March 19, 2009
Exclusive: Palin in Retrospect: The Mainstream Media Went Insane Last Year
“These are confusing times. Print journalism is dying” – so said Victor Davis Hanson last September. Now that the hysteria of the campaign is over, we can see in retrospect that this claim had more than enough credence to it, and nowhere was this more evident than in the mainstream media’s visceral reaction to Gov. Sarah Palin.
Rewind six months: if an uninterested observer in September picked up a newspaper, read the Associated Press, scanned through the New York Times, or turned on ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, or CNN, they would have likely walked away with the impression that Sen. McCain’s selection for vice president was not the most popular governor in the United States, who oversaw much of the country’s energy reserves, while challenging bureaucracy, her own party, and reforming Alaskan government.
Richard Cohen of the Washington Post called Gov. Sarah Palin a “sitcom” candidate. She has been described as an “empty pantsuit” and “almost absent qualifications for the job.” Joe Biden dismissed her as “obviously a backward step for women,” before adding “she’s good looking” (Michelle Obama’s opinion: “she’s cute”).
Cintra Wilson of Salon referred to Palin as the “Carmella Soprano of the GOP,” a “Republican blow-up doll,” and a “White House bunny” with “Playmate-style bunny ears, big, stupid eyes and her mouth hanging open like someone just punched her.” The ever-brilliant Juan Cole, also of Salon, compared her to Islamic Jihadists and the Guardianship Council of the Iranian dictatorship, rhetorically asking “What’s the difference between Palin and Muslim fundamentalists? Lipstick.”
Carol Fowler, Democratic chairwoman in South Carolina, asserted Palin’s “primary qualification seems to be that she hasn’t had an abortion.” The National Organization for Women claimed Palin was “more a conservative man than she is a woman on women’s issues.” In direct reference to Palin’s governorship, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), visibly proud of his wittiness, said “Barack Obama was a community organizer like Jesus… Pontius Pilate was a governor.”
Sally Quinn of the Washington Post, David Letterman, HBO’s Bill Maher, John Roberts of CNN, and MSNBC’s headlines all wondered aloud if Palin is a poor mother. How can she work and take care of her kids, after all?
Garry Wills of the New York Times demanded Palin “withdraw her nomination” to minimize her “own humiliation.” Maureen Dowd, also from the Times, thought Palin was “forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood.”
Mary Mitchell from the Chicago Sun-Times called Palin a “laughingstock,” adding “Sarah Palin makes me sick.” Keith Boykin of The Daily Voice said Palin made a fool of herself by referring to “Talabani” (she was talking about Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, not the Taliban in Afghanistan). The raspy-voiced Rep. Charlie Rangel called Palin “disabled.” Wendy Doniger wrote in the Washington Post, “Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman.”
Saturday Night Live did a skit implying Palin’s husband, Todd, engaged in incest with his daughters. When it was announced Gov. Palin would be traveling to the UN building in New York to meet foreign heads-of-state, Sandra Bernhard issued a warning to Palin not to enter Manhattan or else she would be “gang-raped by my big black brothers.”
Kate Zernike of the New York Times characterized her UN trip a little less crudely, but just as unprofessionally, when she called her meetings with the leaders of Georgia, Ukraine, Iraq, and Pakistan foreign policy “tutorials,” where Palin and her foreign dignitaries engaged in “small talk about her looks and New York City.”
Funny, isn’t it? When Barack Obama went on his international magical mystery tour last summer, I do not recall the press characterizing his meetings with heads-of-state as “tutorials.”
Just what is it about this woman – who had initially been received well by the majority of the country – that stirred up so much hatred and vitriol from a particular clique in the media and increasingly visceral Democrat circles? Palin is a gifted politician, whose views are not ambiguous. You either agree with her or you disagree with her, and that is understandable. But the “love her or hate her” attitude that pervaded most Beltway circles, perpetuated by the media, was entirely irrational.
