Gwen Ifill has done solid, important journalism. She’ll likely be a good, tough, and neutral moderator to the vice-presidential debate. Let’s set that aside, for now.

Conflict of interest is often about appearances. There appears, to us, to be a conflict in Ifill moderating tomorrow night’s vice presidential debate. Here’s why:

- Ifill’s upcoming book is called “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.” It, apparently, “surveys the American political landscape, shedding new light on the impact of Barack Obama’s stunning presidential campaign and introducing the emerging young African American politicians [like Newark Mayor Corey Booker and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick] forging a bold new path to political power.”

- The book apparently will be published on January 20th, 2009, Inauguration Day.

- It stands to reason that a book with such a title would sell better if a certain person is inaugurated on that day.

We’d like to hear from Ifill. We’re going to try to reach her now.

We’ve also set aside several other related questions that are being raised in various places online, on cable, and elsewhere, including: why is this becoming a “thing” now, when Ifill’s book was reported on well before Ifill was selected as the moderator, and the McCain campaign might have raised this earlier if it bothered them? What about, say, CBS’s Bob Schieffer and his relationship to George W. Bush? Schieffer moderated a debate back in 2004. Etc. Much of that sounds like the usual political noise. But the financial part seems real. Gwen?

UPDATE: A Newshour spokeswoman returned my call to Ifill. The spokeswoman said that “as a journalist, Gwen has to focus on the task at hand: preparing for the debate” (adding that “way before this issue came up, [Ifill] decided not to do interviews” in advance of the debate). I asked the spokeswoman about the appearance of conflict and she replied that Ifill had “proven herself to be fair and balanced and no doubt will be” tomorrow night.

I was then bumped up to the spokeswoman’s boss who said that Ifill had “set this aside,” was focusing on debate prep, and that he didn’t “think Gwen is in a position” to talk to me about this but that he would try to reach her and ask.

If I hear anything futher, I’ll update again.


Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.