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Gwen Ifill
Gwen Ifill
Washington Week Web site
PBS Web site
Talk: washingtonpost.
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Live Online Transcripts

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Washington Week Online
With Gwen Ifill
Journalist, Moderator "Washington Week"

Thursday, May 29, 2003; Noon ET

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 Thursday, May 29 at Noon ET, 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 8:00 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.

New York, N.Y.: Why has neither the Newshour nor any other reputable program shown -- at the same time Bush is signing his tax bill into law, that he also signed (in all still and darkness) the debt limit increase to heights heretofore unknown?

Gwen Ifill: Hmmm. I'm not sure how one shows something that occurred in darkness, but we have reported the passage of the debt ceiling measure.

Arlington, Va.: Ms.Ifill:

Recently I heard C-SPAN Radio's re-broadcast of a presentation that you gave to a "Students and Leaders" forum at a Washington, D.C. middle school. Because I was only able to hear the first 10 minutes, I may have missed some of your comments, but I was shocked when I listened to you tell these young people that you "made it up" while working for the Boston Herald. My reaction was based in part on my having reprimanded and fired employees for "making it up." (For what it's worth, my firm is not involved with journalism.) More obvious, though, is the similarity between your remarks and the Jayson Blair/New York Times situation. Again, acknowledging that I did not hear your entire presentation, my opinion is that you owe an explanation to those young people about why "making it up" is anything less than shameful. And, quite honestly, I hope that you understand that even though it was only phony cooking advice, it may have ruined a very special occasion. Any comments?

Gwen Ifill: Boy, am I sorry you didn't listen to the rest of my presentation!
If you had listened, you would have heard me continue to make this point to the students:
The secret to journalism is curiosity. Always ask. Always inquire. No question is a stupid question.
What I said is that sometimes this requires "faking it," in a benevolent sense. That is, acquiring and presenting expertise as if you had studied it for years, when you get considerably less time than that most days.
If you don't know enough about the geological formation that creates an Algerian earthquake, you ask. When you don't know what Shiite Muslims are, you ask. When you don't know how long a turkey should be roasted, you ask.
Then you are no longer "faking it." You are providing information.
I feel some insult that it would even occur to you to compare my 25 years in journalism to Jayson Blair's brief and fraudulent career. But, as you say, you only listened to 10 minutes.

San Diego, Calif.: On your May 23 airing, near the end of the program, it was reported that a majority of Americans did not view President Bush's act of landing a plane on an aircraft carrier as a just a campaign photo op, you made the comment "Humph, we'll be the judge of that."

Who is "We?"

I get so sick and tired of liberal reporter who ignores how the majority feels. Facts are facts and you cannot change the facts as most liberal news reporters try to do. Making up your own facts does work on a few ignorant people. It was extraordinary what the President did after our men and women accomplished an extraordinary mission. It showed that he was one of them, more than you can say about former President Bill Clinton.

Like the saying goes, if you lie and say it enough times, people will believe it! But let me fill you in on something, WE THE PEOPLE are catching on.

Don't be bitter because the Democrat platform is baseless and not as popular. The PEOPLE have woken up.

Gwen Ifill: I find it so interesting that people inject their own biases into what they read and watch, and then accuse those of us who disseminate information of being the biased ones.

I'm sure you know this if you actually watched the program, because many other viewers got it. When I said "We'll be the judge of that," I was making a humorous aside, NOT passing judgement on anyone's veracity, and NOT dismissing the opinions of the American people.
You can accuse me, perhaps, of being trite (like saying "time will tell" at the end of a story), but not of bias.

Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: So when's the long awaited for report: "9/11 - The Inside Story" going to hit the press? Seems like two years ought to be enough time to learn: who slept, who forgot, who didn't show up, who lied, who blundered, who didn't care, and WHY to all of the above. Don't you think? Isn't the public owed a real, factual, thorough, and unflinching public accounting? Thanks much.

Gwen Ifill: We are indeed watching to see what has become of the 9/11 report. Several members of Congress are watching too. I suggest you contact yours.

Cedarburg, Wis.: Gwen,
Just a comment. We really enjoy your show and look forward to Friday p.m., but if we miss it we catch you very early Saturday a.m.!

We really like the format and the reporters that you select and the way you manage the program in such a nice way! Your smiles add a lot! Love Ya'

Gwen Ifill: Thanks. I needed that!

Valley Center, Calif.: Gwen Iffel,

In this weeks Washington Week discussion, one of the issues raised was tax cuts.

