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Washington Week

Gwen Ifill
Journalist, Moderator, "Washington Week With Gwen Ifill and National Journal"
Thursday, August 24, 2006 12:00 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 and National Journal" features journalists -- not pundits -- lending insight and perspective to the week's important news stories. Now, Ifill brings "Washington Week" online.

Ifill was online Thursday, Aug. 24, at Noon ET to take questions and comments.

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 with Gwen Ifill and National Journal ," airs on WETA/Channel 26, Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ( check local listings ).

A transcript follows.

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Milwaukee, Wis.: The Hartford Courant is reporting today that Joe Lieberman is campaigning with Republican Congressional candidates in Conn. The UAW also endorsed Ned Lamont. Any speculation about how long before Lieberman withdraws?

Gwen Ifill: Hi everyone. Glad to be back. Hope you're sending these questions from the beach!

Re: Senator Lieberman. Unless I'm missing something, I see NO sign that he is thinking about leaving the race. The latest polls certainly give him no reason to. So we are going to have to let this one cook.

(Endorsements, by the way, are often overrated.)

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Eastern Market, Washington, D.C.: Let's get started on a positive note. As you no doubt know, Pluto was stripped of its status as a planet on Thursday when scientists from around the world redefined it as a "dwarf planet." I was extremely depressed by this, but this devastating news led me to a positive thought: if the scientific community can do this, why can't the pundit community reclassify George W. Bush as a "dwarf president?" He has earned it on any number of measures, but mainly on his intellect, which, like Pluto, is diminutive, in the dark, and barely visible even with powerful instruments. All of this was plainly on display in his press conference this week.

Gwen Ifill: If you are not physically AT the beach, this question proves your mind at least is. Pundits as scientists? C'mon.

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Washington, D.C.: Great show last week -- all news babes!

Gwen Ifill: We prefer to refer to them as news chicks.

But seriously folks. Last week's show -- with Martha Raddatz from ABC, Andrea Mitchell from NBC, Linda Robinson of US News and Jeanne Cummings from the Wall Street Journal -- provided serendipitous proof that women are among the best reporters out there.

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Cathedral City, Calif.: Terrorists planning to destroy U.S. bound planes would need visitors visas stamped in their passports in order to get on the plane. Each airline checks closely for these visas because, if a person arrives in the U.S. without the necessary paperwork, he is sent back, and the carrier must provide transportation and cover other expenses. Since money their own money is involved, airlines do check that each passenger has either a U.S. passport, or a visa stamped into his foreign passport. Passengers are closely checked for this at the "check in" desk. That the terrorists didn't plan to arrive in the U.S. makes no difference, they wouldn't have been allowed to board the plane. Was our embassy in the U.K. so lax as to issue all those visas without checking? Did none of the names trigger an investigation? I've been looking for this information and can't find the word "visa" in any of the coverage. I used to be purser on a passenger ship, and I know how careful we had to be.

Gwen Ifill: It should be noted that none of the people arrested in the London bomb plot ever got to actually board a plane. Perhaps the system worked?

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Washington, D.C.: Please, please explain to us why you chose to have the "objective discussion" of the war against Lebanon hosted from Jerusalem? We are your groupies, Gwen Ifill, most disappointed groupies. That was a very biased segment.

Gwen Ifill: I am only guessing, but I think maybe you are referring to a segment from a few weeks ago with Janine Zacharia?

We had Janine on for an update of the conflict along the Israeli-Lebanese border for the same reason we have her on when she is in Washington. She covers the State Department for Bloomberg News...she has extensive knowledge of the region...and she is one of our regular panelists.

Add to that the value of having her on the ground in the region, and that she was willing to do a live shot with us at 2 a.m....and you have our reasons in a nutshell.

No matter your strong views on this conflict, remember to judge us by content, not by location.

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Austin, Texas: What will it take to have a full hour of Washington Week? 23 minutes is not nearly enough! I'll double my contribution to PBS! Please!

Gwen Ifill: Forward your request directly to PBS. Yours will not be alone.

Alas, I have no control on overall programming, just my little niche.

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Santa Barbara, Calif.: Given that the plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic was busted by the British police, how can the Republicans do much chest beating over it?

Gwen Ifill: Are they? I may have missed that.

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Aptos, Calif.: Re: sending more American troops to Baghdad to increase security there -- Given that it is sectarian violence, Shi-ites vs. Sunnis, what will American troops actually do?

Gwen Ifill: I gather it is all a matter of degree. But I'm not the one with the battle plans.

