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Gwen Ifill: Politics and the Big Picture

Blogs can be fun because they offer the opportunity to climb into someone’s head for a few minutes, and, in the case of this blog, The Rundown, you can travel behind the scenes as the NewsHour comes together each weeknight.

I have a special affection for politics, in part because I believe nearly everything that happens in our public and private lives is rooted in some kind of politics. Everyone doesn’t see it the same way I do, of course. So my task – our task – is to make politics taste good, or at least not taste so bad.

It’s kind of like when I was little, and my mother would hold fresh-cut oranges under my nose to disguise the odor and taste of the castor oil she was spooning into my mouth. It didn’t work, but it was her way of attempting to disguise unpleasant truths.


In the news business, we do not disguise unpleasant truths, but we do try to deliver them in the most accessible way possible. We do this because what happens in Washington and among decision makers around the world matters immensely.

This relevance extends in many directions. When you go to your doctor and are shocked by the charges, the debate on health care reform matters. When you look at your paycheck and feel that not enough of it is ending up in your bank account, tax cut debates matter. Still, when I tell some people I like politicians, they are surprised. But in all my years of covering politicians from local school boards to the White House, the vast majority of elected officials I’ve met have been honorable people who are committed to public service. It’s often the bad guys who catch our imagination. That’s because we cover the unusual, the unexpected, the betrayals of trust, the bright and shiny new things. For the average viewer, reading all that or watching it on television can make you cynical if you let it. And I can be skeptical about things … but I’ll tell you why I’m not cynical about politics. Politics determines whether children go to school or not. It determines what sort of education they receive. If you don’t believe that, watch John Merrow’s reports about education.

Politics determines who gets treated for what, and how much it costs. If you don’t believe that, watch Betty Ann Bowser’s reports about health care reform. Politics determines whether the money you earned stays in your pocket, or leaks out thanks to regulators who don’t regulate and lawmakers who don’t legislate. If you doubt that, watch Paul Solman’s reports and check out his Making Sense site. We try to cover it all, but in this information age, even we can’t manage that. That means the burden of democracy has shifted. To you. I used to believe everyone should read a newspaper every day … watch the news every night … get up and do it all again every day. I still do that, but for many people, much has changed. As a result, the average interested American has access to more information than ever in my lifetime. On the “PBS NewsHour,” we approach the news with a fairly simple premise. We assume you can decide what you think on your own, if we give you the information to work with. We hope you never know what we really think – or that we ever reach any personal conclusions at all. But we believe that you are hungry to know. Suffice to say, debates about war, peace and terrorism and politics are good for the news business. I’d argue they’re good for civil society too.

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