’t even entirely about Barack Obama.
Lo, from Amazon: “In THE BREAKTHROUGH, veteran journalist Gwen Ifill surveys the American political landscape, shedding new light on the impact of Barack Obamaâ€™s stunning presidential campaign and introducing the emerging young African American politicians forging a bold new path to political power.” In the book, Ifill profiles Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and U.S. Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama. She interviews former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vernon Jordan, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Senator Obama to add context to the changing face of African American politics. “We’re very lazy when we think about race in this country. We try to put it in a box. It’s Jesse [Jackson] versus Al [Sharpton], or Jesse and Al versus everyone else… We love simplistic conflict. There’s a whole group of people who have Ivy League degrees and immense accomplishments who actually benefited from the things their parents were fighting for,” she is quoted as saying in this CNN article.
Fact — Barack Obama’s candidacy is undeniably historic. He is the first African-American ever nominated for president by a major political party. He’s changed the face of political history, and even his political rivals have acknowledged the signficance of that. Because of this, there are going to be many, many books written about him. As a close observer of politics, Gwen Ifill makes a great candidate to really analyze the significance of his rise to prominence. However, that doesn’t mean that her writing about him reveals an immediately positive bias. See, this goes back to what I was writing about in my previous political post this week — the assumption that because you’re black, you’re backing Barack.
Gwen addressed that with CNN as well: “I‘m in great demand — everyone wants to talk to me — but I’m not speaking for the whole race,” Ifill said. “My job is to be a reporter. I cannot be the great interpreter. It’s not my job to be on someone else’s air telling them what black people think.”
Ifill told Kurtz that as Obama accepted his party’s nomination for president, a white television reporter asked her: “Aren’t you just blown away by all of this?” She said she was not.
Kurtz also points out that “on one level, Ifill says, she views this moment as the daughter of a black minister who marched in civil rights demonstrations and who she wishes were alive to see what Obama has achieved.”
Ifill told Kurtz, “I still don’t know if he’ll be a good president. I’m still capable of looking at his pros and cons in a political sense.” Besides, Ifill says, “no one’s ever assumed a white reporter can’t cover a white candidate.”
Fact — Gwen Ifill’s book isn’t complete yet. In fact, she hasn’t even finished her chapter on Barack. So folks are up in arms about a cake that hasn’t even been fully mixed yet.
Opinion– I really, really, REALLY need to stop reading The Drudge Report, and find a news site that is impartial and honest and ABOUT THE ISSUES. I finally managed to cleanse myself completely of Perez Hilton. Drudge, you are next. First Oprah, and then Gwen Ifill? Your true colors are showing, and they ain’t pretty.
Fact — man oh man, is this election season dredging up the disgusting racist underbelly of American society. The comments on Gwen Ifill’s Amazon page read like the kind of trash that I imagine people spewed openly in the Jim Crow era. I don’t even want to directly link to this stuff, it’s so hideous to me. I read some really, really dark comments today.
The book hasn’t been released, won’t until January. But already it’s been tagged on Amazon as being related to “biased,” “racist,” “traitor,” and “affirmative action.” The “discussions” below paint an even grimmer picture. “Sarah Palin should completely ignore Ifill at the debate,” one shrieks. “Honestly if only 1% of Blacks vote Republican, I say screw ’em,” says another. The most popular discussion is, “Email the debate commission and ask for Gwen’s removal.”
Opinion – I respect and admire Gwen Ifill. I think she’s an incredible journalist, and has demonstrated intelligence and grace, undercut with a keen nose for BS and a questioning nature. I like that in a journalist. I think she was the ideal candidate to moderate this debate. I say was, because I’m not sure she is anymore. Oh, not because I don’t think Gwen Ifill can do a great job, I know she can. And she will! But she’s damned if she does, and damned if she doesn’t. Her critics have the scent of blood in their flared nostrils, and they’re ready to come out guns a-blazing at the slightest sign of nothing at all.
For example, Gwen has been put on blast for having less than enthusiastic facial expressions during her coverage of Sarah Palin speech to the GOP Convention. I am thinking these are people who don’t often watch Gwen Ifill — she frequently has what Caribbean people call a “screw face” on. That was also explained by Ifill in the CNN article: — “We are all subject to that kind of scrutiny. If you’re frowning to think after a long night on your feet … you’re not even aware that your face is frowning to think. You’re just thinking.” “I know where my head was,” the Washington-based journalist also told the AP. “So that’s what counts.”
Which brings me to one final fact — Gwen doesn’t really give two hoots what people on the internet think of her. Look at that photo at the top of this post. Does she look like she cares?
“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,” she says in this AP article.
John McCain expressed confidence in Ifill’s abilities to Fox News: “I think that Gwen Ifill is a professional and I think that she will do a totally objective job because she is a highly respected professional,â€ McCain said during an interview at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. â€œDoes this helpâ€¦if she has written a book thatâ€™s favorable to Senator Obama? Probably not. But I have confidence that Gwen Ifill will do a professional job and I have that confidence.â€
And even Sarah Palin said this controversy will make her bring her A game. This will be a fascinating evening for politics junkies.
So, debate on! Will you be watching? I will, and I’ll be posting my opinion in the comments. I love that we all have different, passionate, informed opinions — so feel free to stop by and share your thoughts throughout the evening, bellas and fellas!
There’s been some really insightful blogging about this Gwen Ifill hubbub. Click here to read opinions from The Daily Voice, Write Black, and Stereohyped. Carmen from Racialicious discussed it on NPR today, too!