Thursday, October 2, 2008

What the Attack on Gwen Ifill Really Says

A couple days ago a few right-wing bloggers, including the notoriously awful Michelle Malkin, started calling tonight's debate moderator, PBS's Gwen Ifill, "biased" in favor of Barack Obama because she has a forthcoming book called The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. Now it seems woman who has a long and proud journalistic career is fending off smears to maintain her "neutrality." But just because Ifill has a forthcoming book about Obama, race, and politics doesn't automatically make her in the Obama camp. By all accounts Obama's candidacy signals a new era in way race is perceived in politics. Obama has literally broken through a barrier that no one else has. As a journalist who covers other black politicians and a student of the civil rights era, it is well within the realm of possibility that she would write a book about this change.

But in a weird way, the attack implies something much darker than the conservatives are willing to say out loud. After all, Ifill successfully moderated the vice presidential debate in 2004 between Dick Cheney and John Edwards without a complaint. The implication by conservatives here is that Ifill might treat Obama more favorably because they share the same race. The book merely gives them an excuse to raise objections (the book was also publicly listed when the McCain campaign agreed to the terms of the debates, which listed her as moderator of the vice presidential debate). The implication is that there's bias in favor of people if they share the same race.

It's sort of an odd argument for the right to be making, since this is the case that affirmative action activists have been making about white people favoring white people for years. Still, the idea that a political journalist would want to write about race in America and use Obama as a hook is somehow more sinister. This is a low for right-wing pundits, but not a particularly new one.

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