Once she was nominated by John McCain, the mainstream media forwarded “stories” and “reports,” asserting that Sarah Palin a) wanted to ban library books in Alaska; b) believes in teaching creationism-only in schools; c) is actually the grandmother of her baby son and is lying us; d) is a member of a fringe-extremist Alaskan party that wants to secede from the United States; e) is responsible for her son’s Down syndrome because she flew on a plane while pregnant; f) did not practice adequate prenatal care; g) is anti-Semitic and supports “Nazi-sympathizing,” ultra-right-wing politicians; h) feels the Iraq war is a task from God; i) cheated on her husband; j) opposes teaching about contraception in sex-education class; k) opposes abortion even if the life of the mother is in jeopardy; l) believes, and claims, that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks; m) used the phrase “Sambo” in reference to Barack Obama; n) is a “global warming denier” – God forbid; o) has a brother in jail; p) was willingly indoctrinated by AIPAC; q) cut state funding for unwed mothers; r) cut funding for the Special Olympics in Alaska; s) stops talking to people when she realizes they’re black – amongst many other claims.
All of which is false, of course. Entirely false.
So what was the deal? In the past, the news media reported stories which could be independently verified. Analysis would be objective. Investigative journalism would require actual transparent investigation. But today, with the advent of the “blog,” any-old Joe Schmo can write whatever he or she wishes on websites like DailyKos.com and MoveOn.org, thereby – in the never ending race to be first – prompting anchormen on cable news and editorialists from mainstream papers to pick up and run with a blog rumor as a “story.”
And if the “story” turns out to be false or a non-story – like the examples listed above – then that becomes the story and a small retraction is issued at the bottom of the last page. Last year’s coverage of Palin exemplified this phenomenon.
With television ratings and newspaper sales lower than ever, it is becoming increasingly evident that Americans can now find their news from alternate sources like the Internet and talk radio. We no longer have to turn on the television and watch old has-beens like Charlie Gibson stare down his interview guests – like Sarah Palin – emotionlessly peering at her over his thin glasses rested at the bottom of his nose, like a University Dean about to reprimand and discipline an out-of-control sorority girl.
That McCain’s selection of Palin was a total surprise for many – for Republicans, for Barack Obama, for the press, etc. – only enhanced the likelihood that the press would, leech-like, cling on to any story which was even remotely juicy. After a no-name blogger posted some year-old photos of the Palin family, and forwarded the notion that Palin looked a little too good to be pregnant and Palin’s 17-year old daughter, Bristol, had a little “baby fat,” the mainstream media ran with the story. What story? The story that there was a rumor. And what rumor? That Bristol Palin is really the mother of Palin’s newborn son Trig, and Palin the grandmother.
The rumor was proven untrue, obviously, but to prove its invalidity the Palin family was forced to reveal the very private and personal fact that Bristol was, in fact, five months pregnant with a baby of her own. Then that became the new smear.
Think about the grotesque nature of it all. Some 50-something DailyKos creep was sitting there, probably in his mother’s basement, analyzing the astute nuances of Bristol Palin’s lower abdomen. After visually scoping her up and down, he concluded that Bristol, a legal minor, was a little too chunky for his liking – therefore obviously pregnant – and posted the Palin family photos and his “journalistic analysis” all over the Internet. Then, even more bizarrely, the lead editorialists of the country’s major newspapers, and the chief executives of the largest news shows on television, decided to report this as objective news.
At the time, Michael Moore, the infamous liberal political critic and movie director, summed up his feelings regarding this episode rather nicely:
Knocking Bush for being a C student only endeared him to the nation of C students. Knock Palin for having kids, for having a kid who’s having a baby, for anything that is part of her normalness – a normalness that looks very familiar to so many millions of Americans – well, you do this at your own peril.
So why would the media behave in this manner? Jonah Goldberg of the National Review explained:
Cockroaches scatter when shocked by a flipped light switch. Grizzly bears attack when startled. And when caught napping by big news, the press corps floods the zone. Editors scream at underlings who missed the story. Networks fret they’ll be scooped. And all of a sudden, the norms and standards become a blur in the race to be first. In the case of Palin, the press vaulted over every principle and standard they’d established about what is and isn’t fair game… it required the Jaws of Life to pry news of John Edwards’ affair out of the mainstream press. But when it came to the personal drama of Palin’s 17-year old daughter, the press clawed for morsels like they were golden tickets from Wonka Bars.
