Defining “moderator”

posted at 7:51 am on October 1, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Perhaps the Commission on Presidential Debates doesn’t understand the term “moderator”.  According to Websters Dictionary, the word refers to a mediator, someone unaffiliated or neutral between two or more positions to facilitate discussion and negotiation.  Jim Lehrer moderated the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, and did a fine job, mostly because he gave the appearance of fairness and objectivity.  Lehrer hasn’t written books or magazine articles praising one of these men, nor does he have a financial interest in the outcome of the election.

Instead, as Michelle Malkin notes, the CPD has chosen Gwen Ifill, the PBS host and author of an upcoming book on Barack Obama scheduled for publication on Inauguration Day, to moderate the debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden:

In an imaginary world where liberal journalists are held to the same standards as everyone else, Ifill would be required to make a full disclosure at the start of the debate. She would be required to turn to the cameras and tell the national audience that she has a book coming out on January 20, 2009 – a date that just happens to coincide with the inauguration of the next president of the United States.

The title of Ifill’s book? “Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.” Nonpartisan my foot.

Ifill’s publisher, Random House, is already busy hyping the book with YouTube clips of Ifill heaping praise on her subjects, including Obama and Obama-endorsing Mass. Governor Deval Patrick.

Here’s the YouTube clip of Ifill explaining her book:

Let’s say for the sake of argument that Ifill doesn’t show any particular bias in this book towards Obama, even though Michelle documents both an Essence flack job and complaints about her coverage of the Republican convention that make her bias clear.  Instead, let’s just focus on the financial interest Ifill has in an Obama victory in five weeks.  If Obama loses, how will her book sell?  Not nearly as well as if Obama wins, and everyone knows that.

Moderators should not have a financial stake in the election.  That should be exceedingly obvious, and is to most people outside of the mainstream media and the Commission.  Her pending book publication should alone disqualify her to moderate any of the debates this cycle.  If Ifill had any sense of journalistic ethics, she would have turned them down herself.

Of course, the CPD could make this a habit.  Let’s have Brent Bozell and Glenn Beck moderate the final two presidential debates.  After all, that fits perfectly in the new Ifill tradition.

Update: T-Steel, one of The Moderate Voice’s rational and sane center-left writers, wonders what the CPD was thinking:

My dear ladies and gentlemen, in Election ‘08 where partisanship is as thick as a the foundation of the Empire State Building, having a moderator that appears “so friendly” to Senator Obama just doesn’t look right and opens the door to “the fix” talk. Although Ifill isn’t one of those screaming political pundits, I’ve heard her on various radio shows (especially urban radio) where she just gushes about Senator Obama’s historic run for the presidency. And with so much riding on Governor Palin’s performance in this debate, why have someone with an Obama tilt moderate? While I’m hardly a conservative and/or Republican (I do have a smattering of some conservative views), they have every right to not like this situation. And I would say the same if the moderator was a person who gushed about a McCain presidency.

I have a hard time believing that Gwen Ifill will NOT be tougher toward Governor Palin than Senator Biden. She seems to have much vested in an Obama presidency. She is a professional. She may moderate fairly. But with today’s political environment, couldn’t PBS find someone who hasn’t written a book and articles that are clearly positive to ultra-positive towards Senator Obama?

Update II: No, Kathryn Jean Lopez did not say Republicans should just “suck it up” regarding Ifill.  She was quoting an e-mailer.  She said that the idea that the blame lies on the four Republicans at the CPD was a “fair one”, and I agree.  What were they thinking when they signed off on Ifill?


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McCain should either demand a change of moderator or simply change the format to a “Town Hall” meeting, taking questions from the audience. This is an obamanation!

Star20 on October 1, 2008 at 11:37 AM

The more I think about this the worse it is.
Ifill is essentially betting a huge amount of money that Barry is going to win.
Now she is going to referee a game between Team Barry and Team McCain.
Gee, what could possibly happen?

jjshaka on October 1, 2008 at 11:37 AM

Iffel, backpeddling ……

“The book is focusing on four people, one of them Barack Obama of course.”

So why aren’t all of their names in the title too Gwen?

And who are the other three?

Deval Patrick (D), Governor of Massachusetts
Artur Davis (D), Congressman from Alabama
Cory Booker (D), Mayor of Newark, NJ (In Feb ’08 Booker declared Newark would be known as Obamatown for 3 days)

You’ve got a crowded tank full of Obama supporters there with you sweetie.

