I was shocked beyond words to lose Gwen Ifill so early, so prematurely at 61. Quite aside from being a pioneering African American Gwen was a towering presence among journalists. It was impossible to determine what her political views were, because she was equally perceptive, candid, gracious but no nonesense with people of various political persuasions. She asked core questions – didn’t skate around the peripheries or push human interest conflict. She wanted to KNOW, and let viewers understand. And at the same time she was human. Her signoffs to her Washington Week shows were personal and regretful, not pro forma. She would have liked them to continue and I did too.
Someone said no one could interrupt more graciously than Gwen. I’d like to know what the family influences were that could shape such a balanced, keen and warm person and intellect. She took advantage of the breakthrough achieved by the MacNeil-Lehrer show. It was not only the first balanced political show. They also showed that the leaders weren’t one-of-a-kind. They could clone balanced, even-handed news analysis hosts. We realize it takes work and the skills must be honed. I remember that initially Judy woodruff wasn’t the polished professional she is now, but subtlely showed liberal biases though she tried hard not to. That was even true of Jim Lehrer who had to really exert efforts not to display his distaste for Richard Nixon when he interviewed him after Watergate.
I still think our news journalism is far from what it needs to be, but Gwen was in the vanguard, and if one had suggested that our public TV and radio could break new ground in getting beyond horse race journalism and a thumb on the scales for sensation she could have been the person to pull it off. I’m a policy researcher and an senior male but feel like I’ve lost family and have been intermittentlly teary off and on since the news broke.
Finally, congratulations to the News Hour for recognizing and giving us so much of Gwen. Please be out there looking for younger talent – especially African American – who can follow in her footsteps. Is there a foundation or a one percenter out there somewhere who could sponsor scholarships for bright high school students who show promise of cultivating the kind of talent and humanity that she had?.