PBS NewsHour co-anchor Gwen Ifill put herself in the social-media crossfire Wednesday with a tweet commenting on the Iran nuclear deal, setting off criticism that she had inappropriately revealed a personal bias.
PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler, whose email box was flooded with complaints, described the tweet as a “self-inflicted wound” and “inexcusable” for a journalist of her stature. Meanwhile, the NewsHour’s executive producer acknowledged only that Ifill hadn’t expressed herself clearly.
Ifill retweeted a tweet by @TheIranDeal, a White House Twitter account devoted to the nuclear agreement pending before the Senate. The original tweet displayed an annotated image of the bomb diagram that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes the deal, presented to the U.N. General Assembly almost three years ago.
“With the #IranDeal, Iran’s program is significantly less dangerous,” the original tweet said — to which Ifill added, “Take that, Bibi.”
Take that, Bibi. https://t.co/V9Gn9vP6xN
— gwen ifill (@gwenifill) September 2, 2015
Critics on Twitter immediately attacked Ifill’s credibility as an unbiased reporter and her perceived lack of sensitivity toward Israelis. Ifill, who has 123,000 followers on Twitter, said in a later tweet Wednesday that she was only retweeting @TheIranDeal and sharing its opinion rather than her own.
Fair question @ActForIsrael : I was RT’ing a @TheIranDeal tweet. Should have been clearer that it was their argument, not mine.
— gwen ifill (@gwenifill) September 2, 2015
But several followers critiqued her explanation, noting that she had added the comment.
“Every now and then, you inadvertently poke twitter in the eye,” Ifill tweeted. “And it never disappoints.”
“The subtlety of what she was trying to highlight with the retweet of the White House’s account was lost on some and, we agree, could have been presented more clearly,” said Sara Just, PBS NewsHour e.p., in an email to Current Thursday. But “Gwen Ifill remains an unbiased observer and journalist who was in no way making commentary of her own,” Just said.
Ifill was aiming to match the White House’s tone and raise questions about what was happening, Just added.
Ifill’s tweet undermined her credibility and hurt the perception of reporters being fair and objective, said Scott Talan, an expert in social media and personal branding at American University. “She should have kept this to herself instead of sharing with her 1000s of followers,” Talan said by email. “#TweetFail.” (Current is part of AU’s School of Communication.)
In a column posted Thursday, Getler also criticized Ifill’s response.
“One would have to lean way over backwards to give her the benefit of the doubt that she was simply shedding light on the administration’s view of portions of Netanyahu’s arguments,” Getler wrote. “But to personalize it by saying, ‘Take that, Bibi’ is, in my book, inexcusable for an experienced journalist who is the co-anchor of a nightly news program watched by millions of people over the course of any week.”
Getler compared Ifill’s tweet to another social media gaffe she made during the 2012 Republican National Convention. Ifill reacted to news that political journalist David Chalian, a former NewsHour colleague, had been fired by Yahoo News for making a partisan and racial remark about the Romney family.
>undermined her credibility and hurt the perception of reporters being fair and objective
What credibility? What objectivity? What you mean is that she failed to pretend to the *illusion* of objectivity.
I don’t think anyone buys it anymore. It is in fact the truth that Netanyahu’s objections will not be accommodated. It may be unsportsmanlike to gloat over his loss, but it was a loss, after all. Professing to have no opinion about it is much less professional than simply being transparent. Ifill is smart; there are no accidents. Her *assignment* is to nail the coffin shut. Why do you think she has a hammer?
The conceit that PBS is an objective, unbiased news source is not sustainable. It’s like saying Fox is “fair and balanced”. Smart people triangulate the various news sources to extrapolate a consensus narrative, with which they may or may not concur. I have no idea what the people butthurt about Ifill’s inarguably true statement would do.
Objective reporters never try to become the story.
I’m a friend of Gwen. She and Judy makes a good pair. Makin’ news every weeknight. We trust in her, but she’s in the late week anchorin’ solo, due to the vacations of Judy. @hari anchored last friday. She will be return next week. #PBSNEWS
Photo: Judy Woodruff & Gwen Ifill, awesome pair at the NewsHour.