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The Palin Brigade

The ConWeb had a mission: Make Sarah Palin look good despite the facts, and impugn the motives of her critics. Mission accomplished.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 9/18/2008

When John McCain named Sarah Palin as his vice president, the ConWeb knew what to do: Make her look good, spin away negative stuff, and impugn the motives of any Palin critic.

The first order of business was to shoot down rumors that Palin's new baby was actually her teenage daughter's. This would require the ConWeb to flip-flop from its previous embrace of tabloid journalism -- well, at least when a Democrat like John Edwards was the target.

NewsBusters and the Media Research Center quickly rose to the occasion. An Aug. 30 NewsBusters post by Warner Todd Huston declared the claim an "absurd calumny," "garbage,""lies," and a "nutcase theory." What evidence did Huston offer to counter the claim and support his attacks? None.

Huston upped his attacks in an Aug. 31 post, calling the claim "nothing but a lie" and a "scurrilous claim" and adding, "Next thing we know, the [Daily Kos] Kossacks and [Democratic Underground] DUers are going to expect us to believe that Big Foot and some gray aliens were the attendants at the birth!" This time, Huston takes a stab at debunking it: "All the speculation on whether Governor Palin was pregnant is easily put to rest by the eyewitness account of Elizabeth Eubanks from April 29 of this year. Eubanks was in an airport in Fairbanks waiting for a flight when she unexpectedly saw Governor Palin in the airport also waiting for a flight." But Eubanks' account didn't disprove any of the circulating rumors -- which, according to the Daily Kos post cited by Huston as the source of this "absurd calumny," centered on the fact that Palin didn't announce her pregnancy until she was seven months along and rumors that she didn't look as pregnant as claimed to be. Huston bellowing that the story isn't true doesn't make it so.

Then, purportedly in an effort to counter the rumors (but also, it seems, to dump negative news over a holiday weekend -- in the words of Palin adviser Tucker Eskew, "flush the toilet" -- when nobody's paying attention), the Plain campaign announced that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter, Bristol Palin, was five months pregnant.

So the ConWeb had something new to spin away. In a Sept. 1 NewsBusters post, Jacob Lybbert blamed the media:

I think I've got it now. These are the MSM rules when dealing with the personal lives of national candidates and/or members of their family:

Given the chance to publicly embarrass and humiliate a Republican candidate's 17 year old daughter, do it.

If it's a moralizing former Democratic candidate for president, well, leave that to the National Enquirer.

Today, to head off the many tawdry rumors being passed back and forth between the Daily Kos diarists and their plagiarists in the MSM, the McCain camp announced that Governor Sarah Palin's 17 year old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant.

Lybbert offered no evidence that "the MSM" reported any of the Palin rumors before Bristol Palin's pregnancy was announced by the McCain-Palin campaign.

Lybbert went on to lament how "these types of things happen to the best of parents--even parents like the Palins" (though offering no evidence that the Palins are "the best of parents"). Mark Finkelstein similarly weighed in with his own NewsBusters post: "Yes, teenagers have sex, including children of the prominent and pro-life. Does ABC mean to imply that Sarah Palin is [a] poor mother? Bristol Palin ... is keeping the baby and marrying the father. Shouldn't we be celebrating those choices and the mother who instilled the values they reflect?"

It wouldn't be the ConWeb if there wasn't a double standard involved, and indeed, this newfound laid-back treatment of pregnant teenagers conflicts with the MRC's previous attitude on the subject. From MRC chief Brent Bozell's Dec. 28, 2007, column:

The year ended with the news that Britney’s 16-year-old sister Jamie Lynn Spears, a star of the children’s channel Nickelodeon, was pregnant.

Had the youngest Spears sister been cast as a tawdry teenage tramp on “Desperate Housewives,” her real-world behavior would be seen as less scandalous. But Jamie Lynn Spears has been a fairly wholesome star on Nickelodeon since she joined the kiddie sketch-comedy show “All That” at the tender age of 11. She’s currently the cool title character of the show “Zoey 101,” set at a boarding school, a show watched by millions of grade-schoolers. So much for role models.

At the center of this vortex is the mother, Lynne Spears, who had her publishing contract “delayed indefinitely” for a book on parenting celebrity children, now that it’s painfully apparent she doesn’t know diddly about parenting celebrity children. The Spears family and their long trail of tabloid embarrassments make them some of 2007's biggest losers.

Got that? Jamie Lynn Spears is a "loser," but Bristol Palin is being unfairly embarrassed in public, even though both engaged in the exact same behavior.

The Media Research Center quickly followed with a Sept. 2 press release howling about the "utter shamelessness" of "the leftist media" for not reporting only positive things about Sarah Palin. The MRC does know from utter shamelessness. Despite offering a blanket indictment of "leftist media" coverage of Palin, it offered only a handful of examples that fell short of documenting said blanket indictment; such as declaring that CNN's John Roberts dove right down to the bottom" by asking whether "the role of vice president" would detract from Palin caring for an infant with "Down's [sic] syndrome."

