Conservatives target Ifill on eve of debate

CONSERVATIVES TARGET IFILL ON EVE OF DEBATE…. The goal among Republicans has been to lower expectations for Sarah Palin’s performance in tomorrow night’s vice presidential debate. The new goal, apparently, is to make the post-debate spin easier by discrediting the moderator.

The right is in an uproar this morning because PBS’s Gwen Ifill, the moderator for the debate — she also refereed the 2004 V.P. debate — is poised to publish a book about “emerging young African American politicians forging a bold new path to political power.” The book, according to the publisher, builds off of Obama’s presidential campaign to draw broader conclusions about race and politics.

As conservative activists see it, if Ifill is writing a book that is at least partially about Obama, then she’s necessarily biased in support of the Democratic ticket. And if she’s biased, she’ll be unfair tomorrow to Sarah Palin. And if she’ll be unfair, the argument goes, she shouldn’t be the moderator.

All of this seems like a bit of a stretch. First, the critics apparently haven’t read Ifill’s book, and don’t know whether, or to what extent, it reflects support for Democrats in general, or Obama in specific.

Second, Ifill’s book has been in the works for quite a while, and the McCain campaign’s professional research and media team nevertheless approved Ifill as the moderator. It’s a little late in the game to complain now.

And third, as Jamison Foser explained, if Ifill should be excluded because of an alleged conflict of interest, the other two remaining moderators should probably get similar scrutiny:

1) The October 7 presidential debate will be moderated by NBC’s Tom Brokaw, who currently serves as NBC’s liaison to the McCain campaign — while spreading pro-McCain misinformation on Meet the Press. In fact, the McCain campaign hand-picked Tom Brokaw to moderate the October 7 debate. […]

2) CBS’ Bob Schieffer moderated one of the 2004 debates, despite the fact that he is a longtime friend of George W. Bush who had previously acknowledged that his personal relationship with Bush made it difficult to cover him. Schieffer’s brother was a business partner of Bush’s before Bush became president — and Bush made him an ambassador.

I suspect Republicans don’t really care about Ifill or her book, but are raising a fuss so that a) they’ll have an excuse if Palin fails to meet expectations tomorrow night; and b) they might “work the ref” and pressure Ifill into going easy on Palin.

Regardless of whether the “outrage” is sincere or not, this is likely to be the Republican cause of the day. Joe Scaborough was all over this story earlier on MSNBC, the far-right blogs are livid, Drudge is on the case, and one assumes other outlets will soon follow.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.