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GOP Convention: Washington Week

Gwen Ifill
Journalist, Moderator,
Wednesday, September 1, 2004; 11:00 AM

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.

Ifill was online Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 11 a.m. ET live from the Republican National Convention in New York, to take questions and comments about the news and issues of the week.

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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.


Washington, D.C.: Ms. Ifill -- This isn't directed solely at you and your excellent program but why oh why has there been such a lack of coverage of the stark difference between what the GOP says/presents at the RNC and what their very platform says they will do and are about? Why blind coverage of the show and a near-complete lack of analysis of the party's plans.

If/when some of these proposals are actually enacted, Rove and others can rightfully say "hey, we told you what we were going to do... you just didn't pay attention."

Gwen Ifill: Well, it must be said that at both Democrats and Republicans have gotten into the habit of publishing platforms that have little to do with what they say on their convention podiums. Don't forget how many rainbow-wearing Deaniacs attended the Dem convention but hear nary a word about their issues from the platform.
We cover the platforms; we just don't give undue weight to what they say that doesn't exist in real world strategic politcs.


Washington, D.C.: What is going to be the "story" of this convention -- Republicans successfully putting a moderate face on their policies? Republicans talking about religion seemingly non-stop, and thus not putting a very moderate face on their policies? The very direct attacks on John Kerry after a muted Democratic convention? The terminator? More swift boats?

Gwen Ifill: As usual when I need it most, my crystal ball is on the fritz! Far be it from me to predict what the story of the convention will be before the Vice President or President have even spoken.


Kingston, Ontario, Canada: Dear Gwen,
Please solve a mystery for me. Why have the U.S. media shown so little interest in getting to the bottom of the stories about electoral fraud in Florida? The people one meets say there is no doubt that the election of 2000 was stolen, and now there is a trickle of stories suggesting that a better co-ordinated plan is afoot to do the same again (touch-screen voting machines, felons lists, intimidation of black voters). I have the impression that the mainstream media are just frightened to investigate this for fear of what they might discover. And yet what could be more serious than the danger of a fraudulent election, especially at such a crucial time in the country's history?

Gwen Ifill: I guess I hust disagre with you. Not only have I read plenty of stories about what is going on in Florida, but I expect that Florida's November elections will be the most scrutinized in history.


Fort Myers, Fla.: What do you make of President Bush's about face in regard toward winning the war on terrorism? On one day, in a rare unscripted moment, the President said that he believed the war on terrorism could never be won. Within 24 hours, he reversed his posistion entirely. Is this a hint of nuance? Or is this more indicative of the gap between what Bush believes and what Bush says?

Gwen Ifill: Did you hear what the President said, and how he actually said it? The way I heard it the first time is that he was saying that a "war on terrorism," per se, could not really be won. I gathered he was alluding to the wide-ranging and unpredictable nature of terror, and suggesting that it can never be shut down entirely.
Clearly, however, the President and his staff saw how that looked in headlines, and decided to backpedal. But which assesment was more honest, really?


Brooklyn, N.Y.: Who do you think gave the best speech last night? It seems that the buzz is all about Arnie today. But a friend of mine thought that Steele won hands down.

What's the reaction to the Bush twins? From what I've been reading, it was a fiasco.

Gwen Ifill: I thought Schwarzenegger was quite good. I watched the twins on television, so I don't know how it went over in the hall. I also have to admit to not being a targeted twenty-something voter, so it's possible Jenna and Barbara may have really gone over well there, and mystified older folks.


New York, N.Y.:

This may be my own fear, but I have a feeling of dread regarding the Kerry campaign. There is a lack of energy and mission. Has Kerry gone into a funk? I may not have worried if this were, say, June, but it's now September.

Gwen Ifill: Hard to say how the Kerry campaign is "feeling" in a week when all the attention is on the GOP. Probably the Republicans were nervous when the Dems were in Boston.
Better to wait until after conventions are over to begin gauging how the other side is faring.


Arlington, Va.: Gwen: what was more absurd this week, Republican delegates wearing purple heart bandaids or Kerry saying the war on terror was winnable "absolutely" wearing a polka dot spandex wetsuit while windsurfing? You couldn't make it up this good.

Gwen Ifill: And people ask me why I love politics.


Sterling, Va.: Hi Gwen
I enjoy your observations and comments. I would like some information.

Have I missed something important during this Republican convention? I have not yet heard the name Osama bin Laden. How can they say they are "making progrsss in the war on terror" when the person we wanted after 9/11 and invaded Afghanistan to get still has not been found?

