Gwen Ifill, a journalist to her core, who served as the PBS NewsHour’s co-anchor and managing editor and, in her own words, sought to always “tell the stories that shed light and spur action,” has died from complications of cancer. She was 61.
Gwen covered eight presidential campaigns, moderated two vice-presidential debates and served for 17 years on the NewsHour and as moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week.” In her early career, she covered politics and city hall for some of the country’s most prominent newspapers, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Baltimore Evening Sun, carving a path as one of the most accomplished journalists in U.S. media. She won countless awards, including the George Foster Peabody Award and the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award, and was the best-selling author of “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.”
Gwen’s death has left her colleagues devastated.
“She was a standard bearer for courage, fairness and integrity in an industry going through seismic change,” said the NewsHour’s executive producer, Sara Just. “She was a mentor to so many across the industry — a journalist’s journalist who set an example for all around her.”
And from her co-anchor, Judy Woodruff: “She was not only my dear friend, she was the best partner one can imagine, because she was committed to fairness and to the finest in journalism. You always knew when working with Gwen that she had your back. I’m crushed that she won’t be sitting by my side on the NewsHour any more, but her mark on this program and on American journalism will endure.”
President Obama touched on Gwen’s death at a press conference on Monday, calling her an “extraordinary journalist” who “always kept faith with the fundamental responsibility of her profession.”
“I always appreciated Gwen’s reporting, even when I was at the receiving end of one of her tough and thorough interviews,” said Obama, noting that Gwen was one half, along with Judy Woodruff, of the first all-female anchor team in broadcast journalism.
He added, “She not only informed today’s citizens, but she also inspired tomorrow’s journalists.”
At the PBS NewsHour, Gwen brought abundant wisdom and guidance to daily editorial meetings, championed stories that likely would have been orphaned on other news networks and always challenged her colleagues to look past simple explanations to uncover the deeper realities behind the news, especially when faced with a difficult or elusive subject.
“I wanted to be a journalist, because I like to ask questions,” Gwen said in a 2009 interview with Julian Bond for the Explorations in Black Leadership Series. “And I like the idea that someone might feel responsible for answering them.”
Moderating the 2004 vice-presidential debate, Gwen demonstrated her knack for bringing forgotten issues to the center of the national discussion. After pressing Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards on the economy, Iraq and Iran, she turned to the issue of the startlingly-high rate of HIV/AIDS among black women in America.