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Winning the Messaging Battle, Part I

PBS Ombudsman: Gwen Ifill's ‘Take That, Bibi’ Tweet About Iran Deal Was 'Inexcusable'

As Cortney wrote, PBS’s Gwen Ifill stepped on a landmine when she tweeted "take that, Bibi,” a reference to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Wednesday. It's also the same day Obama locked up the votes for his Iran deal. Her tweet linked to the Iran Deal account, which is run by the White House and featured a similar graphic used by the Israeli Prime Minister to demonstrate the dangers of Iran’s nuclear ambition to the United Nations in 2012.  PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler was not amused, and called the incident a “self-inflicted wound” [emphasis mine]


I asked Ifill and the NewsHour for a response and explanation. She explained, in an email to me and in a tweet to many others, that she was “RT'ing a @TheIranDeal tweet,” and added that she “should have been clearer that it was their argument, not mine.”

One would have to lean way over backwards to give her the benefit of the doubt that she was simply shedding light on the administration’s view of portions of Netanyahu’s arguments. But to personalize it by saying, “Take that, Bibi” is, in my book, inexcusable for an experienced journalist who is the co-anchor of a nightly news program watched by millions of people over the course of any week.

Newsbusters’ Scott Whitlock added that Ifill has yet to deliver an apology for the social media foul-up, and appears to have doubled down hours later. The media watchdog has also cataloged the media’s cheerleader role in praising the Iran deal, despite opposition from the vast majority of the American public, the national security community, and anyone who knows 2+2=4. Getler also mentioned in his post that this isn’t the first time Ifill has made mistakes on social media.

In 2012, then-Yahoo! News political director David Chalian had a hot-mic moment that got him fired from the organization. At the time, Hurricane Isaac was heading towards the Gulf States. The Republican National Convention was being held in Tampa. During a break in an ABC News/Yahoo! News webcast, he said, "They're not concerned at all. They're happy to have a party with black people drowning.” Politico’s (who is now heading to CNN) Dylan Byers said Chalian was referring to RNC officials. Newsbusters, who first obtained audio of the remarks, said it was in reference to the Romneys.


Regardless, Chalian apologized, but was later fired from Yahoo! News. Nevertheless, Ifill tweeted "One mistake does not change this. DavidChalian is God's gift to political journalism. #IStandwithDavid." Getler wrote, “I can understand Ifill's wanting to go to bat for a friend and colleague 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.”

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