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State College, Pa.: This is not a question, just an observation. Your show tonight with all women was the best. It has always seemed to me that the women reporters will give in to the males. Tonight was a great discussion and each reporter respected the other and asked great questions that were answered. Keep up the good work, you are the best.

Gwen Ifill: I agree with you, except for that point about women giving in to the males.

I think the women who report on our program would be shocked to hear that. So would the men!

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Kansas City, Mo.: This is a comment and not a question. I watch Washington Week in Review and have been for gosh, 25 years or more, if that's possible? I tape it if I am going to be out for the evening. I was really pleased tonight to see all female journalists on your show. Oftentimes you have all men and I wish you had at least one female voice. I really like it when you have half males and half females. But, also, I really do like it when all are females to balance out the times when you have all males. We are half of the population and I do appreciate the balance. Thanks for your great reporting.

Gwen Ifill: I'm loving this response to the women's roundtable. I wish I'd done it on purpose.

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Re news chicks!: This wasn't the first time WW had an all-news chicks show, though it may have been the first time a permanent moderator (i.e., you) did it. I recall that one time when Ellen Hume was filling in (for Paul Duke, I think), she had an all-female panel one Friday! The difference is that in your case it was not commented upon on-air, which I take as a sign of progress.

Gwen Ifill: I considered saying something at the end about our "woman energy" around the table last Friday, but I have learned the hard way in the age of the Internet...that someone would take that the wrong way!

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Re Lieberman's Independent candidacy for the Senate from Connecticut: How relevant is the precedent of Lowell Weicker? Are there more parallels or differences between the two (besides the obvious, of course, of Weicker having previously been a Republican).

Gwen Ifill: If I recall correctly, it was Joe Lieberman who beat Lowell Weicker when Weicker was running for his fourth Senate term in 1988. Weicker licked his wounds, became an independent, ran for governor -- and three Lieberman terms later -- emerged from semi-retirement to endorse Lieberman challenger Ned Lamont.

Who says what goes around doesn't come around?

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Rockville, Md.: The more I watch, the more I like your show. You do go for reporters over opinion people. What is keeping you busy these days? What should we pay attention to?

Gwen Ifill: Well, we're still working on tomorrow's program. But we'll definitely be talking about the housing slump and the Middle East cease fire. Possibly also Katrina. The rest is up in the air.

It remains an interesting time to be a working journalist.

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Anonymous: Isn't location part of the content?

Gwen Ifill: Absolutely. And for television, location also means getting a correspondent to a live satellite truck or studio ... which can be tough in a war zone. In cases like that, I rely on reporters I know who can tell the story.

For most viewers, I'm not sure a Washington studio beats a Jerusalem rooftop when you're talking about a Middle East conflict.

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Boston, Mass.: Many of those arrested in the London plot didn't even have passports. None had bought plane tickets. None had a bomb. Chemistry experts agree that a combined liquid-explosive bomb would be impossible to conceal in carry-on liquids and assemble on a plane. Maybe, just maybe, the hysteria and self-congratulations surrounding these arrests has been grossly overblown.

Gwen Ifill: Now there's a wait-and-see moment, if ever I saw one.

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Milwaukee, Wis.: Why does Washington Week in Review NEVER cover "environmental" topics such as climate change? The BBC has no problem finding emergent stories to report on this set of topics. Could it have something to do with the fact that two extractive industries (mining and oil) are major contributors to your program?

Gwen Ifill: Nope. That's not the reason. We should do a better job on covering the environment, and we will.

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New Hampshire: If I weren't so bothered by the racial slur (macaca) employed by George Allen against Mr. Sidarth, I might be a tad amused at the rapidly changing justifications and explanations offered by Mr. Allen and his handlers. One of those rationales posited was from the Senator himself explaining that he just made up the word. Huh? George Allen's mother, Henriette, emigrated from Tunisia and I think it more than a little likely that this word is fully understood by the Allen household. Without this fact, readers may not be fully informed. Why do you think the media at large has not brought this to our attention? Here's a bit from Hardball on March 29th with regard to his mother:

MATTHEWS: Where did she come from. ALLEN: Tunisia, North Africa. MATTHEWS: Really? So you're part Arab. ALLEN: No, she's Italian, French and a little Spanish. MATTHEWS: I thought you might have an interesting ethnicity. ALLEN: She speaks Arabic, as well as French and Italian.

Gwen Ifill: I love Chris Matthews as much as the next guy. Maybe this question (rant?) was meant for him...

