Hi redditors. I'm Gwen Ifill and I have TWO jobs -- as moderator and managing editor of Washington Week, and as senior correspondent and co-anchor for the PBS NewsHour. (That sounds like four jobs, but hey, I'm West Indian.) If you follow me on twitter you know I love music, theater, basketball (fair weather fan), smart people and good television. I've always had a crush on Ken Burns. What else do you want to know? Ask me anything.

I will start the AMA at 1pm ET. Looking forward to it!

Verification: https://twitter.com/gwenifill/status/347734620177063936/photo/1

Edit: I'm signing off now, redditors. This has been a fun, virgin experience. Let's do it again. And in the meantime, see you on Washington Week and the Newshour. If I'm not there, I'll be off singing backup somewhere...

Follow me on twitter: @GwenIfill

Comments: 161 • Responses: 49  • Date: 

GwenIfill52 karma

WAIT, I'm up against Kevin Hart? Can I send him a question too?

allenahansen23 karma

Around the time of McCain/Palin, you interviewed a man on the Newshour who was so virulent, so obviously racist he made my skin crawl. You never blinked, never lost control of your modulation let alone your professionalism, but his baiting surely must have grated on you as much as it did on me. I was astounded at your equanimity and reminded of nothing so much as Alex Haley's notorious 1966 Playboy interview with George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party. When asked if he'd been offended by Rockwell's animosity, Haley replied something to the effect, "I've surely been called 'nigger' before, but this was the first time I ever got paid for it."

My question: Have you ever cut an interview short because of a guest's rudeness or inability to STFU? (And I can't resist adding that you're one of my personal heroes, Ms Ifill.) Thank you so much for doing this AMA.

GwenIfill17 karma

I honestly have no recollection of the guest you're referring to, but no, I've never been forced to cut a mic. Sometimes I wish folks would be more concise or answer the question more directly...but rude folks generally stay away from the NewsHour.

all_is_one19 karma

What do you think is the main difference between the PBS NewsHour and similar cable network shows?

GwenIfill43 karma

Hi everybody! #excited. The chief difference between PBS and commercial outlets -- broadcast and cable -- is that we have the luxury of time. Because it's a noncommercial hour long broadcast, we actually get to dig pretty deep. When I worked at NBC, for example, a long story lasted about 2 minutes. At the NewsHour, a short one runs about 5. We also get the chance to indulge in storytelling on line and on air. We cover the Afghanistan war, but also Afghan poets. We track the Israeli elections, but also the plight of Eritrean refugees in Tel Aviv. Oh, and sometimes sports and cicadas. I learn something new every single day.

fysicist19 karma

Has there been a story thst you felt you ought to have reported but didn't because of pressure from sponsors?

GwenIfill32 karma


TolouseLeTrek18 karma

Did you ever get angry during the debates?

GwenIfill35 karma

The terror crowds out the anger. You want to ask the right questions, the right way, keep track of the clock and make sure you do not humilate yourself in front of 67 million people. Anger is a luxury you can't afford when you have that many balls to keep in the air.

hoshizora17 karma

Can we get you to moderate all the debates for the next election cycle? ;) I'm only half-kidding. Your presence was sorely missed last time.

What, in your opinion, makes a good moderator? What qualities does he or she need to have? And what does he/she need to watch out for during a debate?

GwenIfill23 karma

You are very kind, but why would you wish that kind of stress on me??

Every moderator brings different skills to the task, but he or she should always be able to manage that most difficult balance -- asking the question AND listening to the answer. That is so much harder than it looks.

hoseroony16 karma

What is standing in your way on making Washington Week an hour long broadcast? how come the "webcast extra" is only ~10 minutes when many weeks it seems like you guys could go on and on.

GwenIfill28 karma

This many sound pretty mundane, but it's true. It costs money to do a longer show, and there's not a lot of that in abundance these days. I think it would be pretty great, though. Perhaps I can market CDs of me singing Prince during the next pledge drive? Any takers?

oh_good15 karma

Just want to say - you are awesome

GwenIfill26 karma

You are too, probably.

hoseroony12 karma

how much did you want to pop David Zurawik in the nose for his commentary that the PBS Newshour was not a "real nightly newscast" ?

GwenIfill39 karma

How do you know I didn't?

birdsofterrordise11 karma

Do you think the debates should go back to the way the League of Women Voters ran them before the modern commission took over (which basically kowtows to all party requests and has "memorandums of understanding".) From How Stuff Works:"The league used an open format, allowing follow-up questions among candidates. These types of questions are difficult to prepare for before a debate -- they're unpredictable."

