Gwen Ifill, 1955-2016

Journalist, author and presidential debate moderator Gwen Ifill has died at age 61, PBS confirmed Monday.

Ifill, who was named co-anchor and managing editor of "PBS NewsHour" in 2013, moderated two vice presidential debates.

"It is with extremely heavy hearts that we must share that our dear friend and beloved colleague Gwen Ifill passed away this afternoon following several months of cancer treatment," PBS said in a statement. "She was surrounded by loving family and many friends whom we ask that you keep in your thoughts and prayers."

In a note, "PBS NewsHour" executive producer Sara Just called Ifill "a standard bearer for courage."

Gwen was a standard bearer for courage, fairness and integrity in an industry going through seismic change," the note read. "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.

So many people in the audience felt that they knew and adored her. She had a tremendous combination of warmth and authority. She was stopped on the street routinely by people who just wanted to give her a hug and considered her a friend after years of seeing her on tv.

We will forever miss her terribly."​​​​​

Like her PBS colleague Judy Woodruff, Ifill came to PBS via NBC News where she was chief congressional and political correspondent. She began her TV career after working as a White House reporter for The New York Times and as a local reporter for The Washington Post.

Two months ago, in a talk at Colorado College, Ifill told students about her experience of having been a debate moderator in the 2004 and 2008 elections. She told students "Every debate moderator tries to figure a way to get past the speeches." She said she tried to think of ways to get beyond the prepared statements that candidates deliver day after day.

I came across a number, a statistic about African American, I mean HIV infection among African American women, sky-rocketing at the time. No one was talking about this. And I prefaced my question by saying, 'You've both talked about AIDS in Africa, I want to talk about about AIDS in this country. Please don't talk about AIDS in Africa.

What would you do if you were in this administration about sky-rocketing HIV infections among African American women?' Very specific. Dick Cheney's response was, 'Oh, I didn't know that.' End of response. John Edwards' response was, 'Well let me give you my three-point plan for AIDS in Africa.' I found out afterward from people who prepped him for that debate that that was the question they thought I was going to give them — an AIDS in Africa question.

As a moderator, she had to make a choice about whether to “chase them around the table,” to get an answer to her question, she said. But "I kind of made a decision as a moderator that the viewers at home had learned what they needed to know about this, which is that none of them knew or cared," she said. "And I to this day, all these years later, still get people who walk up to me and say, 'Loved that AIDS question.'”

President Obama told a White House news conference that Ifill was an especially powerful role model for young journalists.

Obama was the subject of a book Ifill authored eight years ago. “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the age of Obama” came out on Inauguration Day 2008.

Speaking for the First Family, Obama said, "Gwen was a friend of ours and was an extraordinary journalist.” He added, "I always appreciated Gwen’s reporting even when I was on the receiving end of one of her tough and thorough interviews."

Journalists tweeted remembrances of Ifill's life on Monday afternoon:

Al Tompkins and Ben Mullin contributed reporting to this story.


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