Beating up on Palin Equals Media Suicide

After reviewing the eviscerating news coverage of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, it becomes pretty clear that reporters have just hammered another nail in their collective coffin. I am not talking about the backlash forming among conservative women who are now determined to get John McCain and Palin elected. Rather, I am talking about the tangible proof people now have that the media can’t be trusted.

In one article, a couple of New York Times reporters cite former Massachusetts Republican Governor Jane Swift—who faced ethics violations for using aides as baby-sitters—as a cautionary example of what can happen when a working mother suddenly rises to power. It’s pretty obvious what the New York Times is implying: Sarah Palin can’t handle being a mother and political figure at the same time. Something’s got to give. Of course, this comes from a newspaper that champions a woman’s right to choose…a right to choose everything but her own career.

In the same article, the reporters cite an blogger named “cafemama,” decrying Palin for going back to work three days after giving birth. When did an anonymous blogger become a reliable news source?

Above all, reporters must be honest and discerning. Some sources are reliable. Some aren’t. It’s OK to quote unreliable sources as long as reporters signal that these sources may not be trustworthy. But in many Palin stories, they didn’t. Reporters often quoted John Stein (whom Palin ousted as mayor in Wasilla, Alaska), Alaska state Senate leader Lyda Green (whom Palin fought with over a number of issues), Walt Monegan (whom Palin fired), Andrew Helcro (whom Palin beat out for governor) as well as other officials Palin exposed for corruption.

In their hunger to chew Palin up and spit her out, journalists reported as fact what they often only gleaned from a single source. At one point, they charged that Palin had been a member of the Alaskan Independence Party. The McCain campaign later produced records showing that she had only associated with members of the party.

Several years ago, the town’s librarian alleged that she felt pressure by Palin’s administration to ban books, though the librarian didn’t say what, if any, books were under question. The librarian later resigned. Palin claims she posed the idea of banning books as a rhetorical question to get the librarian’s thoughts on the issue. Notably, no books were ever banned. The whole issue of book banning amounts to a “he said, she said,” but most newspapers only carry the librarian’s account. Reporters are just fueling a vicious rumor mill until they get the facts pinned down.

The New York Times claims on its masthead that it supplies “all the news that’s fit to print.” But are Todd Palin’s failure to stop for a red light or son Track Palin’s “ego” problem really fit to print (Sept. 2: “Palin’s Daughter Interrupts GOP Convention Script”)? There are legitimate issues about Palin’s candidacy that reporters should bring to light like her lobbying for federal earmarks, her flip-flop on the “Bridge to Nowhere” and the investigation into her firing of public safety commissioner Walt Monegan. But her daughter’s pregnancy, Sarah Palin’s decision to work after having her baby and her husband’s DUI 22 years ago are non-issues. They’re tabloid stories that are best left to US Weekly (US Weekly’s latest front-cover headline: Babies, Lies & Scandal).

A backlash has grown against the media’s rancorous coverage of Palin. Fifty-one percent of U.S. voters told a survey that they think the media is trying to hurt Palin, as do 49 percent of independents. It’s not hard to see why. Even renowned liberal commentator Susan Estrich said, “What is just as troubling to me as Palin’s willingness to impose her choices on others is the stupid and mean-spirited commentary from some of my liberal friends.”

Stupid is right. Sarah Palin is a woman who strikes many American conservatives and moderates as the woman-next-door. There’s a lot to like and admire about her. She has a strong marriage; she has stuck to her pro-life principles even when it’s been tough; she runs six miles a day and she didn’t have to go to an Ivy League college to get where she is. She literally sticks to her guns.

When the media beats up on Sarah Palin and her family, many women feel like the media is beating up on them and their families, too. Considering that much of the journalism industry is already withering, this isn’t a good way to attract business.

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