Thursday, Nov. 20 at noon ET

Washington Week With Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill
Journalist, Moderator, "Washington Week With Gwen Ifill and National Journal"
Thursday, November 20, 2008; 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, Nov. 20 to take questions and comments.

A transcript follows.

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).


Gwen Ifill: Happy to be back. Let's get right to your questions!


Obama Transition Team and Leaks to the Media: Now that the campaign is over, why do we hear so much about cabinet selectees? Which camp is leaking the information? Are these planned leaks or leads? Or are there no secrets in DC?

Gwen Ifill: As the Obama team is learning, there are plenty of secrets in DC, but only if a) it is not in anyone's interest to leak, and b) it does not require Congressional input or approval. If either of those two things are present, there are a million ways fot things to leak. So far, we suspect the sources of all cabinet announcement leaks to come from one of those two sources.

As a reporter, I am all for leaks.


St. Paul : Hi Gwen -- How is your ankle? Hope it's healing nicely. How miffed do you think the Obama team is that Hillary Clinton is hemming and hawing about whether to take the SoS job? And assuming that she does take it, what might we see in her confirmation hearing? Given her popularity in the Senate, it would seem like it would be nothing more than a going through the motions love fest, or will Republicans take a hard line just for show?

Gwen Ifill: Thanks for asking, my broken ankle is mending nicely, although I still look a little like Frankenstein when I try to walk.

I don't know that Hillary Clinton has been "hemming and hawing" about the SoS job. Don't you remember telling people you didn't want to go to the prom only because you were waiting to be asked? (OK, maybe that's my high school trauma).

Any confirmation hearings would be fascinating, but the Senate is a clubby place. It takes a lot for them to refuse to confirm one another, (see: John Tower) or even to expel one another (see: Ted Stevens).


Anon: Gwen: On the lighter side... Now that the election is over, what did you think of Queen Latifah's impression of you on SNL? What did she get wrong? What did you see that you did not like? Or is just being mentioned good enough?

Gwen Ifill: Are you kidding? Being played by Queen Latifah was great. I have enough of a sense of humor about myself not to nitpick.


New York: I just love this eager attention given to the supposed importance of leaking or not leaking the names of appointees; no one except the Washington crowd cares in the least. What's important is that the appointee not have to step down because of some undetected propriety, and works effectively to get things done. The rest is inside baseball. Few people care about Kimba Wood or Lani Guinier anymore (except for the prospective appointees themselves), or even know who they were. It all reminds me of the two week buildup to the Super Bowl: disposable news.

Gwen Ifill: What else are we supposed to do with ourselves? We are in post-election decompression here in DC. Give us a break.


Baltimore, Md.: I hope this question is taken seriously, because John McCain appeared quite serious when he asserted during the campaign and the debates that he, personally, knew how to capture Bin Laden. Has Senator McCain been asked if he has given this valuable national security information to the President-elect?

Gwen Ifill: I imagine if Senator McCain meant that literally, and since he is a man who loves his country, that he would not keep such information to himself.


Evanston, Illinois: Who is going to be the next host of Meet the Press?

Gwen Ifill: Beats me.


Reston: Can we please put an embargo on pundits using any of the following phrases for like a week: Team of Rivals, The New New Deal, green-collar jobs, and any references to peeing in or out of a tent? It's getting old and we still have two months until Obama takes the oath of office!

Gwen Ifill: People have been peeing in tents? I've missed that one. And, no, please don't explain.

But -- with apologies to Doris Kearns Goodwin -- I am certainly willing to ban the use of "Team of Rivals."


Princeton, NJ: Gwen, I'm 70 years old and grew up in a small town in southern NJ which was culturally part of the South. In 4th grade, our schools were forcibly desegregated by the State. Years later, when my father ran for school board, he was called a "n****r lover" because we helped a number of black HS students go to college. I have always supported civil right efforts such as affirmative action. But no more.

My daughter went to Wellesley where she fell in love with a classmate. After graduation, they responsibly waited until they secured good jobs before getting married in a beautiful ceremony they wrote themselves. They are an admirable couple, working fulltime, getting further education at night and on weekends. It is difficult to see how they threaten anyone at all.

On Election Day, over 70% of the black people in CA, egged on by almost 100% of their clergy, voted to ban marriages such as my daughter's. Please don't talk about tradition (slavery was traditional also) or God's will. The four words that describe this vote are bigotry, fear, ignorance and hatred. The one word that describes my feelings is betrayal.

Gwen Ifill: Let me get this right. Some people in California disagree with your views on a sensitive issue, and they are no longer deserving of your support on any civil rights measures anywhere?

I see.


Pittsburgh: Do you think there was an October Surprise in this election after all, but that it may have been of the stealth variety?

What I'm thinking of is unexpectedly high unemployment increases, which are just now being reported. But surely voters who have been directly or indirectly affected by them had already experienced or observed job loss by Nov. 4 or knew it was imminent, whether for themselves, family members, neighbors, co-workers or friends. Traditionally, increased unemployment tends to influence swing and undecided voters to vote Democratic.

