Ifill Responds To Juan Williams: People Should ‘Make A Better Effort To Know What They’re Talking About’

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"Ifill Responds To Juan Williams: People Should ‘Make A Better Effort To Know What They’re Talking About’"

Yesterday, PBS Senior Correspondent Gwen Ifill was at the Center for American Progress for an event on her new book, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. Afterward, she sat down with ThinkProgress, and we asked her about her thoughts on NPR analyst Juan Williams’s recent comments comparing Michelle Obama to Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress.

Ifill politely declined to comment on these specific comments, but made clear that she often disagrees with him. She also said that reporters who are supposed to just “gather the news” need to be careful about slipping into punditry:

IFILL: Well, there are a couple of different questions there. Since Juan was one of the people who criticized my book before it was published, I really — I just leave it at that. I think that people really should make a better effort to know what they’re talking about.

But in general, the whole idea of this line between commentary and straight journalism, is a fuzzy one, and it gets fuzzier every day, in part because of the growth of new technology. But I also think it can be a fairly bright line if we bother to draw it. It is really easy to tell the difference. … But the viewer doesn’t often see the distinction; they think everyone is doing this.

As Ifill noted, Williams went on Fox News last fall and criticized the fact that she was going to host a presidential debate while writing this book, picking up on a right-wing smear campaign. He said that Ifill “spent a lot of time with Obama, she praises him in the book, and so therefore it seems as if she’s invested — and the book’s success — invested in Obama’s victory.” (Ifill’s book had not yet been written.)

Watch ThinkProgress’s interview with Ifill:

Ifill also addressed Washington Post style writer Robin Givhan’s recent column, which said that many journalists and pundits are intent on canonizing Michelle Obama, and anyone who attacks her faces an unfair amount of “vitriol.” “I think we’re four weeks into this presidency, and anybody who assumes that any kind of coverage is too much this or too much that, really ought to take a deep breath and let it unfold,” said Ifill. She added that this sort of coverage is part of a honeymoon period, which will be over “as soon as the sun rises and falls.”

Transcript:

IFILL: Well, there are a couple of different questions there. Since Juan was one of the people who criticized my book before it was published, I really — I just leave it at that. I think that people really should make a better effort to know what they’re talking about.

But in general, the whole idea of this line between commentary and straight journalism, is a fuzzy one, and it gets fuzzier every day, in part because of the growth of new technology. But I also think it can be a fairly bright line if we bother to draw it. It is really easy to tell the difference.

On Washington Week, I have reporters on who are straight reporters who gather the news. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between that and someone who says, “Well, this is what I think about what happened.” Those people are fine. Punditry is great. But the viewer doesn’t often see the distinction; they think everyone is doing this.

So I try — I work really hard every single day to kind of keep the distinction alive and not to lapse into expressing my opinions or my thoughts, just my reported analysis. […]

I think we’re four weeks into this presidency, and anybody who assumes that any kind of coverage is too much this or too much that, really ought to take a deep breath and let it unfold. It’s too soon to say that people have canonized Barack or Michelle Obama. They will certainly — as soon as the sun rises and falls — the honeymoon will end. That’s what honeymoons do. And someone will start to raise questions.

I just don’t think that people generally go after first ladies. I just think that traditionally, first ladies are on some sort of elevated pedestal. But the point that she was making, that I saw — the ferocity of the pushback when you say anything that’s interpreted as negative, can sometimes be outsized. And that’s part of the honeymoon period. People are in love with their candidate, and I think both the Obamas wouldn’t mind coming down off that pedestal a peg or two.

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