Pioneering television news anchor, political analyst and longtime host of PBS NewsHour and moderator and managing editor of Washington Week Gwen Ifill died Monday after a battle with cancer. She was 61.
“Gwen was a friend of ours, she was an extraordinary journalist. I always appreciated Gwen’s reporting even when I was at the receiving end of one of her tough interviews.” – President Obama
Ifill was the host of PBS’ Washington Week and co-host of PBS NewsHour. She covered seven presidential campaigns and moderated the vice presidential debates in 2004 and 2008. She was also the author of “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” which was published on inauguration day 2009.
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.”
Ifill, who was born in New York City, graduated from Simmons College, a women’s college located in Boston, in 1977, before beginning her career at the Boston Herald-American. She held reporting positions at the Baltimore Evening Sun, The Washington Post, The New York Times and NBC before becoming a moderator of PBS’s “Washington Week in Review” in 1999.
Her first book, “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” was released on the day of President Barack Obama’s first inauguration. One of the most visible African-American female broadcast journalists, she received more than 20 honorary doctorates, had been honored by the Peabody Awards, the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center and the National Association of Black Journalists among others. She also served on the boards of the News Literacy Project, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and was a fellow with the American Academy of Sciences.
Ifill’s acclaimed career was also marked by the obstacles she overcame as a black woman in the news business. As an intern at the Boston Herald-American, a staffer left a note that included a racial epithet telling her to “go home”; Ifill would go on to be the only black moderator and the only woman moderating the 2004 vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards, and then the 2008 vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. Ifill also moderated a primary debate between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton last year.
Through all of her accomplishments, Ifill was very aware of the barriers that she broke and worked so that women and people of color across the globe would have even more opportunities and she reflected on what her appointment could mean to a new generation in an interview with The New York Times:
“When I was a little girl watching programs like this — because that’s the kind of nerdy family we were — I would look up and not see anyone who looked like me in any way. No women. No people of color. I’m very keen about the fact that a little girl now, watching the news, when they see me and Judy sitting side by side, it will occur to them that that’s perfectly normal — that it won’t seem like any big breakthrough at all.” – Gwen Ifill