More Than 1,300 Attend Service for Pioneering Political Journalist Gwen Ifill

Ifill was remembered as an exemplar who “never forgot” friends.

Gwen Ifill Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Political journalists, sorority sisters, public officials, reporting colleagues, fellow churchgoers and self-described ordinary people gathered Friday night to honor Gwen Ifill. (Credit: Richard Prince)
Political journalists, sorority sisters, public officials, reporting colleagues, fellow churchgoers and self-described ordinary people gathered Friday night to honor Gwen Ifill. (Credit: Richard Prince)

When the service set aside for community tributes to Gwen Ifill ended Friday night at Washington’s historic Metropolitan AME Church, knots of people found each other as they remained in the sanctuary.

The Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates was with the New York Times’ Yamiche Alcindor and Sherrilyn Ifill, Gwen’s cousin and president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Others greeted New York Times columnist David Brooks or Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama. Church members reconnected. Over here were Ifill’s colleagues at the “PBS NewsHour,” including co-host Judy Woodruff. Nearby were black journalists who had known Ifill — and each other — for years.

Former classmates at Simmons College, Ifill’s alma mater, passed by panelists on “Washington Week,” political journalists such as NBC News’ Chuck Todd or the Washington Post’s Dan Balz, or perhaps members of Congress.

There were the members of Ifill’s sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, who held their own tribute before others were admitted into the sanctuary. Perhaps most important, there were also self-described ordinary people, who testified that Ifill always made time to encourage them. About 1,000 people attended for the first of two planned services. A second was scheduled for Saturday morning.

Rochelle Riley, a Detroit Free Press columnist, said from the lectern that she and Ifill had been friends for 29 years. She recalled how Ifill, covering the 1988 Jesse Jackson presidential campaign, called her from “somewhere out in America” to congratulate her on her first front-page byline. “She never forgot her friends,” Riley said.

Riley recalled that when Ifill moderated the 2004 vice presidential debate in Detroit, she called Riley to tell her that she had to see the hotel suite she was assigned. “We ran around that presidential suite like we were teen-agers.”

Michel Martin wears the coat she received as a Christmas gift from Gwen Ifill.
Michel Martin wears the jacket she received from Ifill as a Christmas gift.

Michel Martin, the NPR host who also was close to Ifill, wore a black jacket Ifill had given her as a Christmas present because “I wanted to remember what it felt like to be held by her.”

Martin recalled a time when she had put herself in “a dangerous situation,” something Ifill could sense from their telephone conversation. Ifill, her brother and her parents drove from Philadelphia to New York, picking up Martin in New York and driving her back to Philadelphia, with a stop to buy scalped tickets so they all could see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.

“She never asked me questions, never judged me for the fact that I was in a dangerous situation,” Martin said.

Jeffrey Brown, a colleague on the “PBS NewsHour,” told the assemblage that outside the studio, viewers would invariably tell him how much they loved Ifill. They would ask, “Is she as wonderful as she seems?”

Brown said that she was, but would ask Ifill, “Why do I have to go through life praising you?”

Ifill replied with a smile, “I can’t help it if people love me — if you’re a good journalist, you have to tell the truth.”

Daniel Broder, grandson of the Washington Post’s David S. Broder, the late dean of political journalists, called Ifill “as happy as she was intelligent.” Broder, who is white, said his daughter is a person of color and wondered “what kind of role models she will look up to.” He supplied his own answer. Someone like Ifill, he replied, with “the grace and stability and excellence that has defined her.”

Ifill died Monday at 61 after months of living with uterine cancer. Instead of asking “why me?,” her response was “why not me?” said one of many who testified to the faith of this daughter of an AME pastor.

As Ifill was not only a black journalist but also one who covered politics, this month’s election results were bound to be part of the discussion.

The Rev. William H. Lamar IV, the church’s pastor, concluded by reading a tribute to Ifill from Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic on Friday.

Earlier this week, I asked Gwen’s great friend, the journalist Michele Norris, if I was correct to argue that Gwen predicted the rise of Trumpism well before the rise of Trump,” Goldberg wrote.

