Washington Week

Gwen Ifill
Journalist, Moderator, "Washington Week With Gwen Ifill and National Journal"
Thursday, October 4, 2007; 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, Oct. 4, 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).


Arizona: Hi Gwen,

Can you talk a little about why President Bush used his veto for children's health care? It seems so out of line with Democrats as well as Republicans.

Gwen Ifill: Hello everyone. Happy to be back.

This is a good question to dive right in with.

To hear the President tell it, his veto is a matter of principle. He says the SCHIP program was designed to help the poorest of kids, and that the Congressionally-mandated expansion would cost too much, and weaken the private insurance industry by extending government support to higher earners.

The problem here is that even many Republicans do not agree with him, and his position is a politically-complicated one to defend. The problem for the opponents is that the House is scraping to get enough votes to override the veto.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Is Professor Sherrilyn Ifill at the University of Maryland Law School, who's spoken out so eloquently and thoughtfully on symbols of racial hatred lately, any relation to you?

Gwen Ifill: She is indeed my brilliant baby cousin, and the author of an excellent book "On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 20th Century."


Memphis, Tenn.: WKNO is moving you to Sunday morning!?!?! Are other stations doing this? I may have to move. Please help.

Gwen Ifill: Please call them and complain. We have no control over how local stations carry "Washington Week," but we feel strongly that it is a timely Friday night program that is often outdated by Sunday.

Stations DO listen to their viewers.


Washington, D.C.: Not exactly Washington politics but... what did you think of the Top Chef finale last night? Glad Hung won or were you rooting for Dale or Casey?

Gwen Ifill: Darn, you ruined it for me. I watch the replay.


Washington, D.C.: Gwen,

I was just reading about the "Mortgage Czar" proposal and wondering if the Dems might be overplaying the sub prime issue. I think most people support full-disclosure regulations and investigations of actual lender abuse. But if this evolves into a bailout of people who knew the risks but couldn't resist the teaser rates, those of us who knew our limits and settled for smaller homes or longer commutes will not be thrilled -- and that includes a lot of independents.

Gwen Ifill: As much of a political junkie as I am, I have somehow not quite managed the leap from the story of subprime lenders exploiting people who wanted to own a home, to naked Dem vs them politics. Perhaps I am slow off the mark.


Reading, Pa.: Gwen :

You are too young to remember news coverage of the Vietnam War but I do. Every night we saw images of wounded or dead soldiers and it was part of why the opposition to that war grew until Congress did something to stop Mr. Nixon's war. Do you think the controlled censorship of the horrors of the situation in Iraq is complicit approval of Mr. Bush's war by the media? Is this a good or bad thing for the American public?

Gwen Ifill: Perhaps we are not reading the same polls. You have to look hard and far to find evidence of complicit, implicit, or any other sort of support for the war in Iraq right now.


Tuckahoe, N.Y.: As a Jersey Girl, was your heart broken by the Mets?

Or are you looking forward to a long run by the Yanks?

Gwen Ifill: The real heartbreak is that I am not a Jersey girl. Sorry.


Rockville, Md.: Mr. Robinson and I do have our debates, but I was charmed by his appearance on your show last night. It was a very informed conversation and I enjoyed it. I kept thinking "this is how we should get along."

Best wishes.

Gwen Ifill: Gene Robinson is a terrific and thoughtful man. I was pleased to have him on the NewsHour.


Kensington, Md.: Gwen, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association lists religiosity as indicative of a mental disorder. Given that the current occupant of the White House had us invade Iraq because "God" told him to, and so much suffering and tragedy has ensued from that "vision," would you agree that examining a candidate's particular religious delusions is not only allowable but a duty of our media? Most of them, to my knowledge, proudly endorse some version of these symptoms, yet like a family in denial over their alcoholism, we still treat this as a sacred cow not to be acknowledged. I'm not speaking of a "religious test", but rather frank, honest discussion of a profound problem. Thanks.

Gwen Ifill: If by "religiosity" you mean faith, I guess I have to have my head examined too.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Hi Gwen, and thanks for taking questions. I saw, on the News Hour a few nights ago, your segment on the situation in Burma. Maybe I'm off base here, but I thought any discussion about China's potential role in pressuring the junta to restrain itself might've included an allusion to China's historical aversion to Buddhism. I'm thinking Tibet here, and I don't see China intervening to protect a movement led by a religious group it has so much animosity towards. Do you believe this is a factor in China's reluctance to play a more aggressive role towards the Burmese government? If so, would it not have been useful to bring that up in the segment?

Gwen Ifill: We were pretty proud of ourselves for devoting 10 minutes to ust this approach to the story in a single pop. Where else have you seen that? Sorry if we didn't get to every way of looking at it, but the story does not seem to be going away. If it seems appropriate, we will address many angles in weeks to come.


Vancouver, B.C.: Hi Gwen,

I still remember the night you introduced WW's partnership with the National Journal. You said something about continuing to report "right down the middle." In regard to that announcement you made, may I ask you to comment on the following statement by Ken Silverstein, Washington editor of Harper's Magazine?

Thank you.

