Palin, Ifill and The Web’s Countdown to Debate

You didn’t think the Web was ready to let Sarah Palin go, did you? Not by a longshot.

On the eve of the lone vice-presidential debate of this year’s election, when the Alaska governor goes go toe-to-toe with Delaware Senator Joe Biden, the Web again finds itself lit up with opinions aplenty about how tonight’s sparring match will turn out. Will she come across as an experienced executive? Will Biden avoid his legendary gaffes?

The debate between these two candidates has been a subtext of much of the media scrutiny of Palin since Republican hopeful John McCain named her as his running mate, and the vetting process began.

Biden, a one-time presidential candidate himself, is a veteran senator who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee. Palin is a new entrant to the national stage, which has been red meat for her opponents while at the same time seemingly rejuvenating the McCain campaign with youth and energy.

A scan of the Web buzz hours in advance of the big show suggests that while the left continues to drill away at Palin’s experience, the right-leaning pundits are busy calling attention to a question of the moderator’s own political leanings and whether she can truly be fair.

Asking the questions at tonight’s debate will be Gwen Ifill, host of “Washington Week” and author of a forthcoming book that has sparked outrage from conservative bloggers and cable news pundits.

The book, to be titled “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” is slated to be released on Inauguration Day and appears to assume an Obama win in November. That fact has been a matter of public record since July, but has gained a top spot in the news cycle this week as the debate approaches.

The right-leaning blogosphere has bristled with fresh charges that the mainstream media is hell-bent on sandbagging the Republican candidates with their choice of moderator. After all, how can Palin expect objective treatment from a moderator who has written a book about the rise a new generation of black leaders with Obama in the title?

One of the early firestarters was the conservative blog WorldNetDaily, which ran a story late Tuesday under the headline, “VP debate moderator Ifill releasing pro-Obama book.” (The top story on WND as of this writing carried the headline, “4 Weathermen terrorists declare support for Obama.”)

The story about Ifill was quickly picked up by the Drudge Report and has since been rippling across the Web, and has even elicited comments from McCain.

Speaking to Fox News, McCain said, “Listen, frankly I wish they had picked a moderator that isn’t writing a book favorable to Barack Obama.” He added that he expected Palin would hold her own, and that he expected Ifill would be a “professional journalist.” To which he added, “Life isn’t fair.”

For her part, Ifill told the Associated Press that partisanship won’t be a factor in how she conducts the debate. “I’ve got a pretty long track record covering politics and news, so I’m not particularly worried that one-day blog chatter is going to destroy my reputation,” she said.

It might not be a reputation killer, but that blog chatter certainly hasn’t subsided. Indeed, a scan of Google’s new blog search tool lists various versions of the Ifill story in the top slot, followed by the liberal rebuttal, which harps on Palin’s experience.

For that crowd, Palin’s interview with Katie Couric has become a favorite target. In the interview, Palin avoided specific answers to questions about what Supreme Court cases she disagrees with or what newspapers or magazines she reads.

So the bickering continues. Blogs like Wake Up America run posts declaring: “This VP debate moderator bias scandal … is just the latest example of the Democratic Party’s ability to ride roughshod over the rights of the American people.”

Then, some of the predictably consistent lefties like DailyKos have embedded videos of Palin resting on a talking point about local sovereignty when asked to name a court case she’s like to see overturned, and generally attacking her on the experience issue.

Finally, there are the game theorists of opposing views who end up with remarkably similar conclusions. In a post entitled “McCain Campaign Working the Ref in Debate” that appears on the liberal mega blog Huffington Post, Cenk Uygur writes that attacking Ifill’s credibility is a cynical ploy to get the moderator take it easy on a candidate he sees as a lightweight.

“In essence, they are threatening her career if she doesn’t act ‘objectively,’ he wrote. “And their definition of ‘objective’ is someone who asks very easy questions to Sarah Palin.”

Flip around to the other political pole and you Rick Moran writing on the conservative American Thinker:

“One possible bright spot: Despite [Ifill’s] protestations to the contrary about not caring about the blog chatter, I think it entirely possible that she bends over backward to give tough questions to Joe Biden about his recent gaffes. If so, that should be entertaining if not enlightening.”

Same facts. Different assumptions. It’s like the debate started early.

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