Why has he not been mentioned or an explanation made as to why the U.S., the strongest nation in the world cannot find him.

Also, why is it Bush reverses himself or backtracks (such as the 9/11 Commission and Homeland Security Department, which he did not want and fought to prevent) while Kerry is called a flip-flopper?

A 6 p.m. PBS viewer.

Gwen Ifill: Would you mention Osama bin Laden's name if you were the incumbent President right now?
Did John Kerry mention gay marriage while he was at a convention in his own home state??


Guerneville, Calif.: I will never forgive John Kerry and the Democrats if they lose this election. I am a strong supporter of Kerry but he is appearing wishy-washy. The Republicans play dirty and if he doesn't get out there and fight, he loses. Where is the spirit he showed in 1971 when he fought against a war that most Americans were against. Bring it on John.

Gwen Ifill: Hey, it's early yet. This thing is essentially a dead heat, and the debates haven't happened yet. My advice: chill.


Akron, Ohio: What are the Republican solutions to the economic problems currently being experienced by states such as Ohio and Michigan? More tax cuts? Money for education and retraining are inadequate and there is little talk of federal support for job assistance.

Let's get by the personality issues and get down to reality. What will they do for us?

Gwen Ifill: Tax cuts...Social Security privatization...health insurance purchasing pools...check out the conversation I had on Republican economic proposals last night on the Newshour. Transcripts are available at pbs.org/newshour


Anonymous: As a follow up to Ft Myers, Fla. question, I read with interest The Salon's Eric Boehlert's comment, "Nowhere has that that double standard been more apparent than when contrasting the way the media has covered the two parties' conventions. Compare the coverage of Bush's colossal blunder on Monday -- telling NBC's Matt Lauer that he didn't think the war on terror was winnable -- with Teresa Heinz Kerry's trivial 'shove it' remark during the Democratic Convention in Boston last month. So far, Bush's gaffe has garnered far less coverage than Heinz Kerry's."

Do you agree or disagree?

Gwen Ifill: We must be reading different things...I saw a HUGE number of front page headlines about the President's remark to Matt. I saw mostly only tabloid coverage of Teresa Heinz' remark. If you're suggesting the two events were in any way equivalent, or treated so, I would have to disagree.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Great coverage from NPR and Public TV. how much time are you in the convention room in the day vs. writing, talking on the phone, interviewing, and doing sessions like this one?

Gwen Ifill: The sessions in the Garden begin each night around 8, so we spend our days reporting and preparing for our broadcasts. Our NewsHour offices are across the street, so we head over to get through security and such by about 5 to be in place for our 6 p.m. broadcast. Then we're pretty much in and around the hall or in the NewsHour skybox until we get off the air whenever the gavel falls.Long days.


Providence, R.I.:

Have the protesters been treated fairly, in terms of reasonable access to present their message of dissent, or have the NYPD/Bloomberg been a tad aggressive?

Gwen Ifill: Hard to know. One disadvantage to all the security concerns is that we are pretty much trapped wherever we are for hours at a time. New York local television coverage suggests that the protests have been large, mostly peaceful, and occasionally confrontational. 900 arrests were made yesterday. We have crews on the streets monitoring it every day.


Silver Spring, Md.: What Nixon-Humphrey debate? There wasn't one. So what is Arnold talking about and why isn't he called out for making up a story? He is such a powerful personality that a lot of people take what he says as the truth. The media can hail him, but it shouldn't allow him to rewrite history. It just promotes more ignorance in this country.

Gwen Ifill: Wha Gov. Schwarzenegger actually said was: "I remember watching the Nixon and Humphrey Presidential race on TV." He did not say (at least not last night, according to his prepared remarks right at my elbow here) that he watched a debate.


Rosslyn, Va.: As a 20-something year old voter (who also is registered to vote in a swing state -- Michigan), I don't care much for the Bush twins (not that Kerry's daughters are great either). As a working, college graduate paying back her student loans, seeing someone who has had everything served to them on a silver platter is just disgusting. They can't relate to the typical 20-year-old because they've never had the life of the typical 20-year-old. They don't understand the lives of the 20-year-olds in Michigan that's for sure. So, instead of the Administration trying to push them into the spotlight to gain the attention of the 20-year-old I think it's just shameful as they can NOT relate to those of us who actually have to earn our own living.

Gwen Ifill: Boy, a lot of negative response to the twins' speech. I find this fascinating.


Anaheim, Calif.: Gwen, any buzz on why Mr. Powell is not present other than the official announcement?

Other than the President, who is hardest to get an interview with at the RNC? What would your first question be?