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Anonymous: Any chance women will see the racism and sexism of trying to turn Maya Lin's masterpiece, the Vietnam Memorial, into a forum for vets "explaining" the work and the war via an underground visitor's museum to be rudely imposed on the sacred grounds of the Lincoln Memorial?

Gwen Ifill: This may be an architectural affront, but a racist sexist one?

Count me as one of the women who doesn't quite see that.

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Lancaster, Pa.: Given the ruling last week that declared the president's "Warrantless Eavesdropping" programming illegal, I still don't grasp why the NSA can't operate within FISA. If their ongoing efforts would really generate that much extra paperwork, can't they simply hire a few more paralegals? Gwen, would you do you best impression of Bush, Gonzalles, or perhaps Specter, and give some concrete answers to why FISA is so unworkable? (And as a journalist, do you accept those answers?)

Gwen Ifill: I believe your home state Senator, Mr. Specter, has been raising the very same questions you are.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: The issue of whether the U.S. stays in Iraq or not seems to always be framed around a force reduction timetable. With this established as the focal point, the administration justifies it's failure to put forth any "plan" for ending the war and accuses non-supporters as proposing to "cut and run." Aren't there other criteria--size/performance of Iraq army, number of insurgent attacks, etc. etc. that could/should be offered as performance criteria on which to base reduction in U.S. forces?

Gwen Ifill: Yes, of course, there are a mother load of criteria. But as you are aware, political discourse -- or what passes for it -- tends to boil things down to black and white. This seldom sheds light or provides context, but it does aid people prone to drive-by conclusions. Or shore up the opinions of those who have decided what they think already.

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D.C.: Regarding the purser's question, you said:

"It should be noted that none of the people arrested in the London bomb plot ever got to actually board a plane. Perhaps the system worked?"

Perhaps the question was: How serious a threat was this plot to justify the hysteria surrounding it? The purser points out that the first line of defense against a plot like this is going to be the U.S. Embassy -- did any of these people even attempt to get a visa? Not from what I read. If they got no where near a plane -- it does raise one's cynical suspicions that once again, we are being played by an administration that is using threats of terror to political advantage, in what seems to me to be a very crass way. If the Brits moved in early under pressure from the U.S., I have to wonder how serious this administration really is about "fighting terror." Seems like their primary interest, as always, is solidifying their power by playing the fear card. I for one, am fed up.

Gwen Ifill: Alrighty then.

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Chatham, N.J.: On last's weeks program,the airing of the judge's wire-tap decision failed to point out the somewhat curious rational on which the ruling was based. The following day,the NY Times published an article highlighting the fact that there was wide-spread criticism by legal observers of the decision. Wasn't failure to add this type of critique a serious omission?

Gwen Ifill: Well, sometimes breaking news is just the first draft. I read the follow-up story, as you did. And I wish I'd known what I didn't know. More proof, I guess that you shouldn't get all your news from television. I certainly don't.

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New Hampshire: Hi Gwen and to follow up on Milwaukee's question-- how long before Joe Lieberman makes his Republican conversion official? I mean, he is campaigning today with 2 Republicans!

Gwen Ifill: Does campaigning with a Republican make you a Republican? Does agreeing with Republicans about anything at all make you a Republican?

Do most Americans (who are not party activists) care?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

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New Haven, Conn.: Ms. Ifill - Do you believe people elect leaders or they elect representatives? Does this calculus change in times of stress?

Gwen Ifill: Good question .I think voters want it all. People who represent them, and who have leadership qualities too.

I'm not sure that's not too much to ask for.

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Rome, N.Y.: HI Gwen--Thanks for chatting...Now that the president has admitted that Iraq DIDN'T have WMD and that Iraq had NOTHING to do with 9/11, isn't it time for heads to roll in the administration? Should Americans feel comforted in knowing that the same people who got it wrong in the first place are still advising the president?

Gwen Ifill: This is one of those cases in which (polls show) Americans beat the President to the same conclusion.

If heads are to roll because of this, it seems the next election would provide the guillotine.

(Sorry for the gruesome analogy, but you started it!)

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Wheaton, Md.: Once again on the terrorist issue: Just about all of the terrorists who have caused destruction or were about to cause airline destruction have been young men of Arab background. That is a fact. Why not conduct ethnic profiling in searches of passengers? It makes no sense to search a 8 year old blonde girl and her 75 year old white grandmother while not very closely searching the 25 year old Arab-looking man with a scruffy beard. What is your viewpoint?

