VP debate moderator releasing Obama-friendly book (Update)

This recent revelation seen on the Drudge Report and first reported by WorldNetDaily is questionable with regard to political motivations and the fact that the book has been no secret for months now. Thursday night’s VP debate moderator, Gwen Ifill from PBS News, is set to release a book about post-racial politics on inauguration day in 2009. The book is not centered on Obama, however, from the description it appears give him favorable praise. You can view the Amazon.com product page here.

See updates below, story amended and extended, and somewhat exposed.

Whether you’re for Obama or McCain, think of having a pro-McCain moderator at an Obama/McCain debate, you’d never got for it! The moderator should be, as much as possible, free from inherent ties to bias. In this case, Ms. Ifill has a financial interest in bias since her book will be more meaningful if Obama becomes the next President. This isn’t to say she still can’t do a good job, however, these types of things should be disclosed well in advance or Ms. Ifill should have withdrawn her name from the running as moderator.

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.

Report from Fox News:

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.

“Clearly her books aren’t going to do as well unless Obama wins, so it looks like she has some investment, literally, in one candidate or the other. And she’s supposed to be sitting there as a neutral arbiter during the debate,” said NPR’s Juan Williams, a FOX News contributor. “I think the world of Gwen Ifill but I know there’s a perception problem.”

Web site WorldNetDaily reported on the Ifill book Tuesday night.

Video report from Fox News as well:

There is news from the McCain campaign that they were NOT aware of the book which means it was not disclosed up front.

Will it matter? Probably not and I’m guessing this increased scrutiny will make here less likely to show any bias in favor of Biden, not that she was going to anyway. Still though, should any objective reporter be reporting on a Presidential race, participating in the debates, while at the same time be writing a favorable book about one of the candidates?

All in all, probably much ado about nothing since nothing will be changed at this point.


There is outcry on this story from both sides, loudly. I have received more emails on this story than anything I’ve ever posted asking why the Commission on Presidential Debates would then allow Ifill to continue in her role as moderator. On the other side are good arguments such as reporting this story will bias people even going into the debate. This is an example of you’re damned if you and damned if you don’t. That is, if I ignore the story then I’m not reporting everything in full, however, in mentioning the story I am accused of bias. No bias here folks, just reporting what’s happening.

More reports on this, first from the Washington Post blog:

It’s no secret that Gwen Ifill has been working on a book about the younger generation of black politicians. The PBS correspondent talked about “Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama” in a Washington Post article on Sept. 4.

But today, the day before Ifill is to moderate the vice-presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, a conservative Web site made an issue of the book, which quickly ricocheted onto the Drudge Report. “VP Debate Moderator Ifill Releasing Pro-Obama Book,” said the headline on World Net Daily picked up by Drudge.

There is no evidence that the book will be favorable to the Democratic nominee. Ifill, the host of “Washington Week,” told The Post she is focusing on Obama and three other up-and-coming politicians, such as Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Newark Mayor Cory Booker. She said she started the book when it looked unlikely that Obama would win the Democratic nomination.

“The book has been out there and discussed for months,” said PBS spokeswoman Anne Bell. “It’s a non-issue.”

Queried about it, John McCain expressed confidence in Ifill.

“I think that Gwen Ifill is a professional, and I think she will do a totally objective job because she is a highly-respected professional,” McCain told Fox News’s Carl Cameron.

So perhaps this was no secret to begin with and it’s coming out now for political reason prior to the debate? That’s a good question.

Another report from the Associated Press:

NEW YORK (AP) — PBS journalist Gwen Ifill, moderator of the upcoming vice presidential debate, dismissed conservative questions about her impartiality because she is writing a book that includes material on Barack Obama.

Ifill said Wednesday that she hasn’t even written her chapter on Obama for the book “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” which is to be published by Doubleday on Jan. 20, 2009, the day a new president is inaugurated.

“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.”

The day before the Joe Biden-Sarah Palin debate, columnist Michelle Malkin wrote in the New York Post about Ifill’s book, saying “she’s so far in the tank for the Democratic presidential candidate, her oxygen delivery line is running out.”

In its online description of the book, Doubleday says that 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.”

The McCain campaign found out about Ifill’s book in the last day or so, a spokesman said.

Ifill said Obama’s story, which she has yet to write, is only a small part of the book, which discusses how politics in the black community have changed since the civil rights era. Among those subjects is Colin Powell, secretary of state in the Bush administration.

More from The Caucus:

The book has not been kept under wraps by Random House, which listed it in its catalog, along with a synopsis and official publication date. On Wednesday, a spokesman for the publisher said the book is not completed yet and the final manuscript will not be filed until after the election.

But Fox News reported that the McCain campaign did not know about the book, and suggested that its impending publication distorts Ms. Ifill’s objectivity as a moderator.

“I think I told them when I made my efforts — e-mails about midnight — to find out,” Greta Van Susteren of Fox News wrote on her blog about the McCain campaign. “It simply is not fair — in law, this would create a mistrial.”

The McCain campaign itself has not complained. A spokesman did not return calls for comment.

So there you go, make of it what you will.

Two possibilities:

1. Political stunt launched by the Drudge Report to create controversy the day before the debate and give Palin an excuse if she performs poorly.

2. The exposure of a biased moderator being given the opportunity to sway public opinion in the debate.

I’m going to plead the fifth and let you folks hash it out.

My personal bottom line is that I would have absolutely, without a doubt, reported a similar story had it been about a moderator writing a favorable book to McCain or Palin. Therefore, I have no remorse in posting this story as I think people have a right to know, regardless of the political background of affiliation. Ifill may do a fantastic job, and I’m certain she will, however, that doesn’t change the disclosure of this information, that’s all.

The bottom line here is: Ifill is now under a bit of scrutiny so I’m betting she’ll moderate a fair debate without issue, despite any accurate or contrived controversy, you make the call on that. Clearly the motives of where the story came from can be questioned.

Also, I’m getting emails from people angry at ME for making Ifill the moderator. Please folks, I am not the Commission on Presidential Debates and have nothing to do with setting these things up or picking moderators. If you’d like to express outrage or support for Ifill as the moderator, please direct your comments to the Commission on Presidential Debates, not me as I have nothing to do with it.


McCain weighs in the issue and sees no controversy or conflict of interest:

There you go, McCain camp doesn’t see an issue here.


Video report from CNN:

More perspective.. so as you see, analysts are divided on the issue along party lines mostly. Still, reverse the situation with a moderator who wrote a book friendly to McCain, Democrats would be crying foul in the same respect, as they should be.

  • JD

    They need to bring some one else in. I don’t want people falling back on this and blame her for Palin’s horrible showing.

  • setay

    wow, conservatives really don’t have any faith in Palin. They’re already attacking the moderator.

    Did you read your own summary? Obama’s name is in the summary, but the book is about post-racial politics. It’s about the fact that Obama can run in this day and age. It’s certainly not a endorsement. Are you really that dumb? It’s the Drudge report and Fox news for God’s sake.

  • JD, I basically concur.

    setay, I’m just reporting what’s going on. Voters should be aware of this type of thing so please, spare me the pleasantries.

    On another note, I wasn’t even going to touch this story until I began getting emails about it this morning. Readers drove this interest so here it is. I don’t think it’s an incredibly important story but some believe it is so here we are.

  • Your only source for the assertion that Ifill’s book is “pro Obama” is Fox News? At first I thought this was a Conservative Gal post. I expect more from you Nate. I really do enjoy your reporting for its evenhandedness, and your citing of a broad range of sources. Don’t stop now.

  • IndiMinded

    I think this is pretty unbelievable. As in, it’s hard for me to believe it. Honestly, how does something like this happen? Who thinks this is ok? I’m sure whoever was involved in choosing the moderator is getting an earful right now.

  • marcus

    I think Ifill is a terrible moderator to begin with. Does anyone remember the 2004 VP debate? Ifill was swooning with John Edwards and even gave him time to rebuttal a rebuttal from Cheney!

    We need a good moderator, period!

  • stewf,

    Working on more perspectives, as always.

    That is why I pasted in the book description as well which mentions Obama’s “stunning” candidacy. Take that for whatever you want.

    Make up your own mind.

    I am reporting this the same way I’d report on bias in favor of McCain. I’d be wrong to ignore that as I’d be wrong to ignore this since I received numerous emails on the issue.

    If you read the foxnews story, you’ll see they contaced PBS on the issue.

    Please, don’t shoot the messenger, critique the content or the premise. I cannot ignore news to keep everyone happy.