"There is a certain smugness on the high end of the Washington press corps, indecently close personal and professional relationships between reporters and the people they are supposed to cover," Silverstein says. "What is lost here in the interest of phony balance is any sense of right and wrong."

Gwen Ifill: Unless Mr. Silverstein was writing about me, my work, or our relationship with National Journal -- specifically -- I don't know why I need to respond.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Dearest Gwen

I want to be a republican because it is commonly taken for granted that Black people will automatically be Democrats and that irks me. Most of us are designated Democrats before we reach the opportunity of choice.

However as you know that major Republican players could not be bothered to show up for the debate at Morgan State, now why should I give a fig about John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and all the others.

Didn't they just sign their own death certificate even though I cannot agree with some of the Democrats most liberal policies.

Where else is left to go?

Gwen Ifill: Any number of voters can complain that their issues are not being addressed by candidates at any given moment. African Americans are not alone in that. Candidates not showing up to debate is just one manifestation of the problem. It seems voters will have to do what they have always had to do -- listen carefully and choose the closest match.


Chico, Calif.: I just watched your Sunday edition of Washington Week where you discussed the Supreme Court and Voter ID requirement. You and your panel failed to discuss how the Voter ID requirement would affect Absentee Voters and the state of Oregon where they have mail in ballots. Other states also have the mail in option.

Gwen Ifill: I don't believe I know the answer to your question, probably because the rules differ from state to state. There is not (yet) a national requirement, so there is no single standard. That's part of what the Supreme Court's decision could affect.


Washington, D.C.: Do you think Sen. Leahy scheduling the Mukasey hearing without first getting the answers he wants from the White House a bad thing for Democrats? Do they look more accommodating or weak?

Gwen Ifill: Sounds like a Senator has to do what a Senator has to do. I don;t know what else may be occurring behind the scenes that may have forced Senator Leahy to move ahead with the hearings.


Anonymous: Gwen :

In news footage it always looks to me as though Sen Obama is outdrawing Hillary on the campaign trail -- his crowds seem more genuinely enthusiastic as well. Do you get to actually visit some of these events in person and what's your take on the enthusiasm level between the two Democrats?

Gwen Ifill: There is little question that Obama attracts the largest, most enthusiastic crowds of any candidate in either party. But it is impossible to measure how many of those folks are going to write checks, go to caucuses and polls, or even actually vote for the candidate they've come to see. For now, we have to settle for conventional measures -- which show Sen. Clinton with a strong advantage.


Silver Spring, Md.: I notice that the Newshour doesn't start until about 7:02pm - there's about 120 seconds of lists of people sponsoring the program. Does that mean that Mr. Lehrer, Ms. Ifill, et. al. get thumping big salaries? How can I apply to join the staff?

Gwen Ifill: We use that money to bring you the news, and in perhaps the most cost-effective way on television. Trust me, there's not a lot of cash floating around in public television land, and we squeeze every dollar til the eagle grins.


Washington, D.C.: Dearest Gwen: the whole town thinks you are BFFs with Condi, so is she leaving? She keeps saying California has such a good quality of life. Doesn't she want out?

Gwen Ifill: Yes, and of course I am BFF with every black woman in Washington. Come on people.


Fairfax, Va.: Your WETA colleague, Bill Moyers, showcases guests who are incredibly informative about how corporate America and its allies in the right wing and in the MSM work hand in hand to obscure the downside of American capitalism and its ongoing class war against America's non-elites. Would you consider from time to time allowing their perspective to see the light of day on your show? I would love to see how your regular crew would respond to the worldview that Moyers' guests hold in terms of the news events you choose to highlight each week.

Gwen Ifill: My friend Bill does what he does, and I do what I do. No need for overlap.


Silver Spring, Md.:

Why do you assume that Sen. Leahy was "forced" to move ahead with a Mukasey hearing? What could possibly cause a responsible journalist to state something as a fact that they admittedly know nothing about?

Gwen Ifill: You are right. I said I did not know what may have happened behind the scenes, and I should have stopped there.


Fairfax, Va.: I highly recommend you watch Bill Moyers Journal and center some of your weekly discussions around some of the topics he explores. Your program would be much better with in depth discussion on topics that deal with, for example, the reality of the ongoing class war in America. One topic could be: is there class warfare in America and if so how is it reflected in our political discourse? Another: how is racial bias used in class warfare and by whom?

Regardless of your guests' political perspectives (as human beings they do have biases that come through in the way they choose to frame their reports to the group) the topics you pick for them should be expanded. Please watch Bill Moyers, truly a national treasure and a shining exception to our corporatized media which often obscures context and meaning in its reports.

I don't expect you will take this kind of question which you either ignore or blow off online; but I hope you will think about the criticisms and suggestions made here.

Gwen Ifill: Of course I'll take your question. As I told the earlier writer, I think there is plenty of room for Bill to do the work he does, or he wouldn't be on the air. I recommend you watch Washington Week, though, and see the work we do. You will find the two programs have quite different missions.


Vienna, Va.: Again this week, Senator Obama voiced criticism of Members of Congress who voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq (read: Senator Clinton), saying that he was against the invasion and the war from the very beginning. Doesn't this criticism have an element of "easy for him to say," since he was not a senator at the time and didn't, in fact, have to cast such a vote?

