Democratic National Convention: Washington Week's Gwen Ifill
Wednesday, July 28, 2004; 1:00 PM
Each week, the country's top reporters join moderator Gwen Ifill for an in-depth discussion of the week's top news from Washington and around the world. The longest-running news and public affairs program on PBS, "Washington Week" features journalists -- not pundits -- lending insight and perspective to the week's important news stories. Now, Ifill brings "Washington Week" online.
This week, Ifill was online Wednesday, July 28, at 1 p.m. ET live from the Democratic National Convention in Boston, to take questions and comments about the news and issues of the week.
Ifill is moderator and managing editor of "Washington Week" and senior correspondent for "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." Ifill spent several years as a "Washington Week" panelist before taking over the moderator's chair in October 1999. Before coming to PBS, she spent five years at NBC News as chief congressional and political correspondent. Her reports appeared on "NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw," "Today," "Meet the Press" and MSNBC. Ifill joined NBC News from The New York Times where she covered the White House and politics. She also covered national and local affairs for The Washington Post, Baltimore Evening Sun, and Boston Herald American.
"Washington Week," airs on WETA/Channel 26, Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. (check local listings).
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Just a fan note to you, Gwen. You're the best! And the PBS coverage has put the big three networks to shame!
Gwen Ifill: What a nice way to start a chat!!
You offered as how Ms. Heinz Kerry got a subdued reaction from the audience last night. Do you agree with Maureen Dowd who seems to think it's all about Mrs. Kerry as opposed to her husband? He seems an afterthought, particularly since she refers to the late Senator Heinz as her husband.
Gwen Ifill: It's difficult to tell. Although I noticed muted response in the convention hall, folks who watched it at home on television say she came across really well. Since more people saw it on the tube than in the room, I think that trumps!
How is it that Al Jazeera is able to spend more air time on the convention than regular networks i.e. ABC, NBC, CBS? Isn't that the height of arrogance and pursuit more advertising dollars else where rather than doing their civic duty specially at a time when country extremely polarized?
I would have liked PBS to address that issue and it's impact.
Gwen Ifill: There has been a lot written about the networks' coverage decision on the conventions. I'd prefer to just allow PBS' decision to stand for itself. We're there every night, from 8 pm until the end..
And boy do my feet hurt!
With three journalists for every delegate, couldn't just one put down the free food and goody bags and ask a few hard questions? NO ONE asked Carter about his slam for Bush not serving during Viet Nam -- "Gee Jimmy, does that evaluation also apply to President Clinton who dodged the draft and oversaw forces in harms way in Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia, and flying over Iraq?"
Gwen Ifill: Free food? Goody bags? Where!
Seriously, I know it must be frustrating not to see the questions you'd like answered in the ways you'd like, but as far as I can tell, everyone is doing the best they can here on the ground, given issues of accessibility and competing coverage demands.
(Another WWR fan here)
What do you think is the most striking or most memorable moment or quote from the convention so far?
Gwen Ifill: Two big moments so far...and they both involved the upturned faces in the convention hall. Delegates were transfixed by Bill Clinton, and by Barack Obama, in that order.
Clinton was very effective when he said something like "wisdom and strength are not opposing concepts..." and Obama struck a chord when he talked about how God is an awesome God of both red and blue states. (Both approximate quotes.)
Kerry and Edwards have a way to go to top either.
What do you attribute to the huge ovation that Howard Dean got last night? Do you get the impression from talking to delegates that he is enormously popular within the party?
Gwen Ifill: A lot of folks at this convention came to the party because of Howard Dean. Even those folks who did not support him credit him with energizing the Democrats. And although many of them are relieved he is not the nominee, the ovation seemed to reflect a combination both things.
South Hampton, N.H.:
Gwen, welcome to New England. Watched Barack
Obama last night. A very impressive new voice, with a new dialogue it seems. My question is this: Barack is clearly an embodiment of the "insistence on small miracles" that he talked about, his is a very different story from the privelege of John Kerry..his story tells of the "generosity of America." I am exceedingly suspicious of power and wealth as my representative voice politically, so, how do you think this will play in the country? I am thinking, Barack is much closer to my core experience and values than Kerry is. Much closer. The Dems may have made a mistake in bringing Barack out there.