Gwen Ifill: You will find a lot of people out there who are paid for their opinion who can tell you what they think about this. I am not one of them. Sorry.

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Washington, D.C.: Dearest Gwen: I can't figure out why you don't "Suze Orman" and write a book. I just saw Maureen Dowd in Barney's yesterday so other Celebes get out among the masses. Why don't you? It's fun out here in the public.

Gwen Ifill: I'm out in public all the time...even in bookstores.

But actually writing a book is HARD.

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Champaign, Ill. To Answer, Cathedral City, Calif question about visas. EU citizens (among others) do not need a visa to visit the US. Gwen, love your show and chat!

Gwen Ifill: so posted.

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Dauphin Island, Ala.: A note to Cathedral City: British citizens do not need a visa, nor do citizens of EU nations and other countries such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and others.

Gwen Ifill: True enough.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: What about this PR blitz the White House is starting to deflect the lack of recovery efforts on the national level ever since the Katrina's strike at the Gulf Coast. More news organization are starting to report how this Rockey Vaccarella is an ex-Republican candidate for St. Bernard Parish Council. Amazing all the coverage the alphabets give before checking out to see if it's just another stooge from Rove and Co. Will we see more of the smoke-screen stories so that the MSM will downplay the reports on the slower than a tortoise response of the Bush Administration

Gwen Ifill: On a slow August day, Rocky at the White House was a tough story to resist (although we managed to resist it at the NewsHour.)

Still, I think you will see an outpouring of Katrina anniversary stories next week that will be tough for anyone to spin.

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Anonymous: The Vietnam Wall by Maya Lin was called a "black scar of shame". The black granite walls were derided for being black, the "universal color of shame,dishonor, and defeat", at the time. Maya Lin, an Asian-American woman, was NOT even mentioned once at the opening ceremonies for the Memorial, which was boycotted by President Bush. Further inquiry would make you think again about the attempt to redefine her masterpiece as racist and sexist. THANKS

Gwen Ifill: You know? I've been called a lot of things -- but that doesn't define me. In the years since the Vietnam Vets Memorial opened, I think you will agree that it has been universally hailed as one of the most effective memorials on the Mall.

Better to focus on the uplift than the name calling. But that's (wait! wait!) just my opinion.

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Washington, D.C.: During yesterday's White House Press Briefing, Dana Perino compared the rebuilding effort in New Orleans to that of the Press Briefing room, and I quote: "If you think about it, you all are going to be in here for about nine months as we remodel the White House briefing room. And so rebuilding an entire city is a much bigger challenge." I personally find it to be fairly shocking, and frankly rather simple-minded. This is the best the Bush White House can do to explain rebuilding delays?

Gwen Ifill: Ummm. Aaaah. Not the best analogy. Worse than "guillotine," I think.

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Washington, D.C.: Only because I've seen this twice during the chat, UK citizens don't need a visa to visit the United States for 90 days or less (nor do the citizens of about 26 other countries), just a passport and a return ticket. It is the visa waiver pilot program and it has been around for 20 years. No fly lists and anti-terrorism intelligence work in other countries can be very important for us in the U.S.

Gwen Ifill: OK, all settled.

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Hurricane Review: With the one year anniversary of Katrina in a few days, in hindsight, has anyone in Washington changed their opinion about the Government response? After watching "When the Levees Broke" the lines that sum it up for me was that the U.S. had a response team in Indonesia within 48 hrs to deal with the tsunami, the Canadian Mountie was present in New Orleans BEFORE we were, and Sec. Rice shopping for shoes while the events were unfolding. I had always given the Government the benefit of the doubt before I saw those facts and illustrations.

Gwen Ifill: Has anyone in Washington changed their opinion? Which opinion? That Michael Brown was a failure? That the Administration was too slow off the mark? That they should have seen it coming?

There are a whole lot of opinions about what did/should/could have happened before, during and after Katrina. But Washington's "opinions" were surely not monolithic.

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Columbus, Ohio: I thoroughly enjoyed last week's show. The all female panel was great. They were all informative and articulate. It was a pleasure to watch. As a woman growing up in the fifties it gave me such a sense of pride to see all of these intelligent women discussing national and world issues with such knowledge and authority.

Gwen Ifill: Thanks everyone for chatting. I never fail to learn new things.

Be sure to watch us tomorrow night on your local PBS station. Better yet, send me more questions (to washingtonweek@pbs.org) and we'll direct them to our panel for our web exclusive Washington Week Web cast.

See you!

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