Gwen Ifill: I don't think the economic downturn was in any way stealthy. Every exit poll shows it affected the decisions of Democrats, Republicans and independents.


Ted Stevens' Senate seat: Will Ted Stevens resign from the Senate prior to the end of his elected term? And if so, would Governor Palin be likelier to appoint a fellow-Republican for that brief period, or to bite the bipartisan bullet and name Senator-elect Mark Begich, so that Alaska's junior Senator could have seniority over other freshman Senators?

Gwen Ifill: I don't think this is up to Senator Stevens anymore. I can't imagine he would poke the voters in the eye on this one. It's not like he and the Governor pal around. Plus, he just gave his farewell speech on the Senate floor, and there was no mention of resignation.


Washington, DC: Did any in the media notice the pro-gay marriage rallies this past weekend? I have seen minimal coverage.

By waiting until just after the election to have them, have we pretty much missed out on using any political clout?

Gwen Ifill: It is interesting that there has been more attention paid to Prop 8 after the election than there was before. Guess no one saw that coming.


Crestwood, NY : Have you met the newly-named White House Press Secretary for Pre. Obama, who when last seen on YouTube, was ripping up Sean Hannity over the 'Obama investigative show' which he had (unknowingly one would hope) turned over to an anti-Semite? On that particular occasion, he was quite combative. Do you see the press relations under this President being more like Mike McCurry or like any of the four Bush spokespersons? Robert Gibbs Takes On Sean Hannity (FOX News via YouTube)

Gwen Ifill: I do know Robert Gibbs and find him to be a worthy successor at the podium. We won't know how his relationship with the White House press corps will develop. If I've learned anything from covering campaigns vs the White House, it is that the job is a very different one. As it should be.


Chicago, Illinois: "Washington Week and National Journal" features journalists -- not pundits -- lending insight and perspective to the week's important news stories....Television journalist and pundits are a distinction without a difference.

Gwen Ifill: Ah, but I disagree. Watch our show if you want to see how one treads the line. It's a broader line than you think.


Ellicott City, MD: During the VP debate, what went through your mind when Sarah Palin said something to the effect of "I'm not going to answer your question"?

Gwen Ifill: I was pleased that she shared her intention with the audience. Most of the time politicians avoid answering questions by simply talking about something else until the time runs out. By declaring her decision not to abide by the rules of the debate up front, it was clear what we could expect.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Hey, Gwen... big fan for years.

I was wondering if PBS or CNN should have put together a 1 hour program containing the top Black journalists to discuss the historic election of Obama, in light of ABC's Steve Osunsami's emotional piece on election day (I thought it was understandable and appropriate).

I would've liked to see you, Osunsami, Rahemma Ellis, Randall Pinkston, and Clarence Page on Larry King Live or a special PBS program discussing this.

I'm sure you were beaming with pride, but gee, you sure kept your cool!

Gwen Ifill: Just like reporters of any background, African Americans are able to hold two thoughts in our heads at once. It is possible to appreciate the moment one is witnessing and cover it professionally too.


Re Jim Lehrer: Are you filling in for Jim Lehrer this week on the News Hour just because he's on a well-deserved post-election vacation? Don't most journalists who covered the elections need a relaxing vacation right about now? And, at the risk of sounding contradictory, when will you have your new book on the election finished? How long does it take for a completed manuscript to appear in book form for sale in stores and online?

Gwen Ifill: I sure might could use a vacation, but I'm afraid that will have to wait until after inauguration and, yes, book tour. We are crashing to finish my book right now.

As for Jim, he was off receiving a very well-deserved career achievement award this week at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.

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Austin, TX: When Barack Obama becomes president in January, he'll confront the controversial legal legacy of the Bush administration. From expansive executive privilege to hard-line tactics in the war on terrorism, Obama must decide what he'll undo and what he'll embrace. Civil libertarians hope that Obama will move aggressively to reverse legal policies that they believe have violated the Constitution and international law. The ACLU and Human Rights First have prepared detailed reports for the new administration calling for criminal investigations into accusations of abuse of detainees. It is not clear, though, how a President Barack Obama will handle such requests.

Is this a topic likely to be pursued aggressively by reporters on Washington Week & the PBS evening news?

Gwen Ifill: We will certainly cover the new Administration thoroughly and aggressively. It's already becoming clear that the new President will face some of his toughest early challenges from his most passionate supporters. There are a lot of pent-up expectations out there, and it will be interesting to see how he sets his priorities.


New York: When Romney was campaigning in Michigan, he called for massive Federal subsidies of the auto manufacturing industry. Now, six months later, Romney says they should be allowed to fail. Is the fact Romney is able to get away with this an example of White Skin Privilege? Op-Ed: Let Detroit Go Bankrupt (NY Times, Nov 19)

Gwen Ifill: made a leap there at the end that I didn't see coming.


when Sarah Palin said something to the effect of "I'm not going to answer your question": Do you know of any polling at the time which revealed whether more viewers (not to mention potential voters) perceived Palin's comment favorably or unfavorably?

Gwen Ifill: I know of no polling on that question. Do you?


Northville, NY : Here's my Christmas wish for you: that your book gets as much exposure and discussion in the media as Doris Kearns Goodwin's book. Boy, was she lucky and strategic in her timing, huh?