This is an outrage. Why not just let Michelle Obama moderate the debate?

She must withdraw!

fogw on October 1, 2008 at 11:38 AM

Why the blankety-blank-blank do Republicans keep ALLOWING a hostile MSM to set the structure and tone of these debates, and to provide the frickin’ moderator!?!? It’s insanely stupid. Why doesn’t McCain push for an actually neutral venue and neutral moderator, or failing that, get someone on the right to moderate one of them — like a Hannity or an Ingram??

EasyEight on October 1, 2008 at 11:39 AM

Ask the Commission on Presidential Debates if she will acknowledge her conflict of interest: 202-872-1020.

And here’s the e-mail address of Janet H. Brown, Executive Director of the Debates Commission: jb@debates.org

reshas1 on October 1, 2008 at 11:40 AM

I agree with ‘Star20′, they should change the moderator or at minimum go to a Town Hall format and let the chips fall where they may. Besides, I like Town Hall format much more than questions, made-up or otherwise, from a “monderator”. But today, I don’t feel very excited about our party and almost want to forget about even going to vote. What a mess.

foxone on October 1, 2008 at 11:40 AM

On the other hand, the public is already very suspicious of the media so an all out attack on their fairness day in and day out might work.

neuquenguy on October 1, 2008 at 11:15 AM

I don’t see how any member of the msm can say this is not a COI. Therefore, she was obligated to disclose it and she should recuse herself. Yet, when Sam Donaldson was asked if it was a COI, he side stepped the question and said he thought she could be fair. Can’t get any more hypocritical than that. And our local radio host didn’t even call him on his b.s. Guess he didn’t want to chance offending him and losing as a guest in the future. Spit.

Blake on October 1, 2008 at 11:45 AM

Is she going to be as bad as this? Probably worse.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5TG2PVXLgM

bcre8v on October 1, 2008 at 11:45 AM

email the chair….. JB@debates.org her name is Janet Brown….ask her how this could possibly happen? DEMAND she removes Gwen while we have time!!!

SDarchitect on October 1, 2008 at 11:45 AM

So is there any way that this could be considered election fraud? Isn’t that a felony? Just wondering if this situation meanders into something illegal…

dominigan on October 1, 2008 at 11:52 AM

Normally I agree with you but I became a fan of Gwen Ifill during the Lewinsky Scandal. Every news commentator felt compelled to editorialize their reporting on Clinton, but Ifill. Instead she would identify partisanship reporting as being bias and self-serving. Since then both the left and the right have rejected her, if you’re not in our pocket then you must be in theirs. Today’s journalistic community has little room for fair and unbiased reporting.

If I have issue with Ifill it is with her opinion on race relations. She stated on Meet The Press that she believes that most “whites” are incapable of having an honest discussion concerning race relations. That is exactly the crux that prevents honest a discussion with BOTH races. Even with that I still believe her integrity will prevail and we will have a fair moderator.

fredaa on October 1, 2008 at 11:53 AM

And who are the other three?

Deval Patrick (D), Governor of Massachusetts
Artur Davis (D), Congressman from Alabama
Cory Booker (D), Mayor of Newark, NJ (In Feb ‘08 Booker declared Newark would be known as Obamatown for 3 days)

You’ve got a crowded tank full of Obama supporters there with you sweetie.

fogw on October 1, 2008 at 11:38 AM

What??? no Michael Steele, J.C.Watts, Condi,….?

neuquenguy on October 1, 2008 at 11:53 AM

And I don’t see how Obama winning would vastly increase her book sales. Her book is a commentary on race and politics in America and was written before the election. I

crr6 on October 1, 2008 at 10:52 AM

Nice try, crr6, but you obviously did not notice the title of Ifill’s tome.

onlineanalyst on October 1, 2008 at 11:53 AM

I nominate Rush Limbaugh to moderate the next two Presidential debates. Given his oft stated criticism of Sen. McCain he may well be a more balanced (if not impartial) moderator than Ms. Ifill

Blaise on October 1, 2008 at 11:55 AM

Time to push the grassroots politics for hometown and state politicians, because I’ve seen into the future and have seen the White House burn.

madmonkphotog on October 1, 2008 at 11:59 AM

In my neck of the woods this is what we would call letting the fox guard the hen house.

Lawrence on October 1, 2008 at 12:00 PM

Ms. Ifil won’t be replaced, there’ll be a little statement about COI, perhaps, and things will go as scheduled. Mrs. Palin will do just fine, irrespective of the media bias.