Gwen Ifill: Perhaps. But if that is the standard, we also should stop listening to everyone else on the stage who wasn't there too, right?


Crestwood, N.Y.: Gwen, in your opinion, is the GOP meltdown that is currently going on -- Sen. Domenichi's retirement today is only the latest in a long parade of GOP politicians calling it quits - a sign of a coming permanent realignment, like the demise of the whigs, or the rise of the Reagan Democrats? It does seem that the 'marriage' of social religious right conservatives and economic wall street conservatives has been on the rocks for some time now. Or is this just a blip that will end when Iraq ends, with the two parties in approximate parity within a few years?

Gwen Ifill: Every month I get a crystal ball question like this. You'd think by now I'd have had the darned thing fixed.


Winnipeg, Canada: Although I am not an American, Washington Week is one of my favourite shows because of the high level of discourse.

To my question: Would you consider having Jon Stewart on your show? He does great book interviews and is very well-informed, although with a slight but detectable political bias. I think he would rise to the challenge of a serious news program format.

Gwen Ifill: One of the reasons I like Jon Stewart so much is because he is always the first to say he is a fake journalist. I like to save the seats at my table for the real ones.


Westchester, N.Y.: Would you ever do a "Washington Week" with non-mainstream reporters, such as, for example, small independent newspapers or bloggers like Josh Marshall, whose talkingpointsmemo has innovated a new investigative journalism model? I think you would have no trouble having a conservative and progressive balance of responsible people, without booking any of the screaming cable tv crazies we always see. Might be a nice contrast.

Gwen Ifill: Hmmmm....Lemme think about that one.


Ann Arbor, Mich.: It seems that there is a news story out there about the claims Justice Thomas makes about his past. The Marcus column in the Post this week was particularly full of specifics about other incidents that would back up Prof. Hill's statements. Will we see something about that tomorrow night on WW? One Angry Man, ( Post, Oct. 3)

Gwen Ifill: Joan Biskupic of USA Today, who covered the Thomas hearings in 1991, and is writing about the book this week, will be on the program tomorrow night.


Reading, Pa.: Gwen :

Just so you know -- Many of us think you do a great job and I think you are pretty fearless to host these chats as frequently as you do. So just keep your sense of humor and don't let the dogs snapping at your heels bother you too much !

Gwen Ifill: I have SUCH a thick skin. Plus, I find these chats enjoyable.


Toronto, Canada: You certainly do what you do. I once admired you. But every difficult question you get on here is either deflected, answered defensively, or joked off. You are part of the problem with the MSM censoring the real world.

Gwen Ifill: Then, I get THESE.


Re: Vienna, Va.: Can I just point out that Sen. Obama did speak out in 2002. He made a speech, during his own campaign trail at the time, speaking out against the war. So although he did not have to cast a vote, he did voice his very specific opinion on the war.

Gwen Ifill: Yes, he did speak out. I think the point the earlier writer was making was that Senator Obama did not have to VOTE on the Iraq war.


Washington, D.C.: Was at Clinton's lecture on science this morning, bored to tears, told cute story about fifth grade teacher saying President told her to learn math and science, looked better near 60 than she did at 50. Huma Abedin, campaign guru, stood at back wearing white pumps long after Labor Day.

Gwen Ifill: Kicking off my white pumps right now...

(Perhaps the speech would have been less boring if you'd been, yes, listening -- although fashion commentary does have its place.)


No name, no city: I don't recall seeing Tom Gjelten on WW lately. Is he OK? What's he been doing lately? I miss him, he's so-o-o-o handsome (please, Martha, please don't hurt me!). Although I gotta say Mike Viqueira's kinda cute too...

Gwen Ifill: We love Tom. He is in the throes of book-writing, but he will be back. And, yes, Martha WILL hurt you.


Boston, Mass.: Hi Gwen, One man's opinion -- the Thomas/Hill affair was blown out of all proportion 15 years ago and it wasn't worth talking about again last night... I can understand Thomas' bitterness.

Gwen Ifill: The book -- and our conversation -- is about more than just the confirmation hearings. We haven't heard from this Supreme Court Justice with 16 years on the bench, in essence, ever.


Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!: Why did you post the Top Chef spoiler???

I have it Tivo-ed and have been carefully avoiding places online that might spoil the surprise. I never thought I would have to worry about this chat!

Gwen Ifill: I figured if it was ruined for me, it was ruined for everybody.


African American Party seeker: To the earlier poster who seems to feel the need to find a party: Why? What's wrong with being and Independent and choosing the candidate to vote for based on their specific statements?

Gwen Ifill: Chat amongst yourselves.


Silver Spring, Md.:

You wrote that voters should "listen carefully."

Do you think that any of the candidates has yet said anything even remotely interesting?

Gwen Ifill: Call me whack, but I find it all interesting.

Tomorrow night, we'll pick up where our chat today leaves off, with discussions about the SCHIP veto, the Blackwater hearings, the 08 campaign, and Justice Thomas' new book.

See you then!


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