Why when the second richest man in America Warren Buffet wrote an article published in the Washington Post on May 20th regarding his view on tax cuts, there was no mention of his views? He took a contrary position to the lies perpetuated by the administration of the benefits of the tax cut to the people as well as the country. He was very clear in stating the country or the economy would not benefit with such a cut and certainly the workers would not benefit at all. He pointed out that his receptionist would pay her full tax of 30 percent, while he Buffet if Berkshire-Hathaway paid dividends would end up under the tax cut with a total tax rate of 3 percent.
Isn't that information vital for us Americans to know?

washingtonpost.com: Dividend Voodoo, (Post, May 20)

Gwen Ifill: There are many opinions out there about this tax cut, and Warren Buffett's have certainly received more attention than most.

Lyme, Conn.: Has any news reporting organization attempted to connect the degree to which our foreign policy is influenced by economic interests? I am not one of those who believe oil is the only issue driving how we respond. At the same time, we can't deny that our national economic interests are not considered in how we prioritize which countries receive our attention. For instance, our support of attempts to replace the government in Venezuela was a short few day story and has been since ignored. Yet, when one considers the countries where we have supported regime changes-Venezuela and Iraq and now possibly Iran-one can't wonder why these countries get attention while other brutal regimes (and I don't deny that Iraq and Iran are brutal regimes) elsewhere in the world receive less attention from our government.

Gwen Ifill: One can wonder, indeed. And we can cover it all, which we try to.

Scottsdale, Ariz.: How long, or how soon, will we know if the tax cut just signed by President Bush is effective?

Gwen Ifill: I guess the questions will be, "effective for whom?" and "effective or what period of time?"
It will take some time to know the answer, and to settle on the appropriate yardstick by which to measure effectiveness.
But that's one of the reasons I like elections. They guarantee national debate over issues just like this one. Or at least, they should.

Decatur, Ga.: Controversy rages regarding the rescue of Jessica Lynch. The BBC declares the rescue was staged. The Iraqi lawyer who claims to have led the Marines to her has been given a job in a lobbying concern, an advance of $500,000 on a book he plans to write, and has been treated as a hero. The Defense Department denies the rescue was staged.

If the rescue was staged it casts serious doubts about the Defense Department and the US media.

1. How can the public know the truth about this incident?
2. Has the U.S. media served the country well as far as this story is concerned?

Gwen Ifill: You ask a question for the ages -- how can we know the truth?

The only honest answer I can give you is, I don't know.However, the Chicago Tribune has done its own investigation of the BBC charges. Here's the link:

The Chicago Tribune

Long Beach, Calif.: I was curious as to the position of the press in regards to conflicts in Indonesia. The devastation of the eco-system there is causing revolts and starvation, yet our corporations deal with the kleptocracy there, and use their Army as mercenaries and security. WHY IS THIS SO UNDER REPORTED?

P.S. Human Rights Watch Groups are banished from Aceh and West Papua, which makes press coverage a life or death situation. Thanks

Gwen Ifill: I think your P.S. answered your question. When press access becomes a life-or-death situation, it is difficult to tell a story you can't see.
But we try.

Pensacola, Fla. (the military Bible belt): It seems to me that George Bush is able to do whatever he wants, whether it is a war that is never justified (or has multiple and conflicting justifications), a tax cut he calls a jobs bill though most economists say it is not, energy and environmental policies that ravage the land while failing to meet the nation's long-term energy needs, an education program that is burdensome for states and local districts but has little federal support, homeland security costs that are not adequately funded? Where is the public outrage and the political opposition? Have 9/ll and the war on terrorism given him absolute immunity from serious opposition?

Gwen Ifill: Take a walk back with me to 1996, when Bob Dole, then a candidate for President, repeatedly asked "where's the outrage," when he was campaigning against Bill Clinton.
The answer then and now, was that most Americans seemed to like the President, and to believe that his agenda would be good for them.
You might disagree with that premise, but it's always helpful to remember that Americans' outrage -- or lack thereof-- swings back and forth, in spite of political identification.

Alexandria, Va.: I wish I could find the source, but a reputable paper reported that the fighter plane landing that Bush did cost millions in diverting planes and logistics and the like. Did you know that?

Gwen Ifill: I wish you could find the source too, because that is a claim which is the subject of quite a bit of unsubstantiated debate.

Takoma Park, Md.: Gwen,

How do you maintain your sunny disposition in the face of attacks like those you are getting here? Do you think the atmosphere between press and public is "chillier" than in the past? Or just as it always has been.