“ ‘I am not so sure I would say that she “saw this coming,” ‘ Norris wrote by email, ‘because she understood that what we see in the open now has always percolated below the surface.’ Gwen, Norris went on to write, ‘knew she had the power to drive not just the narrative around race but to highlight the nuances that most journalists simply missed, even though they were right in front of them …

“She was very humble and so she might dismiss the notion that she was prescient. She was pragmatic. I can hear her saying, “I just saw what should have been obvious.”. . . ’ ”

. . . Michelle Obama a Surprise Mourner

First lady Michelle Obama joined former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and an A-list of journalistic achievers Saturday at the official “celebration of the Life of Gwendolyn L. Ifill” at Washington’s Metropolitan AME Church.

Obama’s presence was unknown to most of the 1,373 people who packed the sanctuary and its balcony — church officials used a counter to determine the number, Steward James Robinson told Journal-isms — until the Rev. William H. Lamar IV acknowledged her near the end of the service, which lasted about 2 hours and 41 minutes.

Obama, her hair pulled back and wearing what appeared to be a black pantsuit, stood, then greeted and hugged several congregants. She did not speak publicly.

“She desired to be present because of their love and respect for Gwen,” Lamar told Journal-isms. She was seated near Holder, who as one of the speakers, earlier read a tribute to Ifill from President Obama.

Holder said that he and Ifill called each other “Cuz” because of their shared Barbados family background but that he was jolted when she interviewed him and “Cuz” gave way to the no-nonsense journalist. “She forced me out of my prescribed talking points,” Holder said.

Other speakers were Judy Woodruff, Ifill’s co-anchor on the “PBS NewsHour”; John Dickerson, who now hosts “Face the Nation” on CBS-TV but had been a panelist on “Washington Week With Gwen Ifill”; her good friend Michele Norris, formerly at NPR; Dorothy Gilliam, a steward at the church who received sustained applause when she said she was the Washington Post’s first African American female journalist; family members Sherrilyn and Roberto N. Ifill; and Bishop James L. Davis, prelate of the 2nd Episcopal District of the AME Church.

A common theme in the remarks was the network that Ifill had established and the connection between her AME upbringing and the values she exemplified as a journalist. Michael Oreskes, NPR’s senior vice president of news and editorial director, worked with Ifill at the New York Times and told Journal-isms that Ifill once said she learned to write by listening to her father’s preachings.

As the daughter of an AME minister whose assignments forced moves to different cities, Ifill understood how to collect friends quickly and to form an ever-expanding network in which each person thought they were “besties,” Norris said. A network of nearly a dozen of Ifill’s sister-friends formed a prayer circle during the service.

Lamar announced that a pew in the church would be named after Ifill, a distinction awarded abolitionist Frederick Douglass, poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, historian Charles H. Wesley and AME Bishop Robert L. Pruitt.

Several speakers mentioned that Ifill’s values were needed more than ever in the current political climate.

“There is no nobility in pretending we don’t see race,” her cousin Sherrilyn said. “There is a chance for nobility in how we respond when we do see it.” She also urged mourners “not to give up on an America that is diverse, but infused with shared values.”

Omarosa Manigault, director of African American outreach for the Donald J. Trump campaign, appeared to be the only attendee with ties to Trump. However, she told Journal-isms that she was a former journalist and was present in her role as a minister with the Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles.

Jenice Armstrong, Philadelphia Daily News: Gwen Ifill was an inspiration to many, including me

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, New Yorker: Talking to Young People About Trump, With Lessons From Gwen Ifill

In an episode that aired in February, the children portrayed on ABC-TV's "black-ish' ask tough questions in the midst of a highly publicized court case involving alleged police brutality and an African American teenager. (Credit: ABC)
In an episode that aired in February, the children portrayed on ABC-TV’s “black-ish’ ask tough questions in the midst of a highly publicized court case involving alleged police brutality and an African American teenager. (Credit: ABC)

Sitcoms to Address Life Under a President Trump

In a TV landscape with more than 500 shows, most are unlikely to explore [Donald J.] Trump-inspired political themes, simply because it wouldn’t be a good fit,” Sandra Gonzalez reported Thursday for CNN. “But a few comedies will undoubtedly portray life in America with a President Trump.

Kenya Barris, creator of ‘black-ish,’ told CNN he’s still working through his own feelings and emotions about the election results. He was a supporter of Hillary Clinton.

“But writing scripts that address the aftermath of the election has been ‘cathartic,’ he said.

