Earlier today, PBS released a sad statement saying that PBS NewsHour co-anchor, political analyst, debate moderator, author, and groundbreaking journalist Gwen Ifill has died at 61. Gwen was battling cancer for several months.
Gwen Ifill started out in journalism as an intern at the Boston Herald-American, an experience in which some asshole racist employee left a note with the n-word on her desk telling her to go home. That didn’t stop Gwen Ifill from working in journalism, which led to her checking off a couple of career “firsts.” She was the first black woman to work at the Herald. She was also the first black woman to moderate a vice presidential debate in 2004. Gwen Ifill also moderated that 2008 vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, which probably made her want to swear off moderating vice presidential debates the second Sarah cited her pal Joe Six-pack.
Gwen was a fixture at PBS. She was like the female political journalism version of Big Bird or Bob Ross. Gwen got a job as the moderator of Washington Week. She then went on to co-host PBS NewsHour with Judy Woodruff, making them the first all-female news anchor team. PBS NewsHour executive producer Sara Just said this of Gwen to PBS:
“Gwen was a standard bearer for courage, fairness and integrity in an industry going through seismic change. She was a mentor to so many across the industry and her professionalism was respected across the political spectrum. She was a journalist’s journalist and set an example for all around her.
We will forever miss her terribly.”
Gwen was supposed to receive Columbia Journalism School’s 2016 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism on Wednesday. Gwen would have been the first black person to receive the award. Since Gwen’s life has been all about firsts, I wouldn’t be surprised if she showed up at the ceremony on Wednesday night and added “First female ghost to collect journalism award” to her long lists of firsts. This is Gwen Ifill we’re talking about; as if the afterlife could keep her from accomplishing stuff. Rest in peace, Gwen.