Also, do you watch any of your local PBS programming? I'm in Pittsburgh and Rick Sebak is one of our heroes (along with the saint, Mr. Rogers.) Thanks for answering questions!

GwenIfill17 karma

One needs the candidates to show up in order to have a debate. Candidates don't show up if they don't like the format. In my experience, national candidates have been unwilling to allow free for all questioning. Want that to change? Pressure the candidates, not necessarily the commission. I live in Washington, so can't watch local programming everywhere, but I am certain it is excellent. Right? Right?

grant011 karma

Hey Gwen! Some networks have been criticized for their heavy reliance on Twitter vox pop fluff. What role do you see for "new media" - things like Twitter and Reddit - in the traditional media?

GwenIfill17 karma

I think it's essential to seek out all platforms. You don't have to succumb to fluff to stay active in social media in a way that serves your mission.

lawtd11 karma

If you had double (or triple) you budget on the NewsHour, what would you do with it?

What should I be reading?

GwenIfill18 karma

I would open bureaus in four domestic cities and four international locations. I would double our production staff and dramatically expand our interactive presence online, including original video. And I would take a LOT more vacations. (See earlier answer about what I'm reading.)

reservedseating10 karma

What sort of roll do you think public programming has today with all the new media out there and all the different ways people are getting their information?

GwenIfill21 karma

You won't be surprised to learn that I think public broadcasting is an essential piece of the information pie. We have lots more ways to get our news that we had only a few years ago. Yet, there is still room for thoughtful, engaged discussion. I can't tell you how many times people come up to me to thank me for not yellng. Not that I'm much of a yeller, but you know what I mean...

reservedseating5 karma

Along the same vein, do you think public broadcasting is branching out enough to keep their piece of the pie?

This AMA is an example. But are others utilizing new media enough?

GwenIfill8 karma

We are doing a surprising amount. Download the PBS app and see what I mean.

flopotheclown10 karma

Who are your journalist heroes?

GwenIfill28 karma

Frederick Douglass, Ethel Payne, Charlayne Hunter Gult, Tim Russert, Mary McGrory, Ida B. Wells...the list is loooong.

ningrim10 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA. Love the work you do on Newshour, great show.

My question is about the Friday opinion round table. David Brooks and Mark Shields are both thoughtful and interesting, but they are also both in general supporters of President Obama.

Do you feel this forum provides a complete representation of public opinion?

As a conservative I often feel my viewpoint is not represented.

GwenIfill14 karma

I guess I don't agree. The difference between Shields and Brooks and a lot of the other right-left debates out there, is that each one respects the other and is willing to concede a point without being disagreeable. That may sound like they're on the same side, but they're not. I suspect a lot of liberals don't like it when Mark criticizes the President either -- and he does.

yanksftw9 karma

Gwen - thanks for this. The Newshour is really one of the least sensationalized (read: trivialized) television news sources we have in the country.

That said, I do have to agree that David Brooks, while an excellent contributor, doesn't represent the views many people further to the right (I say this as a center left Democrat). Is there a place for someone with the views of say, Ted Cruz, on the Newshour?

GwenIfill10 karma

Always. Rand Paul was on the program just this week.

thisismyvoice10 karma

I love you, Gwen. You should have gotten the Meet the Press gig. You're one of the few respectable reporters we have left.

GwenIfill17 karma

But can't you tell I love what I do?

grant09 karma

Hey Gwen, you're one of the most respected journalists in the industry, and obviously it takes many years to build a reputation like the one you have now. At any point in your career, did you feel that as a woman or a person of colour, you were discriminated against, and what was that experience like for you?

GwenIfill16 karma

I have a gift. I don't hold on to the bad stuff. So, although someone somewhere may have tried to derail me for narrow reasons, I don't carry it around with me. What's the point, really, in staying bogged down in resentments when you know the perpetrators were wrong?

Amadeus30008 karma

In the digital age where everyone already sees what's going on in Washington and there's plenty of noise, loud debate, fact checking and the political system often looks broken, why is Washington Week still relevant?

sporclelam8 karma

How do you decide what will be covered each night/week?

GwenIfill16 karma

On the NewsHour, the news of the day drives decisions for roughly the first half of the show. Then we kind of sort through a stack of ideas for smart big think conversations, features, and far flung tape pieces for the rest. At Washiington Week, we keep track of what our usual stable of a couple dozen reporters are writing all week, then sit down on Thursdays to figure out how to tell the stories well. There is a fair amount of pixie dust involved.

