Gwen Ifill Shames Critic of PBS Bias: Surely, If You Watched, 'Even You' Would Disagree With Yourself

In an online chat on PBS on Thursday, NewsHour and Washington Week anchor Gwen Ifill did the usual song and dance avoiding any admission of liberal tilt.

Someone named “Darius” pressed Ifill: “Why does PBS overdo the PC mentality so much? Especially in the face of reporting hard, substantiated news?” She couldn’t possibly agree. He must not be watching regularly:

Gwen Ifill: I disagree with your premise. If you check out NewsHour and Washington Week on a regular basis, I think even you will disagree with your premise.

In the same interview, Ifill was asked if she found any of the Pulitzer prize winners interesting, and she singled out for praise The Washington Post's  sympathetic reporting among those deprived Americans on food stamps. "I really enjoyed the Pulitzer Prize-winning series Eli Saslow wrote for the Washington Post about food insecurity and the degree to which the economy never recovered for a huge slice of our society. See my conversation with Eli here."


Brent Baker ticketed Saslow's syrupy Sunday Post piece in March of last year, noting the Post account “didn’t offer a word about President Obama’s responsibility for the poor economy.” But:

Deep in it, however, reporter Eli Saslow undermined his case when he sympathetically cited “a series of exhausting, fractional decisions” a couple with two toddlers face over having to choose between food “or the $75 they owed the tattoo parlor.”

Every four weeks, a Rhode Island town’s economy booms as residents use food stamp money to stock up. But full shelves inevitably give way to days of want,” read the subhead for the plaintive March 17 article.

Saslow failed to explain why the couple, supposedly forced to consider a trip across town to pay 70 cents less for a gallon of milk, decided to get a tattoo (or pay for cell phones) when they can’t afford to feed their kids from the presumably inadequate $518 a month SNAP giveaway:

For the past three years, the Ortizes’ lives had unfolded in a series of exhausting, fractional decisions. Was it better to eat the string cheese now or to save it? To buy milk for $3.80 nearby or for $3.10 across town? Was it better to pay down the $600 they owed the landlord, or the $110 they owed for their cellphones, or the $75 they owed the tattoo parlor, or the $840 they owed the electric company?

Saslow summarized the sad state of the economy without considering whether or not Obama administration policies might have exacerbated the situation, or whether Obama policies have encouraged the dependence on government in the state which voted overwhelmingly for Obama.

But in her PBS NewsHour interview with Saslow on Wednesday, Ifill could only focus on how food stamps aren't generous enough, and aren't used by enough people:

GWEN IFILL: Do charities fill the gap, food pantries?

ELI SASLOW: They try, but the gap is immense. Even the federal government says that, in a best-case scenario, food stamps give you enough money to pay for food for 17 days, so that leaves you with 13 days, even in a best-case scenario, that you have to take care of. And that’s a huge gap for food pantries and food banks to have to fill. And the truth is, right now, food banks and food pantries are totally overwhelmed. They’re hurting, too.
So that gap, they’re not quite making it.

IFILL: In the towns you talked about, you went from New England to a border town in Texas and to Florida, and you captured the idea that the people who are benefiting from this are elderly and children and everybody in between.

SASLOW: Yes, it hits everybody. Half the people who are on food stamps, half of that money goes to children. And so we’re talking about almost 25 million children who are eating in part based on this program. Elderly people are signed up in high numbers, but the truth is, they’re not signed up to where they should be. Only about 25 percent of elderly people who can sign up for food stamps sign up, because there is still sort of a stigma.

IFILL: Still a shame involved.

SASLOW: Yes, some shame involved.

There's no question about how the program's exploding growth under Obama might be a bad thing. Ifill and Saslow are either blind to their bias or pretending that they don’t see that anything they’re doing has a tilt – unless it’s in favor of  the government always doing more “helping.”

IFILL: You know, as a reporter, a middle-class guy, you went into these people’s homes, you went into their lives, and you decided to tell this story from the inside out. How do you do that? How do you balance that as a journalist?

SASLOW: It’s the privilege of the job.

And the kind of journalism that I do, which we refer to as narrative journalism, it’s — I might be writing about big issues and numbers, but I’m doing that by going into people’s lives and into their homes, and not just interviewing them for a few minutes or a few hours, but really shadowing them for sometimes a week or two at a time.

And that’s a lot to ask of people, especially when you’re there when — in those weeks where the fridge is more and more empty and when maybe their three or four kids are not having very much to eat or waiting for one — one meal a day that’s provided by a food bank.

It’s a huge act of courage for people to say, sure, come into my life, watch this happen, and write about it for all these people to read. And so what we try to do is, we try to honor that courage by doing a good job telling their stories and doing it fairly and honestly.

IFILL: Well, you did a great job. And the Pulitzer Prize recognized that.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis