Astute questions, even-handed treatment. That's my reading on Vice-Presidential Debate moderator Gwen Ifill's handling of Veep rivals Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden (D).
In the two days leading up to last night's debate, PBS Hawaii received 13 calls and 3 emails from Hawaii residents who expressed concern that Ifill lacked the impartiality to serve as moderator.
Viewers including a regular poster on this blog--Keahi--didn't want to see the debate compromised with favoritism to Biden, as Barack Obama's running mate.
This, in the wake of criticism from a conservative columnist and bloggers who noted that Amazon.com is marketing a coming book by Ifill about the political path taken by Obama and other African-American game-changers (including Republican Colin Powell.)
Ifill had responded to the criticism by noting that only a small part of the book would be about Obama, and she hadn't written that part yet. She wondered why some would assume it's an "Obama praise book."
She urged people to watch the debate. "The proof is in the pudding," she said.
I'm writing on the morning after the debate. So far, PBS Hawaii has heard no negative feedback from viewers. I think the pudding was palatable.
Ifill is a journeyman journalist. She's not a columnist or an opinion-maker. As host of the PBS show Washington Week, she's more interested in asking her guests questions than telling viewers what SHE thinks. In her television career, she has navigated away from showy, I-can-talk-louder-than-you-can gigs to the understated, fact-based style of public television.
Let's see what she writes in her book. I suspect she'll cover Barack Obama in a straightforward manner, as a ground-breaking phenomenon in American politics and an example of the different paths that some African-American politicos are taking today. They're not staging civil rights marches as their parents' generation did. They're getting good educations, they're building alliances, they're using social media and they're attracting large numbers of younger people to their cause.
By the way, after the debate, Ifill remained seated while the TV credits rolled and candidates walked around mingling. Stand-offish? No, she broke her ankle in a fall at her home Monday night and likely wanted to make her exit slowly and safely over the television cables and down the steps.