“Prior to the episode he’s working on now, which will reference the election results, Barris was never inclined to use the show to directly respond to an event.

” ‘This will probably be the first time that something has affected us to the point where I want to actually topically write about it,’ he said of the election episode. . . . .”

Gonzalez also wrote, “Constance Wu, star of ABC’s ‘Fresh Off the Boat,’ thinks the post-election landscape will also shine a new light on existing TV shows.

” ‘I think my show is quite relevant because it takes place in the ’90s and that was a time before an outsider could find a group of similarly minded people because there was no internet,’ she told CNN recently at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards. ‘I think right now when our country feels very divided, it’s that same struggle. It’s trying to understand the people around you in order to be more loving and inclusive.’

” ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ is also a story about how ‘immigrants make our country better,’ she said. . . .”

Chris Ariens, TVNewser: Trump Chief Strategist Steve Bannon Thinks Fox News ‘Got It Wrong More Than Anybody’

Diane Clehane, TVNewser: Telemundo’s José Diaz-Balart: ‘The Latino Community Shouldn’t Be Seen as Foreign’

Kyle Daly, Telecommunications Law Resource Center: Trump’s FCC Expected to Relax Media Ownership Limits

Jarvis DeBerry, NOLA.com | the Times-Picayune: Wannabe president Ben Carson says he isn’t qualified to serve in Trump’s cabinet

Editorial, Native Sun News: Sarah Palin as Secretary of the Interior? God forbid!

Anjali Enjeti, alldigitocracy.org: Post-election coverage largely erases voices of those most at risk

Suzanne Gamboa, NBC News Latino: Latinos Blast Trump’s AG Pick Jeff Sessions Over Race, Immigration

Patrick Gathara, Washington Post: Trump’s America could look a lot like Kenya

Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe: Make America great again? Here’s what W.E.B. Du Bois thought

Terese Mailhot, Indian Country Today Media Network: Where the Election Went Wrong, For Me

Media Life magazine: Spanish-language broadcasters: Our viewers are terrified

Rich Morin, Pew Research Center: Behind Trump’s win in rural white America: Women joined men in backing him

Ruben Navarrette Jr., USA Today: Latinos met their match in Rust Belt (Nov.11)

President Obama, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cambridge, Mass., Police Sgt. James Crowley at their "Beer Summit"in the White House Rose Garden on July 30, 2009. (Credit: Pete Souza/White House)
President Obama, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cambridge, Mass., Police Sgt. James Crowley at their “beer summit”in the White House Rose Garden on July 30, 2009. (Credit: Pete Souza/White House)

Obama: I Know How Explosive Race Can Be

In post-election interviews with David Remnick of the New Yorker, President Obama touched on how explosive the subject of race can be and why he felt the need to “tamp down our tribal impulses.”

I reminded Obama that, eight years ago, when I was interviewing him about race, he had been somewhat elusive throughout our official session but afterward had tracked me down in the building to remind me how complicated it was for him to talk about the subject,” Remnick wrote for the magazine’s Nov. 28 issue. “A stray word about race could be as explosive as a stray word about the financial markets. He remembered.

“ ‘There are certain things we know,’ he said. ‘We know that when there is a conversation about the police and African-Americans, and conflict between those two, everybody goes to their respective corners. That is an area that just triggers the deepest stereotypes and assumptions — on both sides. The biggest drop that I had in my poll numbers in my first six months had nothing to do with the economy. It was ‘the beer summit.’ ”

“That August, a fifty-eight-year-old black Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., had been arrested and handcuffed at his own door by a white police officer. An uproar ensued when Obama seemed to take Gates’s side, and, hoping to quiet the storm, the White House arranged a sitdown over beers between the professor and the policeman.

” ‘Among white voters, my poll numbers dropped, like, I don’t know, ten per cent or something,’ Obama continued. ‘If you don’t stick your landing in talking about racial issues, particularly when it pertains to the criminal-justice system, then people just shut down. They don’t listen.’

“He thought back to that fateful day in August. ‘I thought that it would be fairly innocuous to say, “I don’t know all the facts, but if you’ve got an elderly black gentleman — even if he’s being obnoxious to a police officer — handcuffing him probably doesn’t make sense if he’s on his own porch. I thought that would be viewed as a pretty common-sense proposition. It was a pretty visceral reaction.

