THE GROFF/ELLISON POLITICAL REPORT

The Fairly Unfair (& Perhaps Bigoted) Treatment of Gwen Ifill …

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on October 8, 2008

Before we move on to Presidential debate #2, a few notes on the unfair malignment of Gwen Ifill, the Vice Presidential debate moderator and PBS anchor.  Lisa Cox Barrett in the Columbia Journalism Review recently observes:

As the VP debate wound down last week, Andrew Sullivan’s insta-reactions included the following:

There was only one loser: Gwen Ifill. She was intimidated, peripheral, neutered. The rules didn’t help. But Ifill put in a dreadful performance.

At the time, I thought that sounded a tad harsh. But after watching Ifill talk about the debate on Meet the Press yesterday… maybe she agrees at least to the spirit of Sullivan’s take (that she was rendered useless in that debate)? Did Ifill do her job in her own estimation?

First: in defense of Gwen Ifill, we’re not simply defending her because she’s Black or because every time a high profile African American is maligned one should jump to the conclusion that bigotry plays a role.  No: in this sense, the very racially-tinged underbelly of American media parades its ugly self.  We can’t note a more intense discussion over the qualifications of a Presidential debate moderator (in recent history) than what’s transpired over Ifill – who has now been pummeled to the point where not only her future as a potential Presidential moderator is now pretty much defunct, but the future of other Black journalists as Presidential moderators will be very much in doubt.

It’s the very White dominated political media empire striking back.  This goes back to our earlier blog on recent conversations in the political community about the proliferation of too many “strategists” or “inexperienced” talking head experts on network television – a polite way of saying that certain people are fed up by the fact that political discourse is no longer the sole domain of old White guys.  This same sentiment, we feel, is applied to Ifill.  Sure, she’s written a book about Black political development in the “Age of Barack Obama,” but that in no way means she’s writing a book which supports him – it simply states the obvious about Black political development.

Bottom line is that Ifill got badly beaten (Sullivan’s use of the word “neutered” more than harsh; downright inappropriate as though he’s pimp slapping Ifill) for no apparent reason we can surmise other than the fact that she was the most “different” face in the debate moderator line-up.  If Ifill were White and gray-haired, Sarah Palin wouldn’t have dared blew her off the way she did last week; but, what happened is what many Black journalists experience in media: being underrepresented, underestimated and totally disrespected.  Ifill is used to this.  Doesn’t mean it’s right. What’s unfair is that she gets pilfered in the press and stung by conservative blogs before the debate for displaying some of her Blackness by writing a book on Black politics.  So, when she goes into the debate, she gets hammered for trying to maintain some sense of balance to offset the notion that she’s biased one way or the other.  In maintaining bias, she’s accused of being “neutered.”

Basically, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  The life of African Americans in media is still filled with the harsh realities of White mistreatment.

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