People in the press would say they were just doing their job. The perpetually angry and now-demoted Chris Matthews of MSNBC – who, I never fail to remind my readers, claimed he gets a tingling sensation up his leg whenever he hears Barack Obama speak – responded with indignation. His general attitude was, “How dare you question me and the media for holding the possible vice president’s feet to the fire?”
Touché, Chris. Now how about doing that with the President Obama, as well?
Nobody is suggesting we should have exempted Gov. Palin from examination. The public deserved to know Gov. Palin’s record, which means cataloging and reporting her actual record. Funny business from the New York Times warning that Palin’s mayoralty and governorship suggests she is “secretive,” evident in that she brought in her own cabinet team (the horror!) – as if every executive on the planet doesn’t do that as well – is not analyzing her record; it is an opinion, and a dumb one at that.
Snobbery from Charlie Gibson, quoting Palin out of context then flatly stating “Exact words” when Palin objects, is not analysis of her record; its unprofessional journalism and a bad interview. When Gibson snidely snickers he got “lost in a blizzard of words” after Palin articulately responds to his ridiculous questions, that’s not holding her feet to the fire; that’s just rude. When he asserts that it takes “hubris” for Palin to think she should be elected, that’s not objectivity; that’s just being a jerk.
In the world of information, the elite media is in its last throes. Mark Penn, a prominent Clinton strategist, now asserts that the press has lost its credibility. Lanny Davis, Terry McAuliffe of the DNC, and Gov. Ed Rendell – famous surrogates of Hillary Clinton – all echo that same theme. In sending hit-squads to tiny Wasilla, not reporting Gov. Palin’s record but pillaging matters of privacy, hacking into her e-mail account, and forwarding private e-mails to the press, the mainstream media behaved in a manner that they would all collectively describe as Orwellian and fascist if Ashcroft’s Justice Department were to act this way to an al Qaida suspect. They proved they were everything they claimed Dick Cheney to be.
The media was fearful because Palin’s political character exposed the extreme far-left for what it is: an ideology whose existence is rooted in parasitically paying lip service to, but never genuinely supporting, movements of authentic liberation. Their feminism is the type that doesn’t care whether or not women play on an equal field, and advance accordingly, but whether or not women en masse will be co-opted to support their social and cultural beliefs in the hope that someone is speaking for them.
Just as prominent African-American conservatives like Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, Condi Rice et. al. were castigated as “sell-outs” and “Uncle Toms,” so too Sarah Palin proved a woman can hunt, dress a moose, raise five kids, run the largest state in the country, and excel on her own merit alone, without familial ties or matrimony to powerful men – unlike a Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, or Diane Feinstein – without “mastery” in Ivy League “oppression studies,” rabid support for all forms of abortion, or a general off-putting attitude that suggests all men are evil and somehow stand in their way. Palin’s success essentially said to girls, “If you want, there’s another route you can travel.”
Before Barack Obama’s election, only two Democrats had been elected to the White House since 1968 (Carter and Clinton). Both were from the South and at least portrayed themselves as centrist moderates at the time of their election. Neither of them would have reached the presidency without an unusual variable (Watergate for Carter, Ross Perot’s third candidacy for Clinton).
Democrats in 2008 were aware of this. They knew they have had a poor showing during the last four decades. And at least demographically, they still know they need to rely on a few core “blocs” to ever get elected again – namely, minorities and women.
In their view, Gov. Palin threatened not just Obama’s chances in 2008, but she threatened the Democrat Party as a whole, as an institution. All of this had led to a feeling of extreme unease. Their answer? To forgo all standards of media objective analysis and attack Sarah Palin and her family in any way, shape, or form. Years from now, journalism classes will look back at this and marvel.
Paraphrasing Goldberg, yet again: there were legitimate criticisms to make of Gov. Palin. But that is not the same thing as saying all of the criticisms were valid or that the intensity and magnitude of the criticism was warranted.