IamTheNavigator8 karma

what is your favorite Stevie Wonder song?

GwenIfill17 karma

Love "Master Blaster" for the horns, "Overjoyed" for the melody, "Knocks Me Off My Feet" for the romance. "As" for the lyrics...shall I go on?

novedlleub8 karma

What was your favorite moment while on TV?

GwenIfill30 karma

You know, I don't think I actually have a favorite moment...but since this is Reddit and I know no one's listening, I will confess to my LEAST favorite one...that's when I screwed up a live shot and blurted out the words, "Oh crap!" on the night of the New Hampshire primary. Not a shining moment.

TheStoryGoesOn8 karma

Did you feel criticism of you moderating the Vice-Presidential debate, while you were working on a book "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama" were fair? Would you have done things differently? How do you separate personal views from journalistic fairness?

GwenIfill11 karma

Read the book and get back to me on that. It's still for sale.

dougfunnie027 karma


ivybird7 karma

What book are you reading these days? Any favorite authors?

GwenIfill17 karma

Am reading a little fiction - Elinor Lipman's latest, "The View from Penthouse B," and a little nonfiction, an advance copy of Dan Balz's new campaign book "Collision 2012." But you should also check out what out Washington Week panelists are reading this summer. Great stuff. http://to.pbs.org/11QakZR

allybis6 karma

How did you become a political analyst? Did you study PoliSci in college?

GwenIfill14 karma

Nope. I always wanted to be a journalist -- a newspaper reporter, actually -- so I majored in communications at Simmons College in Boston. Covering politics came much later, when I discovered that almost everything that does and doesn't happen in life is dictated by political choices. Much, much, later -- like 4 newspapers later -- came television.

grant06 karma

What was the prep process like for the VP debate? How much control did you have over questions, for example? Were they left 100% to your discretion, or were they approved by party representatives and/or the network?

GwenIfill7 karma

All on me. Including the terror before and after -- but not during.

BrosephineBaker6 karma

Since The Breakthrough, how do you think thing have changed for black politicians? That book also profiled black male politicians, so what do you think that black female politicians would face?

Have you thought about writing another book? I greatly enjoyed The Breakthrough.

GwenIfill8 karma

So nice to hear from someone who actually read the book. "The Breakthrough" was a snapshot of where things stood in 2008. In the updated paperback version, I did beef up the section about Kamala Harris, who was at the time San Francisco D.A. and is now California's Attorney General. A lot of other fortunes have shifted as well. Artur Davis lost the Alabama governor's race. Harold Ford has given up politics. Former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is on his way to jail. But South Carolina Rep. Bakari Sellars just announced his candidacy for Lt. Governor, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker is running for the U.S. Senate. So things keep changing, which is as it should be...

poptophazard5 karma

What is the favorite intro you've ever written for Washington Week's opening? The "Somebody's Watching Me" one was just waiting to be said.

flopotheclown5 karma

What do you think journalism will look like 10-15 years from now?

sporclelam4 karma

When the day comes (hopefully not any time soon!), who would you like to see replace you on Washington Week as moderator?

GwenIfill9 karma

Are you saying you're available?

onemanclic4 karma

As a moderator, it must be frustrating for you to ask questions to people whose job it is to be as vague and noncommittal in their answers as possible.

Though I think you do a good job with your role, and thank you for that, how do you think the rules of debates could be changed to make for a better and more substantial discussion?

GwenIfill8 karma

There are a million different ways to skin that cat. OK, a few. But the guidelines change a bit every time. I imagine they will again. But you know, I am not sure debates which occur so late in the process change many minds any more. Aren't we watching them by then for other reasons?

flopotheclown4 karma

What is your favorite play?

GwenIfill8 karma

I don't think I've seen it yet.

thespiff4 karma

How do you fill your excellent panels for Washington Week? Your regular cast of panelists is very familiar to viewers of the show, but most of those folks aren't often seen on TV away from your desk. Also, I've noticed that most weeks women outnumber men on your panel, which is not typical in other venues. Is this a conscious effort you make to make sure female voices are get their fair time on the air?

GwenIfill8 karma

We actually make a conscious effort to use the smartest voices we can find on the air. I've always believed that means diversity of gender, skin color, hair length, print, broadcast and shoe size. We just want to make sure we are telling the stories well.

GwenIfill7 karma

Will you be mad at me if I tell you that on tomorrow's Washington Week we have three guys and one gal? NYT's Peter Baker, Bloomberg's Indira Lakshmanan, WashPo's Ed O'Keefe and NPR'sTom Gjelten.

jasonquarrles4 karma

What island in the West Indies do you claim?