    I appreciate your comments and concern, it keeps me working harder and in check.

  • IndiMinded

    Ok, so apparently a few people think it’s ok. But it absolutely is not, and this goes way beyond biased reporting.

    Look, it doesn’t matter whether this Obama book is going to be pro-Obama, or a big smear against him like Obama nation, or even a non-partisan analysis of racial politics in the modern world. That’s not the point.

    The moderator is writing a book focused on one of the two candidates. That’s going to effect her judgment and the way she reacts and focuses on the representatives of their respective campaigns. It’s going to impact her impartiality, and there’s just no way to get around that strong possibility.

    I don’t see how anyone can complain that this isn’t relevant.

  • Part of my complaint is in the headline of this post. “Pro-Obama” is a very speculative judgement for someone who hasn’t read more than a marketing summary of the book and followed only the report from Fox News and a conservative website.

    Here’s more from The Caucus.

    Keep on keeping on, Nate.

  • Stalin

    This is classic. I hope that the McCain camp stays quiet…this is the opportunity for some great debate zingers. How about when Ifill asks Palin about her experience as governor….

    “Well Gwen, if you would have written a book about me as well, you’d already know the answer to that.”

    Let her stay, you can’t write this stuff.

  • T’mok

    I’ve heard that all terms of the debates have to be agreed upon by both sides. So, I assume the McCain campaign agreed to Ifill as the moderator. That would make sense so that neither of the candidates cries foul.

  • Stalin

    Well in the Cheney/Edwards debate she was very snippy toward Cheney, much to the delight of Dems…so there are other ways to be biased besides the actual questions themselves…regardless I hope she stays.

  • Jojo

    *** Nuked by Admin ***

    Racist remarks are not tolerated here.

  • Grey

    I’ll be blunt- this means absolutely nothing to me.

    Personal bias doesn’t necessarily have any impact on the proceedings of a debate. A lot goes into a debate, much more than the actual preferences of a moderator.

    If a debate is unfair due to bias, it will be shown in the questions themselves. No matter what the moderator’s record is, if the questions are fair, then the debate will be fair. And let’s face it- if the questions aren’t fair, it’ll destroy the validity of the debate anyways.

    I wish this story wasn’t posted. Anyone who reads this will automatically assume that the debate is unfairly biased- it will create biased tendency to assume bias. People should have just watched the debate and determined for themselves whether or not it was biased, without going into it predisposed to believe it is biased from the getgo.

  • OBJB

    One would have to fault the due diligence of both camps particularly the McCain camp for this. To my knowledge they’ve been extremely particular with the details of the Biden/Palin debate and for them to overlook who the moderator is shows either carelessness or that they have another agenda.

    The one assertion I do have to disagree with is that the McCain camp’s perceived ignorance shows they did not actually know about this. These campaigns are all about showmanship and framing the context of the conversation…This whole scenario is no different.

  • bill blount

    Sadly Ifill was NOT neutral in the Edwards Cheney debate.As a man of character as an officer and a gentleman John McCain stated,”I believe she will conduct herself as a professional.”

    Surely, if Brett Hume, John Gbson, or even Bill Oreilly were chosen as a moderator the Obama camp would behave just as genteel as John McCain has in this case, right?

    What about all the times Republicans tried to cut PBS/NPR funding? What about, if Obama wins my book does huge numbers and if he loses my book sales tank?

    The problemn is CNN,NBC, CBS,ABC AND NPR ARE IN THE TANK as 80% of all visual media self identify as liberal;however, the 20% on the conservative side, ie FOX are just as guilty of YELLOW JOURNALISM.At its root there has not been a jounalism graduate since WATERGATE who did not practice Yellow Journalism in their effort to become a STAR.

    As a former writer I find all of it to be a tragedy and in this specific case it is just too close to the edge to be allowed.

  • Grey’s comments: “I wish this story wasn’t posted. Anyone who reads this will automatically assume that the debate is unfairly biased- it will create biased tendency to assume bias.”

    I concur generally, however, it has been updated with more information questioning the political motivations behind the story. I pride myself in updating, revising, and extending with new information so wouldn’t you rather people get the whole story here, from many perspectives such as the Washington Post, Fox News, and the Associated Press, than get one perspective on the Drudge Report.

    Otherwise I agree with you, this will put a bad taste in the mouths of many viewers heading into this debate, which it shouldn’t.

