Nancy Polikoff

Ifill's misleading question...

Filed By Nancy Polikoff | October 04, 2008 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Alaska, Gwen Ifill, partner benefits, Sarah Palin, vice presidential debates

Here's was the exact question Gwen Ifill asked Joe Biden in the VP debate: "Do you support, as they do in Alaska, granting same-sex benefits to couples?" After Biden's convoluted response, Ifill said to Palin, "Governor, would you support expanding that beyond Alaska to the rest of the nation?"

First of all, Alaska does not have a state-wide domestic partner registration scheme that grants benefits to all who register. Alaska STATE EMPLOYEES have domestic partner benefits as a result of unanimous Alaska Supreme Court decision finding the exclusion of same-sex couples from benefits unconstitutional under the Alaska constitution. During her campaign to become governor, Palin said she did not support that decision. It is true that she vetoed legislation that would have blocked the benefits, but only because her attorney general told her the law would be unconstitutional. She made clear when she vetoed the bill that she opposed the benefits.

So asking Palin if she supported extending Alaska's scheme to the rest of the nation opened the door to the non-answer Palin gave....since she doesn't support Alaska's benefits themselves! A casual listener would think by the question that Palin did support the benefits.

I imagine Ifill was looking for a way into the topic of LGBT families that was more nuanced than "what is your position on same-sex marriage?" That she would address the issue is no surprise. After all, she raised the issue in the Cheney-Edwards debate four years ago. I would bet Ifill didn't know the history of Palin's opposition; nothing else explains her phrasing of the question.

It wasn't a shining moment for either Palin or Biden. Unfortunately, it wasn't a shining moment for Ifill either.


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Nancy, have you written to Gwen Ifill to point this out to her? Ifill is a fine journalist, and rarely makes mistakes such as this one. I expect she would appreciate your clarification of things. Also, Ifill, who hosts PBS's Washington Week every Friday, has an online chat on the PBS website every Thursday at NOON Eastern Time --- that would be another way to bring this to her attention.

Perhaps Ifil would be open to a conversation about her phrasing, but its a bit too late to make a difference now.

There are two more debates coming - at least one of them will focus on domestic issues. It is likely that the marriage issue will be raised for Obama and McCain. Unless the next moderator(s) are cajoled into thinking more intelligently about the issue we are liable to continue to hear the same meaningless answers to overly general questions that contribute to the lack of public understanding and knowledge.

A post about the debate yesterday at Bilerico, I commented about Ifil's lousy question. The more I think about it, the more I like the question I would like to hear the candidates answer:

"In November two states, Florida and California, have proposals on the ballot to amend their state constitutions in a way that will directly affect the lives of LGBT citizens.

Florida's amendment would prohibit the legal recognition of any relationship between people of the same sex as domestic partner, civil union or in a marriage.

California's amendment aims to overturn the state Supreme Court decision that defends same sex marriage as an example of constitutional equal protections. If the amendment passes, same sex couples will no longer be allowed to marry in California.

Which amendment do you support - if you support any at all - and do you think it is necessary that we continue to restrict the liberties of LGBT citizens?"

I do like Gwen Ifill and would be happy to bring this to her attention. Do you know a way to actually reach her?

I don't have a personal email address for her, Nancy, but here is a link to the feedback page for Washington Week via the PBS website. Back up a page and you can find info about her weekly webchat.

I noticed that right away too, Nancy. It really stood out to me; especially since she tried to block implementation of the benefits. It was almost like Gwen was trying to paint Palin into a corner by having her acknowledge that LGBT rights were important, but it fell flat. Very flat.