” ‘Now, what we also know is that, when we are talking about family or service or sports or popular culture, there are all these categories where people’s stereotypes rarely pop up. And, when they do, the majority of people are offended by them. And so the question for me, over the course of my Presidency, during the course of this election, has always been, How do I strengthen the better angels of our nature? And how do we tamp down our tribal impulses?’ . . .”

Obama also discussed his likely plans after he leaves office and contrasted the media environment when he rose politically with that of today.

Mary Mitchell, Chicago Sun-Times: Preserving Obama legacy starts at home

NPR: New Yorker Editor David Remnick Describes Obama’s Reactions To Election

Native Journalist Forging a ‘Global Indigenous Beat’

Tristan Ahtone is an award-winning journalist whose pieces have appeared on Frontline, Wyoming Public Radio, NPR, and the Newshour with Jim Lehrer,Judith Matloff wrote Thursday for Columbia Journalism Review. “He is also a member of the Kiowa tribe, and he has often found himself cringing when white journalists parachuted into reservations to write sensationalized stories about crime or poverty.

Tristan Ahtone
Tristan Ahtone

“ ‘Indian Country is often just an afterthought’ when it comes to news coverage, he says. He quotes a colleague’s ‘WD4 rule’: Native Americans only make news as warriors, or when they drum, dance, drink, or die.

“In 2013, an Al Jazeera America editor approached Ahtone, whom I first met when he took my class at Columbia’s Journalism School eight years ago. The news organization was creating a vertical called ‘Indian Country.’ For the first time, a major news outlet in the US would cover the 567 federally recognized tribes as a beat. They wanted short-form features, long-form magazine shows, digital content, briefs, and television stories. Would he be interested? Would he ever.

“For the next three years, Ahtone produced print and video stories that generated little interest among mainstream editors elsewhere. . . .”

Matloff also wrote, “But Camelot came and went. AJAM closed in April, and with it went Ahtone’s platform. He has yet to find a new one. Ahtone didn’t want to return to reporting the occasional article about Indians or hyper-local news, so he embarked on an ambitious and perhaps quixotic experiment: forging a global indigenous beat on his own. He’s got a cushion of savings from his time at Al Jazeera America, a luxury shared by few others interested in the beat. . . .”

Ahtone is treasurer of the Native American Journalists Association.

How to Bring Diversity to Public Media

What’s really involved in the hard work of broadening public media’s range of voices?” Matt Cipollone and Michael Henry wrote Friday for current.org.

“People in public media reflect on this and other questions at the National Association of Black Journalists/National Association of Hispanic Journalists 2016 conference.”

For another video, Cipollone and Henry write, “What do we need to do to continue to grow diverse audiences?

“Talk to them?

“We asked attendees at the National Association of Black Journalists/National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference to answer that question.”

Short Takes

Microsoft announced plans this week to tie executive bonuses to company success at meeting diversity hiring goals, after the number of female hires fell this fall,” Christina Beck reported Saturday for the Christian Science Monitor. She also wrote, “‘Diversity and inclusion is something you’ve got to ingrain, you’ve got to keep talking about the business value, you’ve got to keep talking about the impact,’ Microsoft’s diversity and inclusion officer, Gwen Houston, told Bloomberg. . . .”

“Facing a wave of criticism for allowing advertisers to exclude anyone with an ‘affinity’ for African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic people from seeing ads, Facebook said it would build an automated system that would let it better spot ads that discriminate illegally,” Julia Angwin reported Nov. 11 for ProPublica.

Fifty-nine percent of U.S. adults reject the idea that journalists should present the facts with some interpretation, saying the news media should present the facts alone, a recent Pew Research Center survey found, Michael Barthel and Jeffrey Gottfried reported Friday for the center. Four in 10 favor adding some interpretation to the facts.

In Detroit, “WDIV reporter Lauren Podell resigned from her position at the station today, WDIV Vice President and General Manager Marla Drutz says in a company-wide email obtained by BLAC,” Alana Walker reported this week for blacdetroit.com. She also wrote, “This week, word got out that a WDIV reporter used the word ‘nigger’ in a conversation with another coworker, and gained momentum when Sam Riddle, a controversial former chief of staff for former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, posted the quote on Facebook. Riddle pointed to Podell as the offending reporter in various social media posts. ‘I am tired of reporting on these niggers killing one another in Detroit,’ Riddle’s Facebook post read. . . .”