Gwen Ifill: I suspect by the time Kerry speaks, most folks will be focusing on the nominee himself and comparing him to President Bush rather than to other Democrats.
Note about home viewers having a better impression of Mrs. Kerry's talk. I think that since she spoke relatively softly, it may have gotten lost in the hall. On TV, you could hear her clearly, and the close-ups of her made it a more personalized message, which I'm sure wouldn't come across that way in a big convention hall. It was more like hearing a personal conversation, rather than a speech, which may explain why she came across better on TV than in the Fleet Center. Just an opinion. I thought she did a great job.
Also, Obama ROCKS!!
Gwen Ifill: Good point re: Teresa. That's why so many reporters watch conventions and debates on TV!
RE: Arlington, Va.: :
I can't help myself, but I must respond. Both Mr. and Mrs. Kerry come accross to me as couple respectful of the fact that they each have "pasts" even if some potential voters don't. If John Kerry was really an afterthought they wouldn't have had a second date let alone a marriage.
Gwen Ifill: Okey doke.
Long Beach, Calif.:
I was curious as to whether, like Anne
Coulter, you had any run-ins with "ripe
pie wagons" at the Convention, or perhaps one of your "pretty girl" friends did? Seriously, how do you view the overall mood
of the convention. Is "restrained, and genuinely in fear of Bush" accurate?
Gwen Ifill: I have no idea what you are talking about. Ann Coulter? Ripe pies? I have encountered neither.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
Obama was amazing, he gave the audience a sense of empowerment. But why wasn't he on any of the more mainstream channels? (I only saw him on C-SPAN)
Gwen Ifill: Babe, you have GOT to start watching PBS! Not only was he on our air live, but I also interviewed him after the speech.
Is there a possibility of talking to some of the local politicians, such as State Rep. Gloria Fox about the black perspective on Democratic politics in the Bay State?
Gwen Ifill: Sorry. I think this is a bigger story than that.
Theresa Heinz Kerry, in her speech last night, expressed the hope that in the future labels for strong women like "opinionated" would be replaced with more accurate and less demeaning ones. Yet, this morning on GMA Claire Shipman used the "opinionated" label in her teaser. I am beginning to feel as if strong, intelligent, wise women are fighting an impossible battle. I notice that your reporting this week has been intelligent and competant. Do you find yourself fighting similar negative labels? Also, I wanted to thank PBS for allowing me to watch all of the important speeches this week. I am so pleased to find that this important event is being taken seriously by at least one television channel. The analysis has been quite informative as well.
Gwen Ifill: Well, I guess I do like to think of myself as intelligent and competent. I keep my opinions at home.
San Diego, Calif.:
If John Edwards attended a game
at Fenway Park, the way Cheney attended a Yankees game, do you think the fans would
boo when Edwards face was projected on the outfield video screen? That's what happened
to Cheney. What do you make of that?
Gwen Ifill: Don't forget, Kerry got booed this week at the Red Sox game too.In his home town.
All politicians take a risk when they go to sporting events. It's a rich tradition.
Verbatim Barack quote:
"The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country
into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for
Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the
Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in
the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends
in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots
who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the
stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."
Gwen Ifill: There you go!
San Antonio, Tex.:
The Democrats are all saying the right things and are enthusiastic, but as one who lives in Texas, I would warn you Republicans in Texas spend their time registering white suburban voters and evangelicals and turning them out on election day. They speak in codewords like "Islamic extremist terrorist" when they mean evangelical Christian values like bringing on the Resurrection by a Palestinian/Isreali War.
Are the Democrats financing and putting in place a more massive turnout machine than they had in 2000 especially in the battleground states?
Gwen Ifill: I can't give you the blow by blow, but I can assure you that after 2000's outcome, both companies are paying a lot of attention to turning out their bases.
What is the liklihood of the Democrats picking up 11 seats in the Senate and ragaining control of that body?
Gwen Ifill: Sounds tough.
I wonder whether there is anyone who actually votes in the United States who would change his or her vote based on the candidate's spouse? Is that how low America has sunk?
