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PBS’s Gwen Ifill talks about politics and trends

It seemed as though Gwen Ifill was in a room full of friends.

Speaking at an Atlanta Press Club luncheon today, the moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week” and a senior correspondent for “the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” actually was among colleagues and friends.

A couple of interesting comments from her luncheon talk at the Commerce Club downtown….

Whe was asked why President Barack Obama, whose father was African-American and whose mother was white, was considered black rather than biracial.

Ifill said Obama had a multi-cultural background that gave him exposure to different global perspectives.

She said she calls someone the way they call themselves, and Obama almost always refers to himself as black rather than biracial, so she follows his lead.

Then she borrowed a quote that helped explain why Obama is seen as an African-American rather than as biracial: “You are what you have to defend.”

Asked if President Obama had done anything unexpected during his first 100 days as president, Ifill said her surprise is that there really haven’t been any major mistakes and so far he hasn’t ruined his honeymoon with the American public. She said she had expected some mistakes because the president was “biting off so much.”

About the changing dynamics among voters, Ifill said that Obama received more white votes in 2008 than Sen. John Kerry received in his presidential election in 2004.

Looking forward, Ifill said she is seeing the emergence of the next generation of leaders in the African-American community. She clearly is fascinated with the relationship between Jesse Jackson Sr., and his son, Jesse Jackson Jr.

During the election there was tension between the two in their approach to the Obama candidacy.
She described the senior Jackson as the “agitator,” and the younger Jackson as the “negotiator.”

And Ifill, who moderated the vice presidential debate between then Sen. Joe Biden and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, expected a “Palin question.”

What was it like meeting Gov. Palin?

“It was more fun meeting her father,” said Ifill, who had broken her ankle shortly before the debate. Palin’s father came up to her and said: “I heard you had a bum hoof.”

Then she answered what it was like meeting the Alaska governor.

“I didn’t have any problem with Sarah Palin,” Ifill said. “She helped me out a great deal” when she let viewers know that she wasn’t going to answer Ifill’s questions.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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