Fudging Obama-Book Author & Debate Host Gwen Ifill's Conflict of Interest

On Thursday, reporter Jim Rutenberg covered the controversy swirling around vice presidential debate host Gwen Ifill, the PBS journalist set to moderate tonight's debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. Yet Ifill has a conflict of interest, with a book coming out on Inauguration Day 2009 titled "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama."

But Rutenberg's "Moderator's Planned Book Becomes a Topic of Debate," placed the onus on the GOP to challenge Ifill's obvious journalisticconflict of interest in hosting a vice presidential debate while writing a book that will surely perform far better if Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States.

In mid-August, shortly after the Commission on Presidential Debates named Gwen Ifill of PBS as a moderator of the coming vice-presidential event, she wrote an essay in Time magazine that identified her as the author of a coming book, "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama."

A couple of weeks later, an article in The Washington Post about her moderating duties described the book as focusing on "the Democratic nominee and such up-and-coming black politicians as Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Newark Mayor Cory Booker."

But on the eve of the debate, Ms. Ifill and her book became the fresh object of outrage on conservative talk radio, blogs and cable news after a right-leaning Web site, WND.com, posted an article late Tuesday with the headline, "VP debate moderator Ifill releasing pro-Obama book."

Rutenberg outlined sharp criticism from "syndicated conservative columnist" Michelle Malkin, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Fox News personalities Bill Hemmer and Greta Van Susteren, before relaying a defense againstwhat he labeled"right-wing criticism":

Ms. Ifill's authorship of a book that delves into the career of Mr. Obama, of Illinois, has raised some concern among independent media analysts, who cited potential appearances of conflict of interest.

But some Democratic strategists - and even one former adviser to Mr. McCain - describe the right-wing criticism as an effort to warn Ms. Ifill away from tough questioning of Ms. Palin (or to pre-emptively undermine Ms. Ifill's credibility in the event Ms. Palin turns in a bad performance).

(A Nexis search indicates the Times has never used the phrase "left-wing criticism" in its reporting.)

Rutenberg concluded with points from that "former adviser" to McCain:

But she found a defender in John Weaver, a former adviser to Mr. McCain, who warned the senator's supporters away from focusing on Ms. Ifill. "All of this hand-wringing, excuse-making and whining keeps McCain's economic recovery plan away from the public," he said. "Gwen Ifill is as honorable and fair a journalist as there is, and all of us in our business know that."

Weaver is an interesting choice for an opinion: He was actually forced out by McCain in July 2007, and was the only on-the-record source for the Times' infamous February 2008 story hinting at a McCain affair with a telecom lobbyist.