The document above, an invite for a Whitman-Walker Health clinic fundraising event tonight, doesn’t look too good for journalist Gwen Ifill. As NewsBusters and the Blaze have alleged, there’s an apparent conflict of interest in these words:
“Please join Gwen Ifill, managing editor of Washington Week and senior correspondent for the PBS News Hour, and the Whitman-Walker family as we honor United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for advancements in health care.”
Washington Week and the NewsHour, of course, cover the Obama administration as a matter of routine. Sebelius has been at the center of some controversial initiatives. We don’t want Ifill honoring someone she’s supposed to be auditing.
And she’s not, she says. In an interview this morning, Ifill said that she agreed to do the emceeing before she even knew who would be the honoree. She’s doing the event for charity and isn’t collecting a penny for her appearance. The task assigned to her is a mashup of logistics and ceremoniality: According to Whitman-Walker communications director Chip Lewis, Ifill opens the program and says “welcome”; introduces co-chairs; she announces a grant program for the clinic; and she announces dessert.
What she doesn’t do, she attests, is introduce or endorse the honoree, Sebelius. That falls to someone else on the program. “It sounds like I’m honoring her,” says Ifill of the invitation, when in fact the clinic is just “using me as a draw. There’s a difference between what the invite says and what happens on that stage tonight.”
Though unaware that she was signing up for a Sebelius-honoring event, Ifill notes that she didn’t raise a ruckus when she found out who the honoree would be. “I really do try to do the arm’s-length thing,” says Ifill. Unless I come across a NewsHour puff piece on the HHS National Action Plan to prevent health-care-associated infections in the coming weeks, I’m disinclined to grouse about Ifill’s charity appearance.