f nothing else, the sycophants genuflecting to the McCain-Palin presidential campaign are experts at creating diversions.

When things go bad, they call out the troops to fill the airwaves with misdirection. Or they heave Hail Mary passes, hoping to connect with their easy-to-anger supporters. In fact, they'll do just about anything except admit to the campaign's shortcomings. So now, they've dragged PBS anchor Gwen Ifill into the crosshairs of their phony efforts at sowing confusion and distraction.

On the eve of tonight's vice presidential debate, a bevy of right wingers mounted a smear campaign against Ifill. Michelle Malkin kicked it off with a poisoned-pen commentary in the National Review Online, claiming Ifill is unfit to moderate the debate because she's writing a book about Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama.

But this shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone. Washington-based journalists write books all the time, and Ifill's book was no secret. Random House plans to publish Ifill's book, "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama," about the time the next president is inaugurated.

"[T]here is nothing 'moderate' about where Ifill stands on Barack Obama," Malkin wrote. "She's so far in the tank for the Democratic presidential candidate, her oxygen delivery line is running out."

Then, others picked up the spear to poke at Ifill. Matt Drudge made it the lead story on his blog. Fox News trotted out its resident expert on all things black, Juan Williams, to express both admiration and admonishment for Ifill's role in the debate, noting that he thinks Ifill is a first-rate journalist but that "there's a perception problem" related to her writing about Obama.


Even Sen. John McCain praised Ifill's professionalism and told Fox News that he expects her to be fair in the debate.

I agree. Although I've known and admired Ifill for nearly 20 years, it is fair to say that anyone who has watched her career would agree that she's one of the most honest and straight-shooting people in this sometimes dishonest and deceitful business. No one expects her to be anything but tough and fair-minded, which is why she was selected to be the moderator in the first place. If the book had been a legitimate concern, surely the McCain camp would have made an issue of it earlier. Ifill released a statement in her own defense essentially saying you watch, you decide.

But Ifill's fairness isn't a real issue. No, the fact of the matter is that the right- wing echo chamber is scared to death that Palin will make a fool of herself before a national audience. So they toss out the smoke bombs and scream like bloody fools.


Such distracting haze and noise has a single purpose. The conservative squawkers want to kill the messenger to divert attention away from Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who is McCain's running mate. By manufacturing an 11th-hour outrage against Ifill, they have plowed the ground for a fertile excuse should Palin come across as vapid and ill-informed during the debate as she has in her recent interviews with CBS' Katie Couric.

As testament to their desperation, by mid-afternoon Wednesday, angry callers had overloaded and shutdown the phones at the Commission on Presidential Debates offices in downtown Washington.

This is the way losers play politics. Winners are wiser. They know to ignore the catcalls from attention-seekers in the bleachers. Indeed, as successful, old-school football coaches like to tell players after they've scored a touchdown: "Calm the hell down. Act like you've been in the end zone before."


Such advice bodes well for fair-minded people as they tune in tonight to watch the debate. Ifill moderated the vice presidential debate four years ago with grace, wit and talent. No matter what the candidates say or do, she is the consummate professional.

I don't expect any of this to throw her off her stride. Ifill knows how to act because she's been in the end zone before.

Sam Fulwood III is a Cleveland-based journalist.