Debate Moderator Gwen Ifill

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Brendan Smialowski / Getty

Gwen Ifill, the moderator of the Vice Presidential debate.

Gwen Ifill is the moderator and managing editor of PBS's Washington Week, the senior correspondent for NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and the moderator for the Oct. 2 Vice Presidential debate between Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Sen. Joe Biden.

Personal Life

• She is 53, the fifth of six children

• Her mother was born in Barbados

• Her father, a Panamanian immigrant, was an African Methodist Episcopal pastor

• As a child, Ifill lived in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts church parsonages, as well as federally-subsidized housing in Buffalo and Staten Island, N.Y.

• She has never married. Of this she has said, "I don't know why I'm not married. I just know I will be, so I don't sweat it"


• Attended Simmons College, a Boston women's college. Graduated in 1977

• Hired as an intern at The Boston Herald. Has said about her internship, "They didn't know what a college-educated black woman was and they didn't know how to treat me."

• One day, a Herald staffer left her a note in the photo lab that said "N——r go home." The paper's editors were so apologetic that they offered Ifill a job.

• Joined the Washington Post in 1984. Left in 1991 when editors told her she wasn't ready for Capitol Hill. Switched to the New York Times, which assigned her to the White House.

• Left the Times to become NBC's Capitol Hill reporter in 1994.

• Originally turned down the job as anchor of PBS' "Washington Week in Review" because she was upset at the abrupt firing of her predecessor, Ken Bode, who left over a disagreement about whether to make "Washington Week" more argumentative. Ifill took the job after executives agreed to keep the show's polite demeanor

Politics and Debates

• Moderated the 2004 Vice Presidential debate between Vice President Cheney and John Edwards. When Cheney asked for more time to answer a question, she told him "Well, that's all you've got."

• Some PBS viewers complained about Ifill's frowning facial expressions after Palin's acceptance speech during the Republican National Convention in September.

• On Sep. 29, Ifill was reportedly walking up the stairs with an armful of debate research when she tripped and fell, breaking her ankle.

• She has written a book entitled The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, set to be released on Inauguration Day

What others say about her:

• "She's a wonderful, classy lady and a great journalist." — the late Tim Russert

• "Gwen very competently summarized the conventional wisdom you'd already been hearing all day. She didn't really move the ball." — Slate blogger and journalist Mickey Kaus

• "As if we needed any further evidence of a jaw-dropping double standard, we have to contemplate the sheer impossibility that someone who wrote a positive biography of McCain being chosen to moderate a debate." — the National Review's Jim Geraghty

What Ifill says:

• "Shouting is a good way to foment conflict, but it's not the best way to inform." — explaining, in 1999, why she preferred PBS's understated news delivery to that of pundit-heavy network television.

• "No one's ever assumed a white reporter can't cover a white candidate." — in a Sept. 3 interview with the Washington Post

• "My favorite debate format is one in which I am in charge." — Sept. 18 online Q&A with the Washington Post