Gwen Ifill: Am I getting attacked? I hadn't noticed.
I like doing these Web chats, because it does often give me a chance to respond to concerns folks have, even if they are predisposed not to listen.
The relationship between the press and the viewing and reading public will indeed become more chilly of folks on my side of the aisle don't answer questions.

Baltimore, Md.: Last summer, the major news stories were about Enron, Tyco, Halliburton and Harken Energy. Then, the administration started saying Iraq had lots of weapons of mass destruction. (WMDs). The press was diverted and there were no more significant stories about financial scandals.

In the last few weeks, the stories in the press have been that Iraq may not have had so many WMDs, or, they destroyed them before we got there, or they just really, really hid them well. In response, the administration has started talking about Iran. I wonder when the press will decide to let up on the search for WMDs. (Personally, I think they already have).

To what degree are journalists driven by whatever stories the Executive Branch determines are important?

Gwen Ifill: I don't know what newspapers you're reading, but I see reports every single day about the so-far fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction, about continuing casualties in Iraq, and about the problematical launch of the plan to rebuild Iraq.
Somehow I don't think these are the stories the White House would choose for page 1. So I would argue that reporters are less influenced by executive branch manipulation than you might believe.
That said, when the President speaks, we do listen. He is the President, after all.

Oakton, Va.: Gwen. I watch your show regularly -- almost every week -- and while I think you do an excellent job, I am somewhat less impressed with many of the other panelists. Have you ever considered having Bob Novak, Lawrence Kudlow, or Charles Krauthammer on your show? They seem to be three really excellent journalists -- especially Krauthammer.

Gwen Ifill: They are excellent OPINION journalists -- columnists, actually. Our program devotes itself to the news and analysis you get from beat reporters.All three of the men you name have regular outlets on broadcast and cable television, so if you want to hear from them as well, it's easy to find them.

Washington, D.C.: I won't ask you to express an opinion on this, since it might serve to bring more wrath upon your head, but I have a comment.

Those who complain about liberal bias in the news are usually objecting to the fact that good reporters sometimes identify questions that need answers. Some people are unsettled by questions that have not already been answered ideologically.

Gwen Ifill: You said that so well, I'll just let it stand.

Sacramento, Calif.: Hi Gwen,

Please point out to people that the S-3 Viking W rode out to the carrier on is not a fighter jet. It is a jet, but it is a carrier based Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) patrol plane. To call an S-3 a fighter jet is like calling a VW bug a Porche. The S-3 is made to go slow, not fast, and has the lowest stall speed, and so the lowest landing speed, of all the current non-rotary aircraft in the fleet. Also, W didn't land the plane. The pilot landed the plane. W was baggage.

I can't help but think that if some of these presidential boosters had actually served in the military they might be more accurate.

Gwen Ifill: Duly noted.

Arlington, Va.: Where has Rick Berke been? You liked him.

Gwen Ifill: Rick Berke got a promotion. He is now the Washington Editor of the New York Times -- essentially the deputy bureau chief. He will be back from time to time when it makes sense. But I will tell him he is missed.

Knoxville, Tenn.: Why is the national media ignoring the "Texasgate" story -- where so far we have shredded documents-missing hours off videotapes-police officers changing answers hourly-Rep. Tom Delay admitting that he lied on his first statements about his involvement in the illegal use of the Homeland Security departments. But the national media has done all it can to ignore the story-the longest story I have seen in the last week has been no longer than two minutes. Why no interviews with Texas journalists or columnists -- where are Molly Ivins, Craig Hines, Jim Hightower, Carl Leubsdorf? I wonder what happened to the national media to make them so afraid of this administration that no illegal actions any of them take are ever reported?

Gwen Ifill: The Texas story is mostly a Texas story for now. Everything else seems to be allegation. If it rises beyond that, you can be sure there will be more coverage.

Seattle, Wash.: What can the potential Democratic presidential candidates do to win both in the primaries and in the general election?

Gwen Ifill: Raise a lot of money, and find a compelling reason to turn the incumbent out of office.

Fairfax, Va.: Bush promised to be a "uniter, not divider." How well do you think he has done?

Gwen Ifill: I'll leave that answer to the historians.

Arlington, Va.: I enjoy the insightful news and commentary on Washington Week. I only wish it were an hour long. Has there been any discussion among the producers/station about extending the length of the show?