Gwen Ifill: Powell and Rumsfeld (and Rice for that matter) have been saying for weeks that the President asked them to stay out of partisan politics this year. And not a one of them seemed the least bit disappointd about it.

The hardest interview to get? I don't know. That depends on who you are. The President, for instance, DID speak to Rush Limbaugh yesterday, and the Vice President to sean Hannity.

Newsmakers at conventions, however, are sometimes a lot less fascinating than the rank-and-file delegates who are a tad less programmed.


Washington, D.C.: "I also have to admit to not being a targeted twenty- something voter, so it's possible Jenna and Barbara may have really gone over well there, and mystified older folks."

Twenty-somethings aren't stupid, Gwen. We know that the Bush twins were meant to appeal to us, and they came off as giggling, out-of-place, nervous, forced into service, poor public speakers... Whoever wrote/approved their speech obviously is out of touch with twenty-somethings, other convention attendees, and EVERYONE watching the coverage on TV. I cringed throughout their speech. Not a good moment for the Bush twins or the GOP campaign.

Gwen Ifill: Hey, some of my best friends are twenty-somethings! I was merely suggesting that there are things that may appeal to you that I don't get -- and vice versa. I, for instance, really enjoyed that reference to Outkast...which does not mean I thought the Republican delegates in the room had any idea what the heck they were talking about.


Washington, D.C.: I know y'all are busy trying to squeeze in free massages and buffets between convention events, but why hasn't there been any press about Dennis Hastert alleging on Fox News that George Soros's funding comes from drug cartels?

Gwen Ifill: No free massags here. Don't believe everything you read. There are thousands of reporters here, and I bet most of them (like) me are spending a lot more time chasing the story than chasing the pedicures (although I could really use one right now.)
I did read about the curious Hastert comment. Part of the reason you may not have heard more is that the speaker of the house has made himself curiously inaccessible during this convention. And the organizers scheduled his speech at noon Monday -- not exactly prime time.


Annapolis: I am a Democrat. That being said I though Bush's original comment on the war on terror makes more sense than anything else he has spouted. Terrorism has been around since the begining of mankind I do not see it going away. But to compound the errors by instigating a second war front (Iraq) when the first (Afganistan)was not completed was plain stupid. This just increased the hatred of Ameircans which will increase the threat of terror.

Gwen Ifill: Point taken.


Washington, D.C.: What do you think the are the chances we won't see a Bush vs. Kerry debate? or a Cheney vs. Edwards debate? The John-John camp has agreed to the dates/places for the debates, but Bush/Cheney has yet to respond. Any insight on this?

Gwen Ifill: Since I have been selected to moderate the Cheney-Edwards debate, I think I will refrain from speculating about what's going to happen with the debates, other than to say, I think there will be more than one.


Gaithersburg, Md.: When is someone going to sit down and nail Kerry on his 20 year Senate record of doing nothing? He's avoiding this with his Vietnam bunk. Someone needs to pin him down and get to his Senate record. All he's done, not done. His accomplishments. His voting record, his attendance record. Also, nobody has mentioned that people on independent duty, as he was on the Swift Boats, gets to write his own reports of what is going on. He writes his own "Fitness Reports" -- an evaluation of his performance. He probably also got to put his men and himself in for commendations/ribbons/medals. These probably just got forwarded up the chain of command and rubber stamped as approved. Let's see the reports he produced as a Swift Boat skipper covering operational events and recommendations on medals/awards.

This guy is a Senate socialite and has been for 20 years and a finesser extraordinaire when it comes to his service in the Navy.

Gwen Ifill: All I can say to that tirade is: hey, it's September 1. We've still got two long months before votes are cast, so I doubt much will be left unsaid.


Elephant Butte, N.M.: Can you tell me the size, color and make of the shower shoes (flip flops) that Mr. Bush wears?

First we have the opposition to the 9/11 Commission. Then we had the opposition to the Homeland Security. The we had Condi not testifying. Then we had the various rationales for Iraq (looking for one size fits all?). Now we have Mr. Bush stating that the war on terrorism is not winable.

It appears to me that the flip flop is being laid at the feet (pun intended) of the wrong person running for president.

Thank you.

Gwen Ifill: Did you intend for that question to go to the Kerry for President website's link for speech ideas?


Cathedral City, Calif.: Democrat Sinatra campaigned for Kennedy. Did Sinatra's estate OK use of that "New York, New York" tape played after Giuliani's speech? Why no media comments on Giuliani's incredible claim that, on viewing the ruins on 9/11 he said "Thank God we have George Bush as President?" Does the media find that plausible?