Gwen Ifill: What? Nobody in England is influenced by what his or her spouse thinks?
Crystal City, Va.:
I enjoy the PBS coverage but think that if the networks provided 3-4 hours per night the ratings would climb -- for HBO, A&E, and the Disney chanel. Anyone who wants to watch can, the rest of the country can enjoy "Fear Factor" re-runs.
Gwen Ifill: Hey listen, I'm all for exhaustive coverage. But anyone who doesn't want to watch ought to have options.
Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.:
Our local PBS station has not chosen to air your
coverage of the Convention. I have been able to
watch on C-Span. Given that the candidates were
already chosen well in advance, how does the
Democratic Party justify the expense of the
Convention and how does it benefit the party and the
public? Thank you for all your wonderful coverage of
Gwen Ifill: Sorry you haven't been able to see our coverage. We try to show that conventions are about more than just nominating a candidate. We believe they also tell you about who the party is, and who our potential leaders are. Why not showcase that once every four years?
Hello Ms. Ifill,
You and the NewsHour are the best.
My question is about Senator Obama. Every news site I've gone to today has noted his parentage (black father, white mother) and consideres him black (actually he's bi-racial, right?). Why do they do this? As an African-American I often wonder why the race of who brought us into this world is so important, not just with Mr. Obama but with any bi-racial African-American. What's the importance of this? I never see any articles telling us the parentage of Barbara Boxer, Diane Fienstein (sp), Joe Biden, Trent Lott, etc. We are left to assume that their parents are white. Why can't the parentage of Africans be left alone like that? Why does ours have to be explained? As far as I'm concerned, Mr. Obama is a red-blooded patriotic American... period. I'm probably making too much out of this, but I don't get it.
This ia a controversial question that does not fit into the "convention" context so if you wish to pass on this I do understand.
Gwen Ifill: I think we call people what they call themselves. Mr Obama consciously self-identifies as African American, and freely offers up the details of his biracial parentage as part of his political biography. That's why we mention it.
17th and I Streets, Washington, D.C.:
Thanks to you and all at PBS for allowing those of us without cable to see the action in Boston!
As for Obama, someone in another chat said it looks like we have just seen the debut of the first African American President of the U.S. I wholeheartedly second that. He has my vote right now!
Gwen Ifill: Gee...Seems like you need to find HIS website!
Los Angeles, Calif.:
RE: Anne Coulter
She was just let go by USATODAY for submitting an op-ed from the Democratic
Convention that called the women on the floor to be "ripe pie-wagons." She said she
bonded with a few "pretty girls" like herself.
washingtonpost.com: USA Today Kills Ludicrous Ann Coulter Story, (Salon.com)
Gwen Ifill: Uh, ok.
Is Public Televsion feeling a great deal of pressure from the current administration and conservatives to either change its programming or lose its funding?
If so, could you give us a sense of what this has been like?
Gwen Ifill: I'm not feeling any pressure down here.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
I'm curious as to why the Democrats don't highlight the fantastic job of oversight performed by Henry Waxman. I know
he's not warm and cuddly, but he's performed
his job so well, I think it should be noted. Your opinion?
Gwen Ifill: Lotsa people don't get recognized, but I haven't been in the room, so I can't say who gets up and that podium or why.
Thanks for the great job you and your PBS cohorts are doing. Please also pass on to Mr. Lehrer a special thank you for defending Mrs. Kerry's comments last night as being substantive and issue oriented. I believe it was the New York Times commentator who blurted out first that he would have liked to have seen Mrs. Kerry give personal connection-type anecdotes about herself and the Senator. I found it incredibly refreshing and enlightening to hear a potential first lady greet viewers in multiple languages, make cogent statements about important issues in an informed and literate manner. Did he want her to hand out cookie recipes?
Gwen Ifill: Hard to say, but since part of the point of our convention coverage is to showcase a broad range of views, analysis and opinion, why not hear that?
North Attleborough, Mass.:
Bush told the Urban League that the Republican party needs to do a better job attracting black voters. What does he propose to do begin the process of inclusion? Will he support affirmative action? Will he support a living wage?