“On Tuesday, Twitter said it was making it easier for its users to hide content they do not wish to see on the service and to report abusive posts, even when those messages are directed at other users,” Katie Benner reported Tuesday for the New York Times. “The company has given its support teams training to better identify mistreatment on Twitter. . . .” Benner wrote that “social media companies are under increasing scrutiny for the amount of hate speech that thrives on their platforms, especially since the presidential election.”

Alex Wagner
Alex Wagner

Alex Wagner has been named a CBS News correspondent and co-host of CBS This Morning: Saturday,” A.J. Katz reported Wednesday for TV Newser. Katz also wrote, “Wagner joins CBS News from The Atlantic, where she was a senior editor reporting on politics, culture and social trends, and where she will remain as a contributing editor, writing for the magazine and TheAtlantic.com, and moderating live events. Previously, she was host of the MSNBC daily news program Now with Alex Wagner . . .”

The Detroit Free Press is seeking volunteer layoffs among targeted members of its editorial staff as it tries to cut expenses,” Dustin Walsh reported Thursday for Crain’s Detroit Business. “The move comes days after rival The Detroit News offered similar buyouts to its entire editorial staff as both papers deal with an industrywide decline in print advertising revenue. The paper needs to lay off 17 in its editorial department to shore up its 2017 budget, Crain’s has learned. . . .”

A veteran producer is the newly elected chief executive of the Television Academy and the first African-American to hold the post in the organization’s 70 years,” Lynn Elber reported Friday for the Associated Press. “The academy said Thursday its board of governors elected Hayma ‘Screech’ Washington as chairman and CEO. Washington, an award-winning producer, has served as co-governor of the producers’ branch of the academy. . . .”

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Fundación Gabriel García Márquez para el Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano — FNPI — announced an alliance to provide training of journalists in Latin America, [PDF] and the launch of the Latin America Investigative Reporting Course to be held in Cartagena, Colombia, in March 2017.

Rhonda Lee
Rhonda Lee

Rhonda Lee, a meteorologist who was fired in 2012 from KTBS in Shreveport, La., after she responded to criticism of her short Afro on the station’s Facebook site, has been hired as a freelance weathercaster at KING-TV in Seattle, Cheryl Carson, news director, told Journal-isms by telephone on Thursday. Lee had applied through the parent company, TEGNA, and Carson said she was “looking forward to her joining the team.” In September, the station hired David Espinosa-Hall, as its new evening and nightside anchor. He was morning anchor at WKMG-TV in Orlando.

“The restoration of the T. Thomas Fortune House is under way!” reported the T. Thomas Fortune Project Committee, created to preserve the home of Fortune, a black journalist and activist who lived from 1856 to 1928 and edited the New York Age, the most widely read black newspaper of its day. “Recently this historical site was saved thanks to the efforts of the T. Thomas Fortune Project committee and other concerned citizens. On Friday, November 18, an 80” x 48” sign will be installed announcing, “The Future Home of the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center,” at 94 Drs. James Parker Blvd., Red Bank” in New Jersey. Blog

C-SPAN3, American History TV, is airing “Reel America: ‘Black Panther’ ” on Saturday at 10 p.m. ET and Sunday at 4 p.m. ET. “Fifty years ago, in October of 1966, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, later known simply as the Black Panthers. This 1968 film produced by San Francisco Newsreel was originally released as ‘Off the Pig!’ It features an interview with Newton while he was in prison on murder charges, Seale reciting the Panther’s 10-point program, and scenes from ‘Free Huey’ demonstrations in Oakland, California,” the network said.

Gettysburg College professor Jill Ogline Titus, who teaches a class on World War II and its impact on civil rights, delivers a lecture airing on C-SPAN3 on Saturday at 8 p.m.ET and midnight. “She talks about racial conflicts over housing, voting rights, and integrating work places and the military,” the network says.

Gambian authorities arbitrarily detained three journalists just days before the November 16 start of the two-week presidential election campaign,” Human Rights Watch said Wednesday. “The authorities should appropriately charge or release the journalists and ensure that Gambian and international media can operate without fear of harassment or arbitrary arrest. . . .”

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