    Either way, I’m reading everyone’s comments and taking everything into consideration. I apologize when posting earlier today I did not have time to research more perspectives as I do now.

    I believe the whole story is told above with the controversy and some further explanation and disclosures such as Ifill’s book being no secret as she has been working for months on the project, go figure it comes out now.

    Again, don’t skewer the messenger, I’m trying to bring the entire story here, from all sides, as I always try to do.

  • JD

    Nate – “Again, don’t skewer the messenger, I’m trying to bring the entire story here, from all sides, as I always try to do.”

    God does not make mistakes.

  • Krodis

    I certainly would prefer an unbiased moderator. Here’s the thing: I don’t think there are any. How many people do you think there are in the media who don’t have any political stance, even if they don’t announce it publicly?

    Secondly, she was chosen by a bipartisan committee. The Republicans already had a chance to choose someone else and they didn’t. Maybe they did it on purpose so they can cry foul if Palin embarrasses herself? I don’t know. Maybe they gave up the moderator in favor of the more favorable format. I’m not sure. Regardless, they did have their chance to pick someone else.

    With all that said, I’d like to see her replaced. Just in the interest of fairness.

  • JD


    You are an honorary god. The god of all things youdecide2008.com.

    It was merely a joke playing on the last reprimanding I received. Again, no offense was meant.

    You seem tense. If you want I can send you a free Barack Obama T-shirt. Might cheer you up!

  • JD,

    I am tense because some days you just can’t win with the testy readers.

    Please, send the Obama T-Shirt to Stalin so he has something to wash his car with or Conservative Gal so she has something to dust with. 🙂

    I can’t accept bribes, it wouldn’t be prudent at this juncture.

  • Another mod would be good, but so long as both sides have no issues with Ifill as moderator then there really is no isssue.

  • DK

    Amy Holmes has it correct. Journalists are expected to be neutral and Ifill certainly can not be neutral… real or perceived. She needs to recuse herself and allow a true un-prejudiced journalist to be the moderator in the VP debate.

  • bdjnk

    Check out this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cKAFqn4Y8Q and observe her facial expressions in each clip. Unbiased my foot.

  • Grey

    I retract the statement I made earlier, or at least want to change it- I wish this wasn’t a story in a universal sense.

    I was being unfair- the fact that it exists is definitely not your fault, Nate, and it’s much better to hear from it from someone who’s openminded as opposed to the slanted dribble we might hear from someone else.

    Although I do have to point this out- the fact that it was you and not some uppity ultra-conservative who posted this story does lend credence to the argument in the minds of some. Most of the people who frequent this site do so because they trust you more than the dribble that is the mainstream news media. Thus, for your readers, whatever you post automatically becomes something that they feel the need to pay attention to, while they would ignore the same issues brought up on sites like the daily kos or the drudge report.

    Haha, I guess that was kinda a backhanded complement, but oh well.

  • PeoplePower

    I agree that this site should be more even-handed than the others you mentioned, but I think it has been and still remains so.

    Look at Nate’s posting of the McCain Gambling story. I don’t think that could be taken as an entirely neutral story and from the conservatives’ comments on it, they *certainly* didn’t view it that way.

    I *do* think that there is cause for concern, but I also believe that Jim Lehrer has been called “liberally-biased” as have many commentators/journalists from PBS, NPR or almost any other news organization. Fox seems the only TV station conservatives consider “fair & balanced” and that is far from true – ask any liberal.

    Bias is in the eye/ear of the beholder. If I stand left-of-center in a particular view and a news story appears to come from my right, it appears as having a “right-slanted” bias. If it comes from my left, it appears as having a “left-slanted” bias. If, however, it is right in line with my own position, it appears to have a neutral bias.

    This is why so many conservatives so strongly claim that Fox is “fair & balanced” – the conservative nature of their “news” slants in line with the conservative stance of their fans.

    That does not make it unbiased. The best test of something being unbiased is when *everyone* complains that the story or source is biased – conservatives & liberals alike. Clearly, they’re doing a good job of being unbiased in such a case!

    This entire story is largely based upon speculation as to the contents of the book and the subject matter. It is true that there can be some really serious gains for her book if Obama whens the Presidency, but her *job* is to mediate this debate in an unbiased manner.

