In the first couple of weeks after McCain selected Palin as his running mate, the media bombarded Wasilla, Alaska, searching for dead moose in her closet, publishing uncorroborated information and anonymous sources, perniciously pointing their pens and cameras at her family. She was accused of banning books, unlawfully firing a state commissioner, and, gasp, returning to work only five days after giving birth. Since then, she has been vindicated on all accounts except for returning to work five days after giving birth. The feminists still won’t forgive her for that one.
As Palin rallied the GOP base and threatened the Obama campaign, the media coverage grew even more scathing (though, granted, reporters’ skepticism and contempt for Palin may have grown more legitimized.) But the pit bull with lipstick fought back, criticizing the mainstream media in stump speeches and in her debate with Joe Biden. This of course primed the media’s thirst for revenge. The rest of the election unraveled like the movie Mean Girls.
Hardly a day passed in which the mainstream news did not run a headline knocking Palin. Here are a few examples of Palin-bashing headlines: “Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes” (New York Times), “Palin Leaves Them Cold” (LA Times) and “How Many Houses Does Palin Add to the Republican Ticket” (MSNBC).
Of course, Palin’s alleged ethics violation was a legitimate issue that the media had a responsibility to report and investigate. Although the media reported that the Alaskan legislature inquiry found Palin guilty, it failed to report that the Alaskan Inquiry was run by her foes within the Alaskan legislature. And for the most part, few in the media gave due attention to the subsequent, official report by the Alaska Personnel Board that exonerated Palin, claiming that there was no evidence that Palin acted improperly by firing Walt Monegan. Further, the Personnel Board noted that the inquiry by the Alaskan legislature was based on an incorrect interpretation of state ethics laws and insufficient evidence. However, liberals continued to cite the legislature’s report as proof of Palin’s corruption because it had gained more media attention.
While the media drooled over Obama, it whetted its chops for Palin. ABC news anchor Charles Gibson seemed to revel in making Palin feel uncomfortable and unqualified. While there was nothing wrong with his questions, his avuncular manner was off-putting, enough to make anyone (particularly those unaccustomed to media interviews) wiggle in his chair. Following a glum interview with Charles Gibson, Palin suffered through a disastrous interview with Katie Couric. Unable to form a coherent sentence, struggling just to string a noun and verb together, grasping to identify which news magazines she read, Palin appeared utterly incompetent. Perhaps she was just nervous.
But while the media was busy broadcasting Palin’s foibles, most media didn’t report on Biden’s gaffes about FDR going on TV when the stock market crashed or his remark that Hillary Clinton would make a better Vice President than him. Few recalled how Biden had plagiarized a law review article in law school or how he had flunked ROTC (indeed, the only class in which he got an A freshman year was PE).Or how about the time Biden told a reporter that he got a full academic scholarship to law school and finished in the top half of his class when in reality, he got only a partial need-based scholarship and finished 76th out of 85?
In retrospect, Washington Post ombudsperson Deborah Howell admitted that “One gaping hole in coverage involved Joe Biden, Obama’s running mate. When Gov. Sarah Palin was nominated for vice president, reporters were booking the next flight to Alaska. Some readers thought the Post went over Palin with a fine-tooth comb and neglected Biden. They are right.”
Why didn’t the media cover Biden’s gaffes and foibles? Because they claimed it wasn’t relevant or newsworthy….while Palin’s $150,000 “diva” wardrobe somehow was. Although it is appalling that the RNC spent that much money on campaign clothes, it’s even more appalling that the media broadcasted it since it had little to do with her actual candidacy or qualifications for office.
The media reached its nadir two weeks ago when it began promulgating complaints by anonymous McCain campaign staff about Palin not knowing that Africa was a continent. It turns out that the Africa recriminations were a hoax created by a couple of independent filmmakers pretending to be McCain advisers on a blog. Fox News, MSNBC and the LA Times ran with the blog posts without investigating their validity. But you couldn’t find that news story on the front page of most major newspapers, least of all those that had committed the reporting error.
In the aftermath of the election, the media has been quick to publish salacious stories about the infighting between the McCain and Palin camps, but most sources they cite are anonymous. That means there is no transparency. Anyone can say anything and the media can publish whatever it likes without having to worry about being charged with libel or slander.
It’s understandable that Sarah Palin is “disappointed in the change that I’ve seen in the national media compared to, you know, a couple of decades ago.” She’s right that “one bad apple sometimes does kind of spoil the whole bunch” and that in this election there were “stinkers that have kind of made the whole basket full of apples there once in a while smell kind of bad.”
I wonder how rancid the smell will get before media outlets toss out the rotten apples.