Gwen Ifill, co-host of PBS NewsHour and exceptionally accomplished journalist, passed away today at the age of 61.
I only met Gwen Ifill once, when she and her team invited me to participate in a nationally televised PBS special on “America After Ferguson.” I was the sole right-of-center person on the “panel” which I found a little odd, even for the liberal-leaning PBS, but Gwen enjoyed my American Spectator article entitled “Ferguson on Fire” and thought my perspective would be valuable. (I guess she also figured that one libertarian was more than a match for half a dozen liberals, which goes to show her wisdom.)
Throughout the experience, both during the televised part of the event and in the few minutes when I had a chance to talk to Gwen, she was cordial and generous in her compliments — even though she disagreed with me far more than she agreed with me on an issue that was of paramount importance to her as one of the most prominent black figures in the news media.
In September 2015, in one of her very rare unforced errors, Gwen sent out a “tweet” following the signing of the Iran Nuclear Deal saying “Take that, Bibi” which I aggressively criticized (on Twitter) as did the PBS ombudsman. Much to my surprise, Gwen sent me a personal e-mail expressing surprise and disappointment: “I expected better from someone who actually knew me. But whaddya gonna do, right?”
I don’t need to get into my explanation to her of why I thought her original comment was inappropriate. It was interesting to me that she cared, or even noticed, what I thought. It’s tricky territory for a media figure to care what others think, but for those of us who write and/or talk for a living there are a few people whose opinions we value to make sure we’re (mostly) on the right track.
Frankly, I don’t think I was that to Gwen Ifill; indeed I know I wasn’t. But I also don’t believe she needed too much of that sort of guidance. Because, agree or disagree, she was the consummate professional, smart, intense, polite, hard-working, and a credit to her profession. I would gladly have worked with her again given the opportunity.
Gwen Ifill’s NewsHour team at PBS are undoubtedly suffering tremendously tonight. I wish them all well, just as they all treated me so kindly during my one opportunity to work with them.
Gwen kept her illness quite secret. Obviously I didn’t know she was near death from cancer. I wish I’d have known and been able to tell her thank you, and goodbye.