    It is unfortunate that the story came out before the debate. As someone said above, “the perception of possible bias will bias the judgement as to whether there truly was bias.” Hmm, say that three times fast! 😉

    Of course, given the description of Ms. Ifil’s moderation of the last VP Debate, I would suspect strongly that bias would be claimed anyway. This just gives “supposed” evidence of it.

    BTW – at least one of the stories above shows McCain being aware of the situation:

    “Queried about it, John McCain expressed confidence in Ifill.

    ‘I think that Gwen Ifill is a professional, and I think she will do a totally objective job because she is a highly-respected professional,” McCain told Fox News’s Carl Cameron.'”

    If McCain approves, where is the issue?

  • Babs

    I think it’s interesting that there are both conservatives and liberals crying foul here. Indiminded is definitely left-leaning, and is also saying this is disturbing. Some of the posters here claiming it’s a conservative beef just doesn’t know some of the other posters.

    The problem I have with it is not her personal support for Obama, but that this is a financial issue on her part. She doesn’t just stand to get the President she wants, she stands to either make a LOT of money, or no money. Greta brought that up in her interview concerning Ifill, that in a court of law there has to be disclosure or there will be a mistrial. It’s no coincidence that the release date of her book is Inauguration day. That’s links the book to Obama in a big way.

    It’s my understanding from reading several separate articles concerning this that when Ifill was offered the moderator’s position the book was NOT on Amazon or anywhere else. Only she knew about the book at that time, and she did not disclose the information. That directly reflects on her credibility as a journalist, in my opinion. As to whether or not she should recuse herself as moderator, I do think under the circumstances she should. By her statement yesterday, it’s obvious she won’t.

    Until the Drudge and others picked this up yesterday, it wasn’t being discussed. Now that it’s front and center Ms. Ifill has just received more advanced publicity on her book for free than she could ever have managed if she tried. Contrived timing? Perhaps. On the part of conservatives, though? Maybe not. Maybe it’s Ms. Ifill herself who brought it to the forefront hoping for some good book promotion, which has certainly been achieved.

    McCain has no percentage in asking her to step down. It would look like he was trying to get points spotted for Sarah, and he feels that’s not necessary. After all, he threw her to Charles Gibson and Katic Couric, and who could be more biased against her. Well, maybe Keith Olberman. But the point is McCain believes she should be able to hold her own against anyone, and so do I. To ask her to step aside would seem petty on McCain’s part.

    That being said, I’ll repeat that not recusing herself of her own accord lowers the bar on her integrity and credibility as a journalist. It’s not about ideas here, it’s about cold hard cash in her pocket.

    bdjnk, that’s for the link. It led me to another clip of Ms. Ifill’s doing an interview with a couple of female Representatives in which – as it turns out – Ms. Ifill was apparently among the crowd of those questioning Sarah’s ability to hold office and mother 5 kids at the same time. Prejudiced against Palin? Absolutely.

  • b

    Can someone please qualify for me how Ifil might manifest her bias in the debate? I do not think that we are worried that she is going to ask biased questions or give one candidate much more time than the others, for is she did her credibility as a journalist, thinker and moderator would be totally comprimised. To me this is all about perception by the masses. Now that she is perceived to be a liberal Obama supporter I guess conservatives will use that as an excuse in the case that Palin tanks or a sign of her smarts and wit if she holds her own with Biden…. despite the liberal moderator.

    A further point to this idea that it is all about perception… Bob Schieffer, Conservative Texan, Presidential debate moderator for a few cycles now. Was he biased or did he have a conflict of interest when moderating the Kerry/Bush debates knowing that his older brother was a former business partner of George W’s and then was appointed as Ambassador to Australia once Bush took office?(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Schieffer) Does it really matter? Does Bob Schieffer not do a decent job as moderator? Similar situation as Gwen Ifil, no?

    As for a conflict of interest… this is not a courtroom or a criminal/legal case so take Greta “the hound dog” out of this one, this is a Vice Presidential debate, which is code for a long glorified interview, with more viewers, and conducted by journalists. Journalists who as it turns out make careers out of geuss what…Writing.

  • LFforMcCain

    this is not only a conflict of interest, it is a violation of debate policy of being nonpartisan and unequivocably fair. And this IS more important than the appearance of a conflict than if it were in a court trial or an accounting letter, it’s bias towards an election to determine the next president of the U.S. What could be more important? Disgusting!