Ifill made “big mistake” in defending fired journalist, says PBS’s ombud

By Mike Janssen

In his latest column, PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler considers a recent flap involving PBS NewsHour correspondent Gwen Ifill, who on Wednesday tweeted in support of fired journalist David Chalian. Chalian, the Washington bureau chief for Yahoo News, was fired after he said that Mitt Romney was “happy to have a party with black people drowning,” referring to the Republican National Convention starting as Hurricane Isaac approached New Orleans. Chalian was unaware that his microphone was on, and the comment was broadcast.

Before joining Yahoo, Chalian had worked as the NewsHour’s political editor. “I can understand Ifill’s wanting to go to bat for a friend and colleague,” Getler wrote, “but my personal view is that this was a big mistake on her part, feeding, unnecessarily, a conviction among many critics and reflecting poorly on PBS. By Thursday, lots of critical emails began pouring in about this episode.”

The NewsHour told Getler that its journalists are required to remain nonpartisan and impartial in their use of social media, but that Ifill’s tweet about Chalian was “not a political opinion, and was not made on behalf of the PBS NewsHour.”

Getler also evaluates the NewsHour’s coverage of the Republican convention and discusses criticism from viewers who accused PBS of liberal bias. Getler was “dismayed, although not surprised, at the vehemence of some of the criticism,” he wrote. “It reminded me, as if anyone who watches television regularly needed any more reminders, of the intense polarization that we now face.”

Ifill, who co-anchored the NewsHour’s primetime coverage of the RNC, is also host and managing editor of Washington Week, the political roundtable show featuring analysis and discussion of the week’s news by journalists who cover the nation’s capital.

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