Tuesday, September 30, 2008

VP Debate Moderator Has Conflict of Interest, Financial Stake in Obama Presidency

The moderator of the VP debate has written a book on successful black politicians, including Senator Obama, to be published on inauguration day, in which she describes our times as the "Age of Obama." Of course, if Obama wins, she sells more books. In my profession, I would be disqualified as having a prima facie conflict of interest
The moderator of Thursday's vice presidential debate between Democrat Sen. Joe Biden and GOP Gov. Sarah Palin is writing a book, to come out about the time the next president takes the oath of office, to "shed new light" on Democratic candidate Barack Obama and other "emerging young African American politicians" who are "forging a bold new path to political power."

Gwen Ifill, of the Public Broadcasting Service program called "Washington Week," is promoting "The Breakthrough," in which she argues the "Black political structure" of the civil rights movement is giving way to men and women who have benefited from those struggles over racial equality.

Ifill declined to return a WND telephone message asking for a comment about her book project, and whether its success would be expected should Obama lose.

Gee, ya think?


  1. But if she recuses herself now, the resucal will be the story and McCain camp will spin it as evidence of liberal bias in the media thus inflicting a greater damage of the Obama campaign than a biased moderator will on the McCain campaign. In other words, one campaign or the other will suffer, but McCain's much less so. In the interest of the most substantive election possible, I would hope she does not recuse.

  2. She can't do it ethically. Period. No other profession would allow it. And you don't need "spin" to smell what one smells here.

  3. This moderator’s individual bias appears to be undeniable. She stands to gain both fortune and fame.
    Separate from her individual bias is the myth that the “media” as a whole is liberally biased. Hardly exclusive, this is one of the most venal myths in modern American politics. This myth allows those conservatives who chose to perpetuate falsehoods to do so with impunity. For example, a radio host says “Obama regularly has sex with pigs.” In turn the NYT points out that Obama lives in Chicago and the only pigs living within ten miles are those in city hall. The radio host retorts “damn liberal media.”

    This style of political rhetoric has played an important role in both Bush’s campaigns and much of his governing. My guess is that the only reason it has not played a great role in this election is that McCain has too much integrity and has tried to rein it in.

    I am concerned that a highly publicized recusal would strengthen the myth and provide a widow of nearly total impunity for McCain supporters to attack Obama. Whomever one supports for president, I hope no one wants to see the election hinge on misconceptions.

  4. Correction: "window" of nearly total impunity.

  5. Well, explain this:


  6. Explain what?

    Obviously, everyone who gets paid by the word has had a stake in the Obama candidacy. I don't assume that the publisher of every magazine that has slapped him on the cover is a supporter of him. But he sells magazines, and books.

    If the point is that the media is biased, that may very well be true. If the point is that sometimes the media seems to recognize its bias, well, I suppose that's good. I think we can all agree that the bias cuts both ways. The traditional networks, for the past decade, okay, maybe the past 2 decades, have been, at the margin, probably somewhat biased to the left, and therefore to the Democratic Party. Newer outlets, and 95% of talk radio, have been biased to the right. Based on outcomes, it would appear that the rightward bias has had more impact than the leftward, just as the decline of the traditional networks and the ascendancy of Clear, Fox, etc would predict. CNN is a bit of a special case and so I do not include it in this analysis.

    The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is, from my point of view, largely written by troglodytes --it is incredibly biased, most people would probably agree. But its news reporting is some of the best; the editorial bias is not allowed to interfere with the main job of the paper (we'll see if Rupert lets that continue).

    I think the media is sort of like the religious establishment: the old traditional denominations are losing adherents in favor of newer, mega-churches and more strident fundamentalist groups. I don't think this is surprising. In the 1950s I am sure you could have found rough parity among newsmen between Republican supporters and Democratic supporters. As the "center" has moved substantially to the right (kind of like SAT scores being re-scaled to move the average, which had slipped well below 500, back to that point) more and more of the "educated elite" has probably moved left.

    I hope none of the above is seen as particularly controversial.

    As to Gwen Ifill, I think we should examine her past practice. There is a difference between a bias, which we all have to some extent and which we cannot avoid, and a conflict of interest. What is regarded as an impermissable conflict in the legal profession is not necessarily so regarded in other arenas, and I don't think it is particularly helpful to try to apply the standards of one to the other. When Pericles says that "no other profession would allow it," who is he referring to? And how does this standard apply to, say, the S.C. in "Bush v. Gore?"

    "Recusal" implies that she is an arbiter of some sort, which of course is not the role of a moderator. She should not step out, not because of who may or may not be disadvantaged --I don't agree with the formulations on this point-- but because if we adopt some sort of litmus test of absolute impartiality in the beliefs of anyone who is to participate in this sort of thing we will have a complete non-entity as moderator. The issue should be, can she do the job well, and impartially? There have been plenty of cases where moderators were found to have been unfair in their questioning. I have always found Ifill particularly professional, measured, and impartial in her work on public television. But there are those who would say that the fact that she is on public television is prima facie evidence of liberal bias. Frankly, I think that Newt Gingrich could do a very effective job as a moderator in such a debate, because he has the intellectual tools, and although I have little respect for the man, I would trust him, in such a spot, to do a good job. What would be his alternative? And what would be the impact of his failing to do so?

    This is already too long, so I'll pass on the issue of what the writing of a book says about the "interest" of the author --but we might think of some of the books about Bush, or Lyndon Johnson, or Nixon. Not having seen the book, of course it's risky to make assumptions about it; but the title & subtitle seem to be aiming at analysis, more than advocacy. And Obama's campaign is a phenomenon worth analyzing, regardless of whether he wins or loses.

    Let's put this one aside. This is minor, if not irrelevant, to the debate and the campaign.

  7. Tony, I hear you. But we are talking about a direct financial interest in the outcome. C'mon. Show me an analog. Ever.


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