How the Moderator Became the Debate

Anyone who says the transformative power of technology is not the game-changer in this year’s presidential race, wake up.  The power of the blogosphere to drive the political discourse in this country was front and center once again in the days leading up to the vice-presidential debate between Senator Biden and Governor Palin.


The day before the debate, the conservative blog WorldNetDaily posted an “exclusive” on debate moderator Gwen Ifill, stating the host of “Washington Week” on PBS is, “writing a book to come out on the day the next president takes the oath of office that aims to “shed new light” on Democratic candidate Barack Obama and other “emerging young African American politicians” who are “forging a bold new path to political power.” 


This set the blogosphere on fire, eliciting anger from the right that Ifill was biased and should be removed as moderator, and driving accusations from the left that conservatives were stooping to any level to take the pressure off Palin.  The news also proved an opening for conservative critics to dredge up previous criticisms against the journalist, namely her handling of Vice President Cheney in the 2004 debate against Democrat John Edwards:

“ During a vice-presidential candidate debate she moderated in 2004 – when Democrat John Edwards attacked Republican Dick Cheney’s former employer, Halliburton – the vice president said, “I can respond, Gwen, but it’s going to take more than 30 seconds.”

“Well, that’s all you’ve got,” she told Cheney.

Ifill told the Associated Press Democrats were delighted with her answer, because they “thought I was being snippy to Cheney.” She explained that wasn’t her intent.”

Conservative blogs also took the chance to revive complaints logged with PBS earlier this summer criticizing Ifill’s “dismissive” reaction to Governor Palin’s speech at the Republican Convention.

It was only after the WorldNetDaily report spread rapidly online that mainstream media outlets picked up the story.

Turns out that Ifill herself spoke about the book months ago and wrote an essay in Time magazine, incidents that produced nary a bleep on the political radar.  

So, you could argue that conservatives were simply grasping for straws in a bid to protect Palin after her disastrous interviews with Katie Couric. 

You could argue the WorldNetDaily story received greater attention because its release fell curiously close to a debate with higher stakes than anyone could have anticipated. 

But you can’t argue that the mainstream media was caught with its tail between its legs, chasing after an online exclusive and explaining itself for failing to report the story earlier.  And you can’t argue the ways in which this episode demonstrates the power and perhaps, the purpose, of the online community.



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