Gwen Ifill: We talk about it all the time. But it's not up to us. It's up to the 350 PBS stations who air us around the country. We get this question a lot, though, and are happy to pass it along to the powers-that-be.

Rochester, N.Y.: I love your show, and always try to see it. Any thoughts about going to an hour? Also, have you ever thought about including as a guest a journalist who's more outside the beltway -- perhaps an editor from a regional paper like the Rocky Mountain News or the St. Louis Post-Dispatch? This might give a little national perspective on the Washington stories.

Gwen Ifill: See previous answer.

Plus, yes, we have given some thought to using reporters from around the country, and do so whenever it seems to fit our mission -- which is to explain how and why Washington works, and what it has to do with you.
We also have taken Washington Week on the road on occasion to expand our reach. We'll keep working on that.

Cambridge, Mass.: I am a avid fan of WW, and I had a question about the panel selection. I'm sure you get feedback from your audience on the panelists. Does that play a role in who appears on your show with what frequency? In other words, do you take audience feedback into consideration while choosing your panelists for any given show?

Gwen Ifill: Actually, no.

We select panelists based on the news of the week, their coverage of it, and the general mix around the table that we are striving for that week.
Unlike "American Idol," viewers don't get a vote, even though we do welcome criticism as well as praise.

Reston, Va.: The woes of Joe Lieberman's presidential campaign have received some coverage recently, with at least some of the focus being on the Jewish question. In past years, the press was not bashful about highlighting alleged anti-semitic sentiment within certain factions of the Republican party, but I happen to believe the relatively small but increasing hostility towards Jews within certain elements of the Democratic Party is possibly the most underreported political trend of importance today. Do you believe that this phenomenon is both real and newsworthy and if so, do you believe that it is getting the coverage that such a story deserves?

Gwen Ifill: This is one of those stories which require more than suspicion to write. Any good reporter would want examples, impact, and on-the-record information to support anything so incendiary.
If it's true, it seems to me we will have ample chance to spot the evidence as the election year continues.

Washington, D.C.: Some of the headlines coming out of Iraq seem eerily like the early headlines out of Vietnam in the 1960s. Do you think the U.S. will be stuck in Iraq for many years to come?

Gwen Ifill: You will never get me to use the word "quagmire." Because I don't know and don't have a crystal ball...

Killeen, Tex.: What is your assessment on how the press has dealt with this president? He seldom hold press conferences. He will not venture out and speak with all of the people of America (I know that all Presidents preach to their base but this President has carried that to a new level I think). It is not that the press is afraid to take on a popular President (Mr.Clinton was at the exact same poll rating at the height of impeachment as Mr Bush was at the end of the war). I am not sure if I am just being overly cynical or there is a real shift going on here where the press is concern.

Gwen Ifill: I think what you are seeing is what happens when a highly-disciplined White House learns how to control the levers of information.
Having once covered the White House, I know it can be extremely difficult to extract information someone does not want you to have. This doesn't mean that all digging stops. It just means that it's harder to strike gold, or even coal.
Don't be cynical. Skeptical is good; cynical implies hopelessness.

Somewhere, USA: Ms. Ifill,

I just want to compliment you on your fair, unbiased reporting of the news. You are a pleasant alternative to the networks.

Gwen Ifill: Bless you.

Brooklyn, Minn.: Please comment on the future of PBS, and its support of your program.

Gwen Ifill: PBS is going strong. We, of course, could always use more support -- psychic as well as financial. No matter what you hear, we are far more dependent on private support than on taxpayer's money.
And we get strong support here at Washington Week from PBS.

Vienna, Va.: Since MacNeill left the show a few years ago and I often see you on it (along with Margaret Warner), why not rename the show the Leherer-Ifill or the Leherer-Warner News Hour? And by the way -- talk about OPINION journalists (to quote you answer to the previous caller). Mark Shields, who is a regular on that show, is a classic opinion maker.

Gwen Ifill: Oh please. Jim Lehrer is the gold standard.

And, you are right. Mark Shields IS an opinion columnist. That is why he is paired with David Brooks, another opinion columnist on Friday nights.
You realize, of course, that that is different from what we do on Washington Week.

Gwen Ifill: Thanks everybody. That was fun. See you Friday night. We will have segments on the President's upcoming trip to Europe and the Middle East with Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times, an update on the reconstruction of Iraq with Tom Gjelten of National Public Radio, a Supreme Court update with Joan Biskupic of USA Today, and a look at the gender gap in American politics with Karen Tumulty of Time magazine.

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