Gwen Ifill: I think you know the answer to that or you wouldn't have asked. Nice try.
California St., NW, Washington, D.C.:
Who needs ABC, NBC, and CBS! We have Gwen, Jim and the PBS gang!! WOOHOO!!
Gwen Ifill: Woo hoo. Indeed.
Ann Arbor, Mich.:
Last night you reported that the convention
reaction to Theresa Heinz Kerry was "subdued."
However, what we saw on the faces of the women
was rapt attention and affirmation of what she was
saying. On what was your judgment based? And
do you still think the same way after, presumably,
talking with delegates?
Gwen Ifill: It's always different watching in the hall. But compared to ther other speeches I've watched from the convention floor, the overall impression was relatively muted.
As I mentioned earlier, this almost always looks different on television at home.
With the convention being in Boston, have there been a lot of historical references to Boston's history in the Revolution? Thanks
Gwen Ifill: Many, Many. See: Ted Kennedy's reference to inviting Presient Bush to another tea party.
Why is it that both coverage by you and other news organizations are determined to show this convention as "Bush Bashing" despite the fact that the speeches up to this point have only been critical of Bush's policies and not of Bush as a person?
It's rather sickening to hear the loaded questions and comments on PBS of all places as it was the only organization left that engaged in professional journalism.
Gwen Ifill: Well, I guess I disagree with your characterization.
Gwen you rock. What do you think will be the effect of today's stories that Kerry reenacted some battle scenes for his movie camera when he served in Vietnam? Kind of smarmy, but then a lot of what goes on in the politcal/media world is kinda smarmy when you look behind the scenes.
Gwen Ifill: I'm happy to wait and see, rather than predict.
Although I don't know you, I am quite sure you rock too.
Falls Church, Va.:
Gwen, first a big thank you for being part of the most
important non-written source of daily information for
myself and many others, the News Hour.
Second, what did you think of Mr. Brooks assessment of
THK speech? Is he that misguided that he thinks her role
is to give us personal tidbits about her husband? Part of
the assessment in viewing a candidate is getting a feel for
those around them as themselves. Much like my
impression about the president's character stems from his
wife and daughters, so to does my comfort level of John
Kerry grow as I learn that his wife is a powerhouse and
their children could probably hold their own in any policy
discussion better that the president himself.
Gwen Ifill: Can I be completely honest? I was on the convention floor, and did not hear what David said...but I usually find his commentary trenchant and interesting.
How come so little time has been devoted to showcasing Mr. Kerry's accomplishments in the Senate? Does he not have a great reputation as a negotiator and an investigator? It seems like his entire Senate career has been glossed over.
Gwen Ifill: Ah...there will be many, many opportunities.
Is it true that polls count only "likely" voters? If so, obviously many voters who don't usually vote but who will this time may change the poll numbers in a major way.
Gwen Ifill: Polls count all voters, but the most reliable ones pay special attention to people actually "likely" to vote, rather than just those who register. It's the best way to predict outcome...if you're into that.
How close are you with Condi Rice? I've
noticed that she is often sent to talk with
you when the administration is in trouble.
Convention-wise, did you have the feeling
watching Obama that we were
witnessing, perhaps, the political birth of
our first African American president? I can
see him taking the oath quite easily
Gwen Ifill: "Sent to talk to me?" I've interviewed her exactly twice on the air, and once more in a panel discussion at a journalists' conference. So, no, I wouldn't say we are close.
Why are the Republicans considered the party of strong national defense? Besides passing bills that give alot of money to the Pentagon (for useless items & award contracts to their friends) & having President Lincoln handle the Civil War, a President they don't even identify with, it has always been the Democratic Presidents that protected our country. WWI President Wilson, WW II Rooservelt/Truman, Korean War Truman, Viet Nam started under Eisenhower & Nixon withdrew our troops. Kennedy handle the Cuban Crisis without getting us into war. Regan had alot of help with the Cold War (but it was never a War that sent troops to fight) & was unsuccessful in the Mideast, I could go on but no more room so simply why is the media so happy to promote this perception of the Republicans & ignore the accomplishments of the Democratic Party?
Gwen Ifill: I respect your opinion, but that's mostly what it is, isn't it?