I cannot, for the life of me, understand the continual doom and glooming–if the candidate meets enough of your criteria, then decide for him/her, and let that be the end of it. Wavering and second-guessing doesn’t (to me)say much for being reliable in tough situations. I think we all understand the stakes, so how about we man up and STAY that way?

irongrampa on October 1, 2008 at 12:04 PM

Time to push the grassroots politics for hometown and state politicians, because I’ve seen into the future and have seen the White House burn.

madmonkphotog on October 1, 2008 at 11:59 AM

Yes, how can it be that we are running against arguably the worst do-nothing, partisan, approvals-in-the-gutter congress in history and from all indications we will increase their majority? Shouldn’t this be a slam-dunk? Are we trying hard enough?

neuquenguy on October 1, 2008 at 12:04 PM

Can we ever get to a place that isn’t race? I guess I’m a racist for being tired of hearing about everybody’s identity politics.

billypaintbrush on October 1, 2008 at 12:06 PM

I suspect that there is private communication between Ifill and Obama. Perhaps she has given him all the questions in advance. I have absolutely no evidence of this, but who cares. If it were Sean Hannity moderating, the left would be making the same charge, and rightly so.
I vote for townhall style, any topic is OK. Let the PEOPLE talk to the candidates.

redshirt on October 1, 2008 at 12:10 PM

There is a 1/4 page article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch concerning Ifill;

http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/politics/story/5A4729A61AE0FE68862574D5000CB2B7?OpenDocument

They have a little Q&A in it. Here is how the article ends;

Q: What do you hope is said about this debate afterward?

A: Just that I was fair, I guess. Even that I can’t hope for because people are so polarized.
Oddly enough, the far-left Post doesn’t mention Ifill’s book!

Star20 on October 1, 2008 at 12:11 PM

And I don’t see how Obama winning would vastly increase her book sales. Her book is a commentary on race and politics in America and was written before the election.

crr6 on October 1, 2008 at 10:52 AM

Aside from the title…which you obviously ignored. Tell me why it’s being released on January 20th?

Deanna on October 1, 2008 at 12:22 PM

She didn’t need to write a book to explain her bias.

It’s pretty plain and simple.

Kini on October 1, 2008 at 12:30 PM

As for all the advice posted here suggesting Ifill be removed or that Sarah say something about it during the debate…bad ideas.

Let Ifill stay, the news is on this and Ifill will have to be extra careful. And Sarah would only look as though she were whining if she made any comment. Remember everyone, we’re dealing with the MSM here, and they would definitely twist this against Palin if they can. And the Obama campaign would even use the race card.

Just relax, take deep breaths, and let Sarah do her job. She’s going to have to face this bias every day if she gets elected.

Deanna on October 1, 2008 at 12:32 PM

Just relax, take deep breaths, and let Sarah do her job. She’s going to have to face this bias every day if when she gets elected.

Deanna on October 1, 2008 at 12:32 PM

Fixed….

CC

CapedConservative on October 1, 2008 at 12:34 PM

irongrampa on October 1, 2008 at 12:04 PM

If all the voters were informed, studied the facts, drew their own conclusions and ignored the biased reporting of the MSM, I could agree with you.

They’re not. Tons of ‘em.

fogw on October 1, 2008 at 12:38 PM

I’m only surprised that anyone is surprised by this.

MajorKong on October 1, 2008 at 12:44 PM

I hate to keep flogging a dead horse, but somewhere along the way the MCCAIN FOLKS HAD TO SAY “YEAH, FINE WHATEVER. IFILL IT IS.”

And if they have not made any protestations…why not??? Or if in fact the Mavs did NOT agree to Ifill as debate moderator, why is she moderating the debate???

I am as perplexed as the next guy about this glaring and blatant conflict of interest by obvious Obama supporter Gwen Ifill. And no one with a brain can possibly deny that if a pro-McCain press figure (a total oxymoron I know but bear with me) were in a similar position, he or she would never have come within 3 time zones of making it as debate moderator. The Dem negotiators simply would not have allowed it.

Additionally, the rest of the MSM would be puking their guts out with rage and anger over it, demanding that said moderator “do the right thing and back out of the debate.” It would have been front page news already, for weeks. Why the Mavs havent said word one is a heartbreaking mysterey.

But the outrage should be directed at the McCain team FIRST.

