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“…as a journalist I have this affection for facts and accuracy.” – Gwen Ifill on Meet the Press, June 27, 2004.

Gwen Ifill is a journalist? That is news to any thinking person who watches her closely. It is true that she is a News Hour anchor on PBS, and the moderator of Washington Week in Review and of a Vice Presidential debate. Her journalistic credentials shouldn’t be called into question, but her own words betray her claim.

Of course her credentials have been questioned by racist white people who are always unhappy when black people rise further than they think is proper. Don Imus has called Ifill “the cleaning lady.” A New York Times columnist mused about her “substantial salary” and wondered how much PBS was paying her and her colleague Ray Suarez. Salaries tend not to be an issue where white people are concerned.

No matter what black people accomplish we are considered undeserving of accolades, money or decent treatment. Gwen Ifill is no exception. She is also no exception in contributing to the hack journalism that is now the rule rather than the exception in this country.

Like her buddy Condi Rice, she can’t be let off the hook. Media insiders like Gwen Ifill who call themselves journalists, but act like anything but, are making life easier for the powerful evildoers. Regardless of anything Imus has to say, they must be called to account.

Journalists are supposed to be objective, ask tough questions, give the public information they can’t access, and use that information to minimize lying by the powers that be. They are not supposed to get cozy with the subjects of their coverage. Gwen Ifill is unfamiliar with all of those do’s and don’ts.

On April 25, 2005, Ms. Ifill interviewed Democratic Senator Richard Durbin and Republican Senator John Kyl. The subject of discussion was the use of the Senate filibuster in the judicial confirmation process.

The Republicans are so committed to total control that they and their allies have advocated the “nuclear option,” eliminating the right to filibuster judicial nominees unless Democrats agree to confirm whomever Bush sends their way.

When it became obvious that the public recoiled at the image of mushroom clouds, the Republican propaganda machine ordered an end to the words “nuclear option” but they also began telling a huge, easily provable lie. They said Democrats coined the phrase first, and then backtracked by saying “constitutional option,” a nicer sounding version of the same thing.

The right wing have trained the corporate media so well that they know their lies won’t be revealed. Right on cue, the New York Times, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, and all the television networks repeated the GOP mantra that the term nuclear option was a Democratic invention. The fact loving Ms. Ifill had a golden opportunity to tell her viewers the truth when she interviewed Senators Kyl and Durbin.

GWEN IFILL: Does Sen. Frist have the votes in order to force this nuclear option?

SEN. JOHN KYL: Well, I'm not going to characterize it as a nuclear option. That's what the opponent....

GWEN IFILL: Or a constitutional option. Whatever term we're using today.

SEN. JOHN KYL: It is a constitutional option because the Senate has the right to provide its own precedents. That's what would be done. I won't predict the vote, but I don't think we'd go forward unless we thought we had the votes.

GWEN IFILL: How about that? Sen. Durbin, what's your nose count these days?

SEN. DICK DURBIN: Well, I can tell you it's very close; it's down to one or two Republican senators. And they understand the basics. First, this term nuclear option was coined by Trent Lott, a Republican. It's not a Democratic way to try to color this debate.

Senator Kyl didn’t say anything about the constitutional option. Ifill stopped him in his tracks and helped give him the Republican talking points. Senator Durbin did Ms. Ifill’s job for her when he pointed out the Republican threat to blow the Senate to kingdom come.

It was not the first time that Ifill sucked up to the right wing. She had this to say on Meet the Press on the subject of the film "Fahrenheit 9/11":

”Well, as David Brooks pointed out in The New York Times yesterday, in Europe, Michael Moore goes about very widely bashing America and bashing Americans as being stupid and not knowing how to put one foot in front of the other and he's received like a conquering hero.  They love this.  They want to hear this.  Now, that's fine.  They think he's a documentarian.  They think he is bringing them facts.  Now, they don't vote in American elections, but there is a wider question to be raised about the impact of Americans who take that abroad in a time of war.”

Of the many commentators she had at her disposal, Ifill went straight to a powerful conservative pundit for a "Fahrenheit 9/11" quote.

Making David Brooks out to be the font of all wisdom is awful enough. Not content to make a fool of herself once, Ifill then questioned our right to say what we want, wherever we happen to be, regardless of world events.

Dissent is more important in war than at any other time. Truth is the first casualty of war because of people like her, who put accommodation to the powerful ahead of honesty and integrity.

Gwen Ifill is not the only guilty party. While her colleagues in the United States spent countless hours covering a crazy runaway bride, their counterparts in Great Britain used a national election to reveal that their Prime Minister lied to get their nation into war. In contrast the New York Times spiked the story of Bush’s electronic cheating during the presidential debates. They feared publishing a story “too close” to Election Day. In Britain the press knew that an election was a perfect time to reveal a leader’s lies.

Like the rest of the media club, Ifill knows the rules. Staying connected with the powerful is the first order of business. Perhaps that is why Condi Rice gets the softball treatment on News Hour. Rice returned the favor, revealing a very comfy relationship with a journalist who is so supposed to hold people in power accountable:

”I’d like to thank Gwen for that wonderful introduction. And even if you aren’t getting invited, I can tell you that she is, in fact, an excellent cook. I’ve been able to partake of that since I’ve been in Washington.”

Such is the state of the American media. Gwen cooks for Condi, Gwen gets access, Condi gets the softball treatment, and everyone else gets the shaft.

Ms. Ifill calls herself as a journalist, but she may need a new way to define the word. Black Commentator can help her out:

”The journalist’s mission should be to provide a framework of facts and analysis that serves his fellow humans. The journalist’s unique calling is to warn his co-humans of impending dangers, or inform them of emerging possibilities for progress. All else is pretense, self-serving, and dishonest.” – BC, April 7, 2005.

The end may be near, but there is still time for Gwen Ifill to change before that nuclear countdown begins.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BC. Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City.  She can be reached via e-Mail at [email protected]. You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at


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May 12 2005
Issue 138

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