GwenIfill5 karma

Parents' family hails from Barbados.

electric_sandwich4 karma

Would you rather fight 20 duck sized horses or one horse sized duck?

GwenIfill22 karma

What took so long to get this question, people???

I would rather fight 15 smoked duck sandwiches. I draw the line at horsemeat.

simdude3 karma

Hi Gwen! I had the opportunity to see you speak at my undergrad university and it was honestly just such a fantastic experience that I wanted to share that.

You answered a question about the difference between PBS and cable news networks but I'm curious what you think about the similarities and differences between PBS and NPR.

GwenIfill12 karma

NPR and PBS are both engaged in public broadcasting, but we're actually very different animals. The bulk of NPR's programming is news and information, including their flagship morning and evening broadcasts. At PBS, we have broad swaths of children's programs, entertainment and long form shows and documentaries. But I think we are serving the same audience -- as we say -- viewers like you.

Trosso3 karma

What's your favourite book?

GwenIfill5 karma

The next one in the stack.

JMaple3 karma

Hi Gwen, I'm a Simmons alumna too- go sharks! What are your favorite memories of Simmons? Do you think single-sex education has helped you in the long run?

GwenIfill11 karma

I didn't really mean to go to a women's college, but it turned out to be one of my best decisions. In our classrooms, we were the participants and the leaders. No one had to tell us to lean in. It came naturally, and my Simmons education has always served me well.

TheOber3 karma

What's your response to critiques that the media has a "short attention span", or "doesn't cover the important stuff" like current Riots or the current NSA revelations? In other words, do you think that something is wrong, or is there a different reason?

GwenIfill13 karma

I think the media universe is now broad enough that you can learn as much or a little as you want...from Justin Bieber and his Ferrari to street protests in Instanbul and Rio. (Hint: the PBS NewsHour skipped Justin.)

RousingRabble2 karma

Wow -- this is the first time I've been tempted to actually ask someone a question on AMA. Thanks for doing this, Gwen!

I love watching you on the Newshour and Washington Week because you and PBS do such a good job of creating interesting political content that doesn't turn into a bunch of people screaming at each other. What is it about you/your shows that makes people remain civil? Are you just better at choosing commentators that are well behaved or is that people are expected to act a certain way when they are on PBS?

Also, I saw recently that the Newshour will face some layoffs soon. Do you think it will have a big impact on your show's quality?

Thanks and keep up the good work!

GwenIfill11 karma

To answer your last question first, yes, practically every other news organization I can think of, we have had to make some cuts. And it will affect our work, but not the quality you have come to expect. We do prize civility on our program. In the early days, they joked that we dared to be boring. I think now it's more that we dare to be engaging. And we think enough of the viewers and consumers who come to us for in depth, fair coverage to make sure we provide cogent, smart analysis. We do it every day, go to sleep, and get up to do it again.

Leiara2 karma

What kind of makeup do you use? Serious question. You're lovely!!

GwenIfill17 karma

I use MAC studio fix and drugstore stuff for every day. And our very excellent makeup artist Marge uses mystery potion for when I am on the air. (I'm not really black, you know.)

Salacious-2 karma

In retrospect, how do you feel you did as a moderator for the vice presidential debate? Would you have done anything differently? Did you have any choice or influence over the questions being asked? how hard did you want to smack Sarah Palin?

GwenIfill10 karma

I can honestly say I have never been moved to smack any candidate. At least not on live television. That said, there are very few things in life I would not do differently given more time, more information, whatever. But I have to take the blame/credit for anything I did or did not do in the debates I've moderated. I've picked, wrote and ordered all the questions.

fysicist2 karma

What would you be doing if your present career hasn't panned out? Thank you for doing this!

GwenIfill11 karma

In would be somebody's background singer. Preferably in sequins.

reservedseating2 karma

What's your favorite PBS show?

GwenIfill12 karma


IamTheNavigator0 karma

Knowing you fancy Mr Bates, what D.A. plot lines would you hope to see in season 4? Hey you said ask you ANYTHING!

GwenIfill7 karma

I am a Mr. Bates fan, although I don't think they did much with him last season. And I met the actor who plays Thomas, and found him much hotter than I expected. That said, I was pretty disappointed with last season's ending. I know it's a soap opera but, really, a car wreck?

Mr_Weebles-6 karma

Why do you defend Eric Holder so vehemently?

GwenIfill16 karma

Why do you make untrue statements without evidence to support it?