McCain laments selection of Ifill as VP moderator (Update)

I basically thought this story was done with yesterday since, at that time, McCain didn’t make much of tonight’s VP debate moderator, Gwen Ifill, and the book she’s coming out with which is friendly to Barack Obama. However, this morning McCain indicated he was displeased with the selection which is a complete turn from yesterday’s comments.

Story from Politico:

Hours ahead of the vice presidential debate, Sen John McCain (R-Ariz.) criticized the selection of PBS’s Gwen Ifill as moderator because she is writing a book called “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.”

“Frankly, I wish they had picked a moderator that isn’t writing a book favorable to Barack Obama — let’s face it,” McCain said on “Fox & Friends.” “But I have to have confidence that Gwen Ifill will handle this as the professional journalist that she is. …

“Life isn’t fair, as I mentioned earlier in the program.”

Ifill is moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week” and senior correspondent of “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” She is viewed as one of Washington’s fairest journalists.

The propriety of her selection as moderator for tonight’s debate between Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) was questioned by conservatives after the Drudge Report drew attention to her book, to be published in January.

McCain took a different tack the day before, telling Fox News in another interview: “I think that Gwen Ifill is a professional, and I think that she will do a totally objective job because she is a highly respected professional. Does this help that if she has written a book that is favorable to Senator Obama? Probably not, but I have confidence that Gwen Ifill will do a professional job. And I have that confidence.”

What gives? Either McCain should have taken a stronger opinion yesterday or he should have stuck by what he previously said. Now it appears as if he’s taking a different stance on Ifill simply to bring more attention to her potential bias.

That being said, Ifill has admitted she did not tell the Commission on Presidential Debates about her upcoming book prior to her selection.

Bottom line on this is that given this conflict of interest, Ifill probably shouldn’t have been selected as a moderator.

However, I think she just has to be judged based on her performance tonight, which will probably be very good and free from bias.

Update

Columbia University’s Journalism Review seems to agree with McCain and question the integrity of Ifill’s decision to remain as moderator:

Gwen Ifill has done solid, important journalism. She’ll likely be a good, tough, and neutral moderator to the vice-presidential debate. Let’s set that aside, for now.

Conflict of interest is often about appearances. There appears, to us, to be a conflict in Ifill moderating tomorrow night’s vice presidential debate. Here’s why:

– Ifill’s upcoming book is called “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.” It, apparently, “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 (like Newark Mayor Corey Booker and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick) forging a bold new path to political power.”

– The book apparently will be published on January 20th, 2009, Inauguration Day.

– It stands to reason that a book with such a title would sell better if a certain person is inaugurated on that day.

We’d like to hear from Ifill. We’re going to try to reach her now.

A Newshour spokeswoman returned my call to Ifill. The spokeswoman said that “as a journalist, Gwen has to focus on the task at hand: preparing for the debate” (adding that “way before this issue came up, she decided not to do interviews” in advance of the debate). I asked the spokeswoman about the appearance of conflict and she replied that Ifill had “proven herself to be fair and balanced and no doubt will be” tomorrow night.

I was then bumped up to the spokeswoman’s boss who said that Ifill had “set this aside,” was focusing on debate prep, and that he didn’t “think Gwen is in a position” to talk to me about this but that he would try to reach her and ask.

If I hear anything futher, I’ll update again.

Columbia University’s Journalism Review, no conservative or Republican bastion, raises some good points. Once again, I will reiterate the point that if this situation was reversed, I’d be reporting this the same way and be raising the same questions. Furthermore, the Obama campaign would no doubt be raising the same questions McCain raised today.

However, it is noted that McCain has shifted his position since yesterday seeming to blow this issue off and today expressing distaste for her as the moderator, as seen above in the first report.

If you’re an Obama or Biden supporter, keep in mind how you would be reacting if this situation was reversed and Ifill was writing a book praising McCain’s candidacy.

Simply reporting the story as it develops since it’s pertinent to the dialog though it’s impossible to please everyone. Our liberal readers think I should not report it while conservative readers are disgusted by it. Sorry, can’t please everyone, just covering what is happening, not fabricating a story.