Gwen Ifill: Doris' book has been out for two years, and has been justly praised long before people began referring to it again in the context of the Obama credit. Let's give her a little credit for being ahead of the curve (if that can be said about a historian),


Brasil: How are you?? I would like to know how is the life there before Obama's election???

Gwen Ifill: I am fine. For me, life is pretty much the same. Thanks for asking.


Riverside, California: Gwen, why do reporters forget that Obama lost the House election and asked Hillary/Bill Clinton on help in running for the Senate? All I hear is about how much Obama and Hillary don't like each other, while they've been close friends for many years. As for Hillary being asked for the Secretary of State job, Bill Richardson will get that spot because Hillary doesn't want it but Obama will give her whatever she wants. I see Patrick Fitzgerald as the next Attorney General. The biggest surprise the Media, Republicans and all Americans will see is how fast President Elect Obama gets this economy cleared up. I look for Bush to give a blanket pardon to all the crimes. He will make history once again as he will have to not only give pardons to his staff, appointees from the pass 8 years but also Cheney and Businesses that committed crimes. I can't wait for the United Nations to file their charge of War Crimes against the Bush Administration and Daddy Bush can't stop that.

Gwen Ifill: Wow, where did you buy your crystal ball? I'd like one for my next party.


Bronx, NY : There is much discussion on the web about the fact that Senator Shelby of Alabama is the most quoted opponent of a Detroit bailout, but he is never asked about how the foreign auto companies in his right-to-work state would benefit mightily if they lose their competition building inefficient SUVS (in the case of Alabama, it's Mercedes and two other foreign manufacturers of gas-guzzlers). Don't you think this is something that should get shared with the viewers when Shelby is given such dominant air time?

Gwen Ifill: Excellent point, actually.


Atlanta, Ga.: "Some people in California disagree with your views on a sensitive issue, and they are no longer deserving of your support on any civil rights measures anywhere? I see."

Gwen, I must respond as an African American woman. In the circle of people I travel in, they see no correlation between supporting a Black man for president and legal acknowledgement for homosexuals. The terminology used in those discussions is beyond rude, vitriolic and hurtful. These people also always seem to be present when a camera is present (or maybe are sought out?). I can understand a person in support of Prop. 8 (or any other such legislation) feeling betrayed. Maybe in Washington D.C. it is just a small group, but in Atlanta it is huge. Just my 2 cents.

Gwen Ifill: Interesting.


Princeton, NJ: Let's see, because you disagree with some people in the South's opinion on interracial marriage, you are no longer going to support separate-but-equal schools.

Look, if you cannot see the difference between a denial of rights and a "sensitive issue", I guess we cannot communicate.

Gwen Ifill: Huh? No. Really. These equivalency tests are confusing me.


Polling Palin's comment: Re: when Sarah Palin said something to the effect of "I'm not going to answer your question": Didn't CNN have instantaneous feedback gadgets hooked up to a group of viewers, which displayed their collective reaction on the TV screen moment-by-moment? I wouldn't know, because I of course was watching the debate on PBS!

Gwen Ifill: And I was - um -- otherwise occupied. It's not my habit to review public opinion polling of events I am involved in, so maybe another chatter knows the answer to your question.


New York : If we're banning cliche'd phrases, I vote an immediate embargo on the hackneyed "Wall Street/Main Street" lingo. Enough already; please just bring on the Depression already.

Gwen Ifill: I am not for "bringing on the Depression," but I am all for purging hackneyed phrases from the lexicon.


Jim Leach?: Any chance that Iowa moderate Republican Jim Leach will be offered a position in the Obama Cabinet? Secretary of the Treasury, perhaps? He seems like a really decent politician (not an oxymoron).

Gwen Ifill: It's interesting that Jim Leach (who by the way spoke at the Dem's convention in Denver with much less fanfare than Joe Lieberman received in St Paul) was tapped, along with Madeleine Albright, to represent Obama at the G20 meetings last weekend. So who knows?


Re: Princeton: Ms. Ifill, Princeton never said that she no longer supports the civil rights of African Americans, but noted that she felt betrayed by that community. The gay community has been overwhelmingly supportive of civil rights for all for such a long time. Many of us were proud to be a part of electing Obama the first black president. So yes, when a community that many of us supported did not show the same support and stabbed us in the back, betrayal is a word that comes to mind.

I wonder what would have happened if the United States decided to vote on slavery, women's voting rights, or interracial marriage. Isn't it weird how it's not appropriate to vote on civil rights -- unless they aren't yours.

Gwen Ifill: I am going to leave this to you to work out among yourselves. But for the record, I expressed NO opinion about Prop 8 or about how anyone should define civil rights. I leave that, as always, for you.


Gwen Ifill: Thanks everyone for chatting. It was stimulating as always. Catch up with us on Washington Week tomorrow night. We'll be talking auto bailout, transition priorities and cabinet picks. I'll be joined by Ceci Connolly of the Washington Post, Eamon Javers of Politico, Pete Williams of NBC and Peter Baker of the New York Times.

Check your local listings.



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