On PBS NewsHour at Republican National Convention, August 2012
|Born||Gwendolyn L. Ifill
September 29, 1955
New York City, New York, United States
|Died||November 14, 2016 (aged 61)
|Notable credit(s)||The New York Times
News Hour with Jim Lehrer
The Washington Post
Gwendolyn L. “Gwen” Ifill (/ˈaɪfəl/; September 29, 1955 – November 14, 2016) was an American journalist, television newscaster, and author. She was the moderator and managing editor of Washington Week and co-anchor and co-managing editor, with Judy Woodruff, of PBS NewsHour, both of which air on PBS. Ifill was a political analyst and moderated the 2004 and 2008 Vice Presidential debates. She was the author of the best-selling book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.
Early life and education
Ifill was born in New York City, the fifth child of African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister (Oliver) Urcille Ifill, Sr., a Panamanianof Barbadian descent who emigrated from Panama, and Eleanor Ifill, who was from Barbados. Her father’s ministry required the family to live in several cities throughout New England and the Eastern Seaboardduring her youth. In her childhood, Ifill lived in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts church parsonages and in federally subsidized housing in Buffalo and New York City. She graduated in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts.
While at Simmons College, Ifill interned for the Boston Herald-American and was hired after graduation by editors deeply embarrassed by an incident during her internship in which a coworker wrote her a note that read, “Niggergo home.” Later she worked for the Baltimore Evening Sun (1981–84), The Washington Post (1984–1991), The New York Times (1991–94), and NBC.
In October 1999, she became the moderator of the PBS program Washington Week in Review. She is also senior correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. Ifill appeared on various news shows, including Meet the Press.
She served on the board of the Harvard Institute of Politics, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Museum of Television and Radio, and the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
On February 7, 2011, Ifill was made an Honorary Member of Delta Sigma Thetaduring the sorority’s 22nd Annual Delta Days in the Nation’s Capital.
With Kaitlyn Adkins, Ifill co-hosted Jamestown LIVE!, a 2007 History Channel special commemorating the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, Virginia.
The PBS ombudsman, Michael Getler, has twice written about the letters he’s received complaining of bias in Ifill’s news coverage. He dismissed complaints that Ifill appeared insufficiently enthusiastic about Sarah Palin’s speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention, and concluded that Ifill had played a “solid, in my view, and central role in PBS coverage of both conventions.”
On August 6, 2013, the NewsHour named Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff as co-anchors and co-managing editors. They shared anchor duties Monday through Thursday with Woodruff as sole anchor on Friday.
Ifill’s first book, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, was released on January 20, 2009, Inauguration Day. The book deals with several African American politicians, including Barack Obama and such other up-and-comers as Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick and Newark, New Jersey, mayor Cory Booker. The publisher, Random House, describes the book as showing “why this is a pivotal moment in American history” through interviews with black power brokers and through Ifill’s observations and analysis of issues.
2004 and 2008 vice-presidential debates
On October 5, 2004, Ifill moderated the vice-presidential debate between Republican Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic candidate and North Carolina U.S. Senator John Edwards. Howard Kurtz described the consensus that Ifill “acquitted herself well” as moderator.
Ifill also moderated the October 2, 2008 vice-presidential debate between Democratic Delaware U.S. Senator Joe Biden and Republican Alaska Governor Sarah Palin at Washington University in St. Louis. The debate’s format offered Ifill freedom to cover domestic or international issues.
Before the 2008 debate, Ifill’s objectivity was questioned by conservative talk radio, blogs and cable news programs as well as some independent media analysts because of her book The Breakthrough, which was scheduled to be released on Inauguration Day 2009 but whose contents had not been disclosed to the debate commission or the campaigns. The book was mentioned in The Washington Times and appeared in trade catalogs as early as July 2008, well before Ifill was selected by the debate committee. Several analysts viewed Ifill’s book as creating a conflict of interest, including Kelly McBride of The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, who said, “Obviously the book will be much more valuable to her if Obama is elected.” John McCain, the republican presidential nominee, said in an interview on Fox News Channel, “I think she will do a totally objective job because she is a highly respected professional.” Asked about the forthcoming book, McCain responded, “Does this help…if she has written a book that’s favorable to Senator Obama? Probably not. But I have confidence that Gwen Ifill will do a professional job.”
To critics, Ifill responded, “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.”
After the debate, Ifill received praise for her performance. The Boston Globe reported that she “is receiving high marks for equal treatment of the candidates.”
Ifill’s moderation of the debates won her pop-culture recognition when the debates were parodied on Saturday Night Live with host and musical guest Queen Latifah portraying Ifill.
Ifill died of endometrial cancer on November 14, 2016, at age 61. Sara Just, PBS NewsHour executive producer and senior VP of public television station WETA, praised Ifill as “a journalist’s journalist.” Barack Obama, the 44th U.S. president, extended his condolences to the Ifill family, stating that he “always appreciated [her] reporting even when [he] was at the receiving end of one of her tough interviews.”