TV journalist apologizes for ‘out of control’ mosque debate

Liz Goodwin

Many political chat shows thrive on high-octane partisan shouting matches. But when they break out in the traditionally serene studios of PBS, they're something of an embarrassment.

That's apparently why journalist Gwen Ifill wrote an extended apology to her viewers after what was meant to be a friendly debate over the proposed mosque and Islamic community center near Ground Zero turned heated Monday night.

Iffil writes that she's received "a ton" of viewer complaints over the segment, which went well beyond the typically staid fare of "NewsHour."

The Democratic mayor of Teaneck, New Jersey, Mohammed Hameeduddin, began interrupting New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio with pointed questions while ignoring Ifill's protestations to stop.

"The discussion was loud, erratic and, frankly, kind of out of control," she writes. "It was not the NewsHour's style. More important, it did nothing to move the debate forward. I'm still kicking myself about it."

Here's Ifill's account of what happened:

But Mr. Hameeduddin opted to attack Mr. Lazio himself, interrupting repeatedly to accuse him of using the discussion to "whip Muslims," raise money and denigrate the Constitution.

Lazio did not take this well, and the conversation I envisioned disintegrated quickly after that. Much of the time, they talked over each other. All I can remember is waving my hands and saying: "Hello? Gentlemen, I'm still here," as I tried in vain to regain control via satellite. I can't say I ever did.

There are plenty of places where this would have been considered entertaining television. The NewsHour is not one of them.

You can watch the debate here.

(Photo: AP/Don Perdue)