Gwen Ifill's 'Pro-Obama' Book.

Folks are up in arms about Gwen Ifill’s supposedly pro-Obama book coming out on Inauguration Day. There have been calls for her to step down from her position as moderator* of the vice-presidential debate. How incredible that Drudge was able to bring this issue to light just in time one day before the debate!

Except. The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama has been listed on for a minute, and she’s made no secret of it, promoting the book in interviews:

The product description from Amazon:

In THE BREAKTHROUGH, veteran journalist Gwen 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 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.

THE BREAKTHROUGH is a remarkable look at contemporary politics and an essential foundation for understanding the future of American democracy.

Both journalist and scholar, Ifill is a person who is fascinated by politics, yet somehow remains non-partisan in an industry where pundits rule. This book seems like the perfect answer to that sorry Times Magazine piece which asked if Obama was “the end of black politics,” and I, for one, cannot wait to read it.

The conflict of interest is not that the book is pro-Obama. It isn’t. He’s one of the characters, but not the focus. But because his name is in the title, the book would probably sell well if it’s being released on the day Obama is inaugurated as president. Obviously, Ifill would have something to gain by Obama being elected.

However, the McCain campaign has pushed for stricter rules on the VP debate, meaning Gwen probably won’t be doing what Lehrer did during the McCain-Obama debate; none of that “I want you two to talk to each other” stuff. There will be little to no candidate interaction, and they’ll have the same questions to answer.

I don’t mind the people who object to Ifill moderating the debate because of the potential financial conflict. But I bristle at the assumption that her book favors Obama. As a person who is familiar with Ifill’s work, I expect nothing less than a nuanced, thoughtful examination of the evolution of black politics.

*I once timed/moderated a student body president debate in college, and after it was over, each side accused me of favoring the other. I learned a lot from that experience.

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  • This is just now becoming news because the powers-that-be don’t necessarily care to report this as news as much as they want it to have an influence on the upcoming debate (as well as the opinion their viewership and readership).

  • scott


    Is it really an assumption Ifill’s book supports Obama? It sounds like it is more of a fact that Ifill’s book supports Obama.

  • Scott: what do you consider pro-Obama, and what makes it sound like a fact to you?

  • rakia

    To be fair, if, say, Lesley Stahl from CBS News was the debate’s moderater and she had a upcoming book that featured McCain (and had his name in the subtitle), I’d go apeshit. I can’t even front.

  • Rakia- I honestly do feel funny about it, but I still have faith in Ifill’s fairness. (Besides, they could have Rush Limbaugh moderate the debate, and the only way it would help Palin is if he were blatantly favoring her.)

    Plus, the conflict isn’t that the book is pro-Obama, it’s the financial issue. And that’s valid.

    But ultimately, a lot of people are going to assume Ifill is “in the tank” no matter what, because she’s black and part of the elite liberal media. That’s what I think is informing this assumption that her book is pro-Obama.

  • rakia

    Shani-O, I think you’re right about the assumptions being made about Ifill’s allegiance. And I believe that she is too ethical and skilled a journalist not to be fair. (I happen to be a huge admirer of hers.) But should Palin completely humiliate herself tomorrow night — and I hope she does — it’ll be a little too convenient for right-wing supporters to blame Ifill as the reason behind Palin’s lousy showing. I’d like to be able to tie up Palin’s incompetence with a tidy bow.

  • Shawn L.

    Man, the lengths that McCain will go to avoid this debate: pretend to suspend your campaign while continuing to campaign, vow not to debate until a bill is agreed on, suggest that his own debate be rescheduled to replace the VP debate, use Drudge as a surrogate to attack the moderator the day before the debate.

    Excuses left to use: strep throat, last-minute trade mission to Russia, shot in the face by Cheney

  • LH

    The idea that Ifill stands to benefit financially from an Obama win is enough to at least hint at a lack of objectivity. if only for the sake of appearance, she should not moderate tomorrow night’s debate. Also, as rakia pointed out, should Palin falter, the right will swear on high that the fix was in–despite the format of the debate.

  • *I* mind people objecting because of a presumed (and pretty weak) financial conflict of interest. Come on. The book is on a legitimate journalistic subject, Ifil is an established and highly respected journalist, moderating the debate is entirely within her professional compass.

    I mean, what if she had a book coming out that was titled “Politics, War, and Veterans in the Age of McCain”? That investigated the way that discourrses of service get used in politics? That would be totally legit, and no one would accuse her of being partisan on those grounds alone.

    I see this as another one of those dogwhistles–oh, Ifil’s black, of *course* she supports Obama and isn’t “neutral” so therefore she’s not qualified to moderate.

  • quadmoniker

    BitchPhD – I agree, I’m not totally sure that I’m sold that she has a financial conflict of interest at all. Tom Brokaw will moderate one of the debates, and he has a pretty long-standing and friendly relationship with McCain. Of all the potential conflict of interests, the fact that she has embarked on a scholarly endeavor about politics and one of the candidates is a part isn’t that much of an issue.

    Also, to everyone who says McCain is going to blame Ifill: They would have blamed the moderator no matter who it was. That’s their MO.