Gwen Ifill: Not sure how the media can get inside Giuliani's head to prove that he did not say what he says he said, when he said it to only one other person.
Gee, that was confusing even to me.


Inglewood, Calif.: Is it true that Kerry has regained the lead in Florida in the latest polls?

Also, are the GOP delegates passing out band aid purple hearts at the convention?

Gwen Ifill: One advice on the polls: They will make you crazy. I, for one, am trying to resist getting my nose pressed up against the horserace glass too soon.
And, yes, on the first night of the convention, some delegates apparently wore Kerry-mocking "purple heart bandages" on the floor. We're told they were yanked after that first night.


Alexandria, Va.: This Republican convention seems to have featured many more African-Americans in prominent places than even the kinder, gentler 2000 GOP convention in Philadelphia. Can you comment on whether the Republican Party is becoming more attractive to African-American voters than it used to be, and if so, why? Or is it all just a sham?

Gwen Ifill: I'm not sure watching the convention is the best way to answer your question. Truth is, everything we see at conventions is a little skewed. It depends on what the TV director wants to show as well as what the party wants us to see. So, I'm going to wait on some reliable surveys to decide what's accurate.


Detroit, Mich.: Yes, the Twins made pop-culture references that us 20-somethings got -- wow, how impressive. I would expect a 22-year-old to know who Outkast is and what "Sex and the City" is (the Twins miss-quoted it as "Sex in the City," by the way). What WE don't like is seeing girls making US seem like all our generation does is giggle and isn't informed on the issues. If you go to either GU or GW, those students (and I was one of them) are political FIENDS, they are very intelligent and VERY informed on politics and the issues. I actually would have preferred hearing their views on some of the issues instead of saying -- we like Outkast, this audience wasn't the same as the MTV Movie Awards (although, they didn't like them there either).

Gwen Ifill: Okey dokey. You are restoring my faith in the future of politics.


Rolla, Mo.: How does the party of the Christian right/family values gloss over the antics of the Bush twins -- e.g. the well-known partying of the daughters of a recovering alcoholic. Moreover, is this the best they could do -- the giggling performance seemingly delivered by 14-year-old mall rats rather than 22-year-old college graduates? I know we don't necessarily want to be judged by our children, but is this not some reflection on George W. and Laura? Granted, Kerry's kids are older, but sheesh.

Gwen Ifill: Sheesh indeed.


Perry Hall, Md.: Is everyone at PBS liberal?

Gwen Ifill: Nope.


Natick, Mass.: Over the last month, John Kerry seems to be stuck in cement. Two months before the election, it's hard to find evidence of a clear and focused message. Without that, the default option may be for both sides to attack, distort and ignore issues of substance. Will Kerry bounce back or are we in for a replay of the spiteful 1988 campaign?

Gwen Ifill: I have no earthly idea. And wouldn't want to. That's what elections are for.


Wheaton Ill.: Gwen: I love the Newshour and I think it is such a privilege to watch journalists such as Jim Lehrer, Ray Suarez, Margaret Warner, and of course yourself -- you have taken journalism to new heights by your fair and impartial coverage of events.

What do you think are the similarities between the Republicans and the Democrats? You have milled around both conventions now -- are there any fundamental differences?

I for one, lean more towards the center like John McCain and Joe Lieberman, (just so you know, fiscally conservative, but liberal on social issues, being an immigrant) but found the Democratic Convention much more interesting, and the speakers a lot more persuasive, except for Howard Dean. The Republicans tonight have bored me, only Arnold S. and Laura Bush were any good. What is your opinion?

Gwen Ifill: Well, to be fair, we've only seen two nights of the convention so far. I will say that the Democrats did a better job of scheduling interesting speeches outside of the 10 oclock primetime slot. Since the NewsHour starts coverage every night at 8 p.m. and the commerical networks were only on three nights for an hour, that gave us Barack Obama and Wes Clark and Al Sharpton and Teresa Heinz. So far, the big pre-10 pm speakers have been Rod Paige and Michael Steele and Elisabeth Dole.


New York, N.Y.: Pres. Bush has yet to agree to the three debates, even though the dates, times, places, and even the moderators have been set. Is this just a formality? Waiting until after the convention? Or are the Republicans seriously going to try and negotiate Bush down to just two debates or even one?

Gwen Ifill: They are negotiating away, probably even as we speak. Vernon Jordan for the Dems, and Jim Baker for the GOP.


Gwen Ifill: Thanks everybody. I promise we will give you the rest of the full skinny this Friday night on Washington Week.


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