New Orleans, La.:
I was highly impressed with both President Clinton's and Barack Obama's speeches. They lifted my spirit by reminding me what is great in America. And, both speeches would be classic convention speeches in normal times. But, these are not normal times. I fear that with the Republicans poised to present somber and serious speeches against the gut wrenching backdrop of New York City, speeches that posit that the number one duty of the government is to protect its citizens from terrorist attack, the fine speeches by Clinton and Obama will seem strangely out of place in this election. Do you think Kerry needs to spend a significant portion of his speech to convey his serious committment to the war on terror or would that suck all the enthusiasm out of the covention?
Gwen Ifill: Honestly? I don't know what Kerry should do and, in any case, am not in the habit of offering the campaign online advice.
Thanks for responding to my question. I look forward to hearing President Carter's response the next time he appears on the Newshour.
Reading Howard Kurtz and other blogs you'd think the center was awash in goody bags and free food -- much of it confiscated when you go through security.
Gwen Ifill: Who am I to contradict Howie? He's obviously hanging out in cooler places than I am.
Falls Church, Va.:
I fondly remember watching gavel-to-gavel coverage of the conventions years ago (and I'm not all that interested in politics). I am SO disappointed in the coverage this year (excepting, of course, PBS). Is there even going to be a vote on the nominee? If so, at what time? Thanks.
Gwen Ifill: The roll call of the states happens late tonight, with Massachusetts scheduled as the state to put Kerry over the top.
While your convention coverage has been good, all I hear are lots of (a) complaints about Bush, and (b) promises that we'll do better. I don't hear any specifics, and the devil is always in the details. Even the party platform is pretty generic and bland. When will we get the details on what Kerry will do?
Gwen Ifill: That's what elections are for.
This may seem like a silly question but why wasn't Teresa Heinz Kerry's oldest son -- and bearer of the name of his father, John Heinz -- with her last night on the podium?
Gwen Ifill: I read somewhere that John Heinz prefers to stay out of the public eye, and has not been campaigning.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
Do you think Kerry will stand his ground durring the debates. Or will he let the swing voters turn him into moderate mush by half-agreeing/half-disagreeing with everything that Bush says?
Gwen Ifill: I'm happy to wait and see.
I saw your brief interview with Obama at the convention. I
thought he gave a great speech. Do you know who at the
convention selected him for the keynote speaker spot?
Gwen Ifill: Good question. I don't know. But in retrospect, it certainly seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it?
The networks did not broadcast Mrs. Heinz Kerry's speech. Will they broadcast Laura Bush or treat her like they did the Democrats?
Gwen Ifill: I don't believe the Republican convention committee has announced their schedule, so the networks have probably not decided. We'll be there though!
Will a Kerry/Edwards Administration support legislation that grants full statehood for Washington, D.C.
Gwen Ifill: Probably as much as the Clinton/Gore administration did.
What is the political definition of "liberal" and what is wrong with being one?
Gwen Ifill: Most liberals would say nothing at all.
By the way, definitions are so subjective on political labeling, that I wouldn't hazard one.
Santa Fe, N.M.:
1. Why are not the Democrats saying something about pushing for direct action on Sudan in the U.N.? The Congress was unanamous in its condemation of what is going on there. We need a party that will take concrete positive action in the world as opposed to badly conceived wars and work with the international community in a positive way.
2. Why was Ms. Heinz-Kerry's speech termed "wonky" by Sheilds and Brooks, whom I usually love listening to? My opinion of Kerry just went up 300 percent after seeing her.
Gwen Ifill: Goes to show we all get to have opinions, but don't all have to agree.
I think the PBS coverage is tbe very best - much superior to its only head-to-head competition (CNN).
Is it difficult to snag delegates to talk to you on the floor or are they eager to voice their opinions?
Gwen Ifill: Most are eager to talk...when they are not terrified to talk. TV ain't as easy as it looks.
Gwen Ifill: This has been a lot of fun everybody, but gotta get back to work! See you tonight on PBS live coverage beginning with the NewsHour, and then all night at 8 pm (EST.)
And see you on Washington Week this Friday.
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