The XX Factor

Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff to Make TV History

Power duo Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff speak onstage about PBS election coverage at the 2012 Summer TCA Tour.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Late last month, PBS announced that Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff would co-anchor the network’s coverage of the 2012 conventions. That’s not really surprising: Ifill and Woodruff are two of PBS’s most distinguished anchors. But at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Los Angeles, Calif. on Sunday, the network pointed out something interesting. Ifill and Woodruff will be the first all-female team in news broadcast history to spearhead a network’s convention coverage.

To a certain extent, the decision is just a reflection of PBS. The same panel that pointed out Ifill and Woodruff’s achievement was moderated by a man, but otherwise was all women, including Need to Know co-host Maria Hinojosa and the deputy executive producer of Frontline, Raney Aronson, who is now next in line to lead the venerable documentary series. “The truth is, actually, I think it speaks well that it wasn’t by design, that that’s who we have telling the stories,” Ifill said of the gender composition of both the panel and of PBS. “We have our wonderful rainbow.”

But it’s precisely that PBS can so easily stock its election coverage solely with woman anchors that makes the network remarkable. MSNBC would have to reach into its second tier of hosts to find a woman to pair up with Rachel Maddow, and even then would never dare displace Chris Matthews. Fox, were it to leave election coverage to the ladies, might be forced to admit that Megyn Kelly is far too intelligent to waste her time sparring with crackpot anti-gay scientists in daytime programming (a realization that might upset their entire lineup). It’s simply just hard to imagine that any other network would anchor election coverage without the presence of a white man.

We don’t even notice how often it is that white men provide the default perspective on any given event—which is why there is something powerful about PBS’s rather routine decision. Woodruff and Ifill will inevitably bring their own experiences to anchoring the conventions, whether as women journalists, or in Ifill’s case, as a woman of color. Turns out there’s no reason a presidential election should need the supposedly soothing gravitas of a man to help viewers interpret information and make decisions.