Gwen Ifill, a veteran TV journalist, political analyst and longtime host of PBS NewsHour and moderator and managing editor of Washington Week, which also aired on PBS, died today in Washington, D.C., after a battle with cancer. She was 61.
Ifill also moderated the 2004 and 2008 vice presidential debates and authored the book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. PBS issued the statement below:
“It is with extreme sadness that we share the news that Gwen Ifill passed away earlier today surrounded by family and friends. Gwen was one of America’s leading lights in journalism and a fundamental reason public media is considered a trusted window on the world by audiences across the nation. Her contributions to thoughtful reporting and civic discourse simply cannot be overstated. She often said that her job was to bring light rather than heat to issues of importance to our society. Gwen did this with grace and a steadfast commitment to excellence. Our sorrow at her passing is a part of our profound gratitude for all that she did for our system and our nation. It was an honor to know Gwen and to work with her. All of us at PBS express our sincere condolences to Gwen’s friends and family.”
Born in New York City, Ifill began her decades-long journalism career shortly after her graduation from Simmons College. Her first job was as a reporter at the Boston Herald American. From there, she went on to positions at the Baltimore Evening Sun, The Washington Post, The New York Times and NBC.
Ifill moderated the vice presidential debate between Republican VP Dick Cheney and Democratic candidate John Edwards. She also moderated the 2008 VP debate between Democratic Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and Republican Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. That debate was marked by some controversy because of Ifill’s book The Breakthrough, which was to be released on Inauguration Day 2009 but whose contents had not been disclosed to either the campaigns or debate commissions. Several analysts viewed the book as a possible conflict of interest. To her critics, Ifill responded: “I’ve got a pretty long track record covering politics and news, so I’m not particularly worried that one-day blog chatter is going to destroy my reputation. The proof is in the pudding. They can watch the debate tomorrow night and make their own decisions about whether or not I’ve done my job.” Ifill received praise for her performance in both debates. She also won pop culture recognition when she was parodied as debate moderator on Saturday Night Live with host and musical guest Queen Latifah portraying Ifill.
Ifill was beloved by her colleagues and fellow journalists. CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson noted today on air that Ifill was known for her regular New Year’s Eve parties and “everyone in Washington would pile into her house.”
Louisiana Public Broadcasting released a statement on Facebook: “We are very sad to tell you that Gwen Ifill passed away today in hospice care in Washington. Gwen was an extraordinary and special person — one of the nation’s leading lights in journalism, a gracious and inspiring colleague, and a warm and steadfast friend. As she bravely battled health challenges, Gwen was lifted by the well wishes, flowers and emails from so many who love and respect her.”
Ifill was absent from PBS’ election coverage last week. She also took a leave of absence from the public broadcaster in May to address her health issues.