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Ifill-Gate: Much Ado About Nothing

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There’s been a minor controversy brewing today over revelations that PBS’s Gwen Ifill, who will be moderating tomorrow’s Vice-Presidential debate in St. Louis, has written about about Barack Obama and the new generation of black politicians that will be released on Inauguration Day 2009:

Questions are being raised about the objectivity of Thursday’s vice presidential debate moderator after news surfaced that she is releasing a new book promoting Barack Obama and other black politicians who have benefited from the civil rights struggle.

Gwen Ifill, of PBS’ “The NewsHour,” is expected to remain as moderator, however.

“The book has been a known factor for months, so I’m not sure what the big deal is,” said NewsHour spokeswoman Anne Bell.

She told FOXNews.com that there were no concerns about Ifill’s neutrality, and that the debate Thursday between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden would go forward as planned. Ifill also moderated the 2004 vice presidential debate.

“We were pleased that the (debate) commission once again turned to Gwen to moderate the debate,” Bell said. “They’ve known and trusted her as a moderator and that’s wonderful.”

Ifill’s book, “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” is due to be released about the same time the next president takes the oath of office.

In her book, Ifill contends that the black political structure of the civil rights movement has cleared the way for post-racial politicians to ascend to new heights.

Now some are wondering whether Ifill can be fair and balanced, and whether she should be the moderator of Thursday’s 9 p.m. ET debate.

While the book itself has been known about in Washington political circles for months, the McCain campaign says that it did not know about the book when Ifill was selected to moderate the debate (although McCain himself said today that he’s confident Ifill will be a fair moderator).

Michelle Malkin started the blogospheric ball rolling with a column at Investor’s Business Daily that essentially hinted that Ifill would use to debate to advance her pecuniary interests:

Ifill and her publisher are banking on an Obama-Biden win to buoy her book sales. The moderator expected to treat both sides fairly has grandiosely declared this the “Age of Obama.” Can you imagine a right-leaning journalist writing a book about the “stunning” McCain campaign and its “bold” path to reform timed for release on Inauguration Day — and then expecting a slot as a moderator for the nation’s sole vice presidential debate?

Yeah, I just registered 6.4 on the Snicker Richter Scale too.

Despite the protestations of her colleagues that she will be fair, Ifill has appeared on numerous radio and TV talk shows over the past several months to cash in on her access to the Obama campaign.

She recently penned a fawning cover story on the Obamas for Essence magazine that earned much buzz. The title? “The Obamas: Portrait of an American Family.”

World Net Daily, hardly a credibly or unbiased news source, is also covering the story.

Frankly, I don’t see what the big deal is here. I don’t think that Ifill should be the moderator either, but that’s based on the fact that she did a horrid job at the Cheney-Edwards debate four years ago and she just doesn’t strike me as a very good reporter. But the CPD picked her, so my opinion on that point doesn’t really matter. Moreover, even before news of the book was released, it was really quite apparent that Ifill is a reporter who lets her biases shine through her reporting. Now, personally, I don’t have a problem with that, but if the McCain campaign did, then they shouldn’t have agreed to have her as the moderator. And, finally, I’m not sure what the people complaining about this the day before the debate are looking for — do they really think that they’re going to find a network news anchor who isn’t biased ? And wouldn’t have Ifill been “in the tank” for Obama regardless of whether or not she wrote a book about him ?

Frankly, it seems to me that the McCain campaign partisans are raising this non-issue at the 11th hour so that there will be a ready-made excuse in case Palin does poorly tomorrow. If that happens, she’ll have nobody to blame but herself.

Further thoughts from James Joyner

Cross-posted at Below The Beltway