Yes, this sux, but thus far I personally havent seen or heard or read a peep out of the McCain folks. Are they setting an ambush??? If so, hooray for them. I dont think it will help them sell Gov Palin one bit. But it will make a lot of people feel good come Jan 20 when Malcolm Urkel is inaugurated and Ifill’s book is sitting in the front windomw of every Barnes & Noble in the country.

Mike D. on October 1, 2008 at 12:49 PM

Imus questions Ifill’s qualifications.

http://imustimes.wordpress.com/2008/09/29/imus-questions-ifills-veracity/

Dr Evil on October 1, 2008 at 1:05 PM

Palin’s opening remarks should include congratulating Ifill on her upcoming book.

This will put Ifill on notice and probably result in a more even handed or softer handling of Palin. It will also cause news commentators to address the acknowledgement in the post mortum. It may not resonate with some, but it will with many. Moreover, it makes Palin look a little tougher.

moxie_neanderthal on October 1, 2008 at 1:11 PM

Ifill will try to frame it as a book about African American policians, not specifically Obama. If that’s the case the book’s release date is a bit suspect.

MajorKong on October 1, 2008 at 1:32 PM

We should send Gwen a copy of “Tome Meeting Time” which explains the role of a moderator.
Primarily the moderator shows no partiality in the debate. If he wishes to be partisan he must step down from the podium.
In most towns he is elected by the people, not appointed by the elites.

Amazed on October 1, 2008 at 1:48 PM

We’ll know right off the bat about her bias, depending on whether she discloses her book at the opening. If she doesn’t, she’s going to make it a very rought night for Palin.

blue13326 on October 1, 2008 at 2:05 PM

She mentioned Artur Davis, Congressman from Alabama. Davis yesterday sent Hannity a statement saying he has looked deeper into the Fannie/Freedie issue and Dems are guilty. Oops! Bet he gets axed from her book pretty quick. Maybe she can replace him with Marion Barry or Kuammie Lassiter (sp).

Mr_Magoo on October 1, 2008 at 2:22 PM

The PBS moderator of the first Pres debate hasn’t voted in like 20 years to remain impartial (or so I’ve heard).

Mr_Magoo on October 1, 2008 at 2:24 PM

“Ifill will try to frame it as a book about African American policians, not specifically Obama. If that’s the case the book’s release date is a bit suspect.

MajorKong on October 1, 2008 at 1:32 PM”

That’s what the comments at the Huffington Post are saying.

Star20 on October 1, 2008 at 2:50 PM

email the chair….. JB@debates.org her name is Janet Brown….ask her how this could possibly happen? DEMAND she removes Gwen while we have time!!!

SDarchitect on October 1, 2008 at 11:45 AM

Done. Thanks for the addy.

petefrt on October 1, 2008 at 2:58 PM

She should not be the moderator.

Dave Rywall on October 1, 2008 at 10:51 AM

Agreed.

Jaibones on October 1, 2008 at 3:01 PM

Star20 on October 1, 2008 at 2:50 PM

That scares me a bit but it’s easy to predict their position on this. If you flip the scenario and say Bob Woodward circa 2004 was set to moderate a Bush/Kerry debate the left would go nuts…well I should say they’d go nuttier.

MajorKong on October 1, 2008 at 3:05 PM

Palin’s opening remarks should include congratulating Ifill on her upcoming book.

This will put Ifill on notice and probably result in a more even handed or softer handling of Palin. It will also cause news commentators to address the acknowledgement in the post mortum. It may not resonate with some, but it will with many. Moreover, it makes Palin look a little tougher.

moxie_neanderthal on October 1, 2008 at 1:11 PM

Palin has been too nice to biased interviers. After the opening congratulations, any “quiz” question or obvious display of bias should get a smack down response.

Sarah’s comment on how journalistic ethics have changed since she earned her Journalism degree, with more edge

Right_of_Attila on October 1, 2008 at 3:30 PM

Ifill plays the race card

OC Register Sunday Sept. 28, 2008 A&E pg. 6

“Except for a recent remark to her by a reporter at another network” (now AP is blind sourcing their own reporters!!);” Ifill has yet to hear it suggested that she favors BO for the preidency because she’s black”.
How do you even fight this stuff??
1/2 page article and NO mention of the book!!!

KZnextzone on October 1, 2008 at 3:36 PM

They should add Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin as conservative “moderators” to balance out the Obamaton Ifill.

Stepan on October 1, 2008 at 4:22 PM

She said that the idea that the blame lies on the four Republicans at the CPD was a “fair one”, and I agree.

Most Republicans are so cowed and browbeaten by the media that they’ll put up with anything. Look at McCain’s statement re Ifill. He’s back to the oh-so-dynamic Bob Dole Part Deux campaign. “I’ll be nice to the media and they’ll be fair. Duhhhhh….” F-ing idiot.

Django on October 1, 2008 at 4:25 PM

Why doesn’t Barack just do the moderating? If you’re not going to hide the bias, mine as well go all the way.

Geronimo on October 1, 2008 at 4:30 PM

If ANYBODY could do it, I’m sure Barack could. He is, after all, not of mortal men.

Star20 on October 1, 2008 at 4:36 PM

wonders what the CPD was thinking:

As if this is the first time they have chosen a moderator that isn’t a leftist. Right.

peacenprosperity on October 1, 2008 at 4:37 PM

I guess she got it because Keith Olbermann had a dinner reservation at Le Cirque that night. What a joke these debates are.

RobCon on October 1, 2008 at 4:48 PM

Don’t know if this info’s already here but you can write Janet Brown @ debates.org (I’m sure her info is there somewhere if not the first initials of her name is your big hint) and request Ifill be removed as “moderator.”

Here’s what I said:

Dear Janet H. Brown, Executive Director of the
Debates Commission,

As an informed citizen who has listened to
Ifill’s comments regarding Governor Palin’s
speech, I am requesting Gwen Ifill be removed as
VP Debate Moderator and replaced with someone
neutral.

There is a big appearance of impropriety for Gwen
Ifill to remain as moderator of the VP Debate. She
has a direct financial interest in Barack Obama
winning the Presidential election to boost her
book sales. She has also been recorded on
numerous occasions with very biased views against
one of those debating in the very debate she is
supposed to “moderate.”

If she is not removed then, at a minimum, she
should disclose her conflicts before the debate.

Looking forward to your attention to this

NTWR on October 1, 2008 at 4:59 PM

Gwen Ifill needs a co-moderator. I nominate Michelle Malkin, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, or Tammy Bruce to join Gwen Ifill in her “moderation” duties!

All of these women are accomplished and have not taken money to write fawning accounts of a presidential candidate.

Skeptic on October 1, 2008 at 5:24 PM

What were they thinking when they signed off on Ifill?

Did Ifill disclose the book deal?

Chakra Hammer on October 1, 2008 at 6:25 PM

Did Ifill disclose the book deal BEFORE she was chosen to be a moderator?

Chakra Hammer on October 1, 2008 at 6:26 PM

Here’s my 2 cents worth that I sent to Mr. Calderone at Politico regarding his article on the subject — There are several issues regarding Ms. Ifill’s writing of a book that appears to be favorable to one of the Presidential candidates and moderating a debate: 1) During the debate preparations (location, moderator, network, etc.) Ms. Ifill’s upcoming book was not disclosed to the McCain campaign. It was Ms. Ifill’s duty, as well as PBS’s, to disclose this information at the outset. She, nor they, did. 2) Ms. Ifill penned an article for “Essence” magazine’s September issue about Senator Obama. An article, Mr. Calderone, that Michelle Malkin referenced in her story but you left OUT. 3) Yes, why is this coming up 36 hours before the VPOTUS debate? Could it be another lack of vetting by those “journalists” covering the campaigns? 4) Now, regardless of “who won or lost the debate” that are sure to follow, Ms. Ifill’s impartiality will always be raised by some. Journalists are not supposed to be part of the story. Because of her silence she is now part of the “story”
Now, I’ve put my 4 cents in…

Gohawgs on October 1, 2008 at 6:26 PM

OR did Ifill Disclose the Title of the Book before she was chosen to be the moderator?

Chakra Hammer on October 1, 2008 at 6:26 PM

Brit Hume should do the debate.

Chakra Hammer on October 1, 2008 at 6:29 PM

It’s official. We’re racists.

unclesmrgol on October 1, 2008 at 7:19 PM

I just read at michellemalkin.com that Ifill has played the race card.

Therefore, she’s a racist and deserves no praise.

madmonkphotog on October 1, 2008 at 7:28 PM

Ifill plays race card. How utterly predictable. Now she really needs to step down.

darwin on October 1, 2008 at 7:41 PM

Gwen Ifill wasn’t properly vetted.

eaglephin on October 2, 2008 at 12:32 AM

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