Gwen Ifill responded to questions about impartiality in an AP interview with David Bauder by suggesting the critics might be racist: "Do you think they made the same assumptions about Lou Cannon (who is white) when he wrote his book about Reagan?" Asked if there were racial motives at play, she said, "I don't know what it is. I find it curious."
This is a curious complaint, since (a) Cannon was never the sole moderator or even a questioner in a Ronald Reagan debate in 1980 or 1984 and (b) Lou Cannon wrote at least five books about Reagan. Ifill is probably referring to President Reagan: Role of a Lifetime, released in 1991. An Amazon.com search also suggests the titles Ronald Reagan: A Life in Politics (2004), Governor Reagan (2003), Ronald Reagan: The Presidential Portfolio (with Michael Beschloss, 2003), Reagan (1982), and Ronnie & Jesse: A Political Odyssey (1969).
Bauder quoted a column from Michelle Malkin for balance, but offered no real conservative rebuttal of Ifill's defenses, racial and otherwise. Added Ifill: "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...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."
Howard Fineman of Newsweek, who's put his knees under Ifill's Washington Week table more than a few times, dismissed the ethical conundrum as just an appearances problem, not a problem of a real bias. It's merely dizzying "pre-spin" of the veep debate:
Conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity argue that the book presents a hopeless conflict, in that Ifill (whether she wants to admit it or not) favors Obama because a victory by him in November will boost her books sales. They may have a point, at least about appearances. But Ifill is highly respected, fiercely independent—and in the tank for no one. I asked a top McCain advisor what he planned to do about the situation and he had a one-word answer: "nothing." But let’s see how the debate goes—and see if he sticks to his word not to bring it up. If the debate goes badly for Palin, my bet is that we’ll hear this one in the spin room Thursday night.
There is no precedent in media ethics for a presidential debate moderator to be in the process of writing a book about the "breakthrough" of one of the candidates. Every liberal who was thoroughly outraged by the George Will "Debategate" scandal of 1980 ought to at least explore what the rules ought to be for media professionals in this arena.