With Passing, Gwen Ifill Leaves Behind Distinctive Legacy in American Journalism

Fredrick Ngugi November 15, 2016

Renowned African-American political journalist Gwen Ifill died after losing a long battle with uterine cancer.


Credited as one of the best political journalists, Ifill served as a host to prominent political shows “Washington Week” and “PBS NewsHour.”

This spring, Ifill also moderated the Democratic Party presidential primary debate between former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders.

Gwen Ifill

“She was a mentor to so many across the industry – a journalist’s journalist who set an example for all around her,” PBS News Hour Executive Producer Sara Just told PBS.

Ifill died on Monday at the age of 61.

Distinguished Career

Ifill had a distinguished career as a journalist, entering the profession at a time when the industry was dominated by White male journalists.

Gwen Ifill

She took over “Washington Week in Review” in 1999, becoming the first African-American woman to host a major political TV talk show.

“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,” Ifill told the New York Times in an interview in 2013.

“I’m very keen about the fact that a little girl now, watching the news, when they see me and Judy [Woodruff] 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.”

Her boss at PBS, Paula Kerger, said Ifill was an important reason why public media is considered “a trusted window on the world.”

And U.S. President Barack Obama said during a news conference, “She always kept faith with the fundamental responsibility of her profession, asking tough questions, holding people in power accountable, and defending a strong and free press that makes our democracy work.”

In all, Ifill covered eight presidential campaigns, moderated two vice-presidential debates, and served for 17 years on “NewsHour” and as moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week.”

Gwen Ifill

Vice presidential debate moderator Gwen Ifill of PBS listens during the vice presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008 in St. Louis, Mo. (AP Photo/Don Emmert, Pool)

She also worked for several other prominent news organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Baltimore Evening Sun and won numerous awards, including the George Foster Peabody Award, the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award, and was the best-selling author of “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.”

Her legacy and contributions to American journalism will surely be remembered for generations to come.

Last Edited by:Abena Agyeman-Fisher Updated: November 15, 2016


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