The MRC, of course, made no mention of the fact that people on its side of the political fence were asking the same question. A Sept. 2 WorldNetDaily column by Olivia St. John, for instance, pointed out that "when Palin gave birth to her fifth child, she dutifully returned to her work as governor after three days," adding, "At a time when many former feminists cry foul upon realizing they were duped into thinking they could do it all, few seem to be asking if Palin can do it all."

Brent Bozell's Sept. 2 column, meanwhile, took the same tone as the press release; he made no mention of his previous criticism of Spears. And a Sept. 4 MRC press release quoted Bozell complaining that the media has "gone after her in a manner usually reserved for" -- wait for it -- "the tabloids."

As the Palin rumor mill moved to an actual tabloid level with the National Enquirer's claim that Palin had an affair, the folks at NewsBusters redoubled their efforts (not to mention their hypocrisy). Noel Sheppard was moved to title a Sept. 3 post "Tabloids Gone Wild: Palin in the Checkout Counter Crosshairs" and include a photo montage of tabloid covers, though he inexplicably crops the Enquirer's nameplate off its cover declaring "Sarah Palin's DARK SECRETS!" Of course, a few weeks earlier Sheppard was touting how "the National Enquirer has been vindicated for revealing John Edwards' affair."

Huston similarly grumbled: "And the smear train rolls onward... now the National Enquirer is set to publish a front-pager claiming that Governor Sarah Palin has had a sexual affair outside of her marriage to husband Todd Palin." But less than a month ago, he too was defending the honor of the Enquirer and its "basically true" reporting on Edwards against "the Old Media deciding when something is officially 'news.'"

As more controversies popped up, NewsBusters strained credulity trying to slap them down:

  • A Sept. 3 post by Matthew Sheffield suggested that CNN's Campbell Brown will "go down as the next Dan Rather in the halls of liberal bias infamy" because of an interview with McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds in which he repeatedly refused to give a straight answer to Brown's question of what kind of foreign-policy experience Palin has or even "one decision that she made as commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard." Sheffield put his own spin on it, of course, asserting that Brown "repeatedly attacked Bounds over Sarah Palin's supposed lack of qualifications" and failing to note that Bounds never bothered to actually answer the question he was asked. Sheffield also portrayed it as some kind of vindication that in a later segment on CNN, "Brown admitted that Palin had, in fact, deployed the Alaska National Guard to fight forest fires."
  • A Sept. 3 post by Kerry Picket complained that Chris Matthews portrayed Palin was "a member of Alaska’s Independence party," even after "Howard Fineman mentioned he received documentation from the McCain campaign showing Palin had been a registered Republican since 1982 and never a member of the Alaskan Independence party," finally declaring, "The connection to Palin still remains weak." Picket doesn't mention that Palin's husband was an actual member in the party for several years or that Palin apparently attended the party's convention with her husband in 1994, or that Palin sent video messages to the party's 2006 and 2008 conventions, and "visited" the 2000 convention.
  • A Sept. 3 post by Terry Trippany desperately tried to spin Palin's laughing along with an Alaska radio host's depiction of another Alaska politician, Lyda Green, as a "cancer" (Green is a cancer survivor) and a "bitch." Trippany insisted that things were taken "woefully out of context" and that "Palin appeared to be caught off guard and gave a short laugh while [radio host Bob] Lester continued to criticize Green." Trippany then tried to make the case that Green really is a bitch.

Even media fact-checks were attacked. A Sept. 5 NewsBusters post by Lyndsi Thomas asserted that a fact-check of Palin's Republican National Convention speech by CNN "needs a little fact checking of its own":

One of the statements in Palin's speech that CNN found "false" was her claim that she "stood up to the special interests and the lobbyists." To negate this claim, Feyerick said, "Palin was the Wasilla mayor to hire a Washington lobbyist, securing $11 million in special funding for the town." However, Palin prefaced this particular statement by saying "This was the spirit that brought me to the governor's office, when I took on the old politics as usual in Juneau," signifying that her claim of standing up to special interests, lobbyists and big oil companies took place when she became governor.

In other words, she was for it before she was against it, and that's a distinction Thomas doesn't think is worthy of note.

In a similar nitpicking vein, a Sept. 5 post by Michael M. Bates takes issue with the Chicago Tribune's vetting of Palin's claim that when she decided to sell a state-owned jet, "I put it on eBay." The Tribune pointed out that "Palin's statement implied the plane was sold through the online auction site," when in fact it didn't sell on eBay and was ultimately sold through other means. Bates didn't like that approach, choosing to go ultra-literal, asserting that "She didn't assert the plane sold on eBay, merely that 'I put it on eBay.'"

Bates might want to mention that to John McCain, who falsely declared that Palin "took the luxury jet that was acquired by her predecessor and sold it on eBay — made a profit." See, he thinks "put on eBay" means "sold on eBay" too!

(Four other NewsBusters posts performed the same nit-picking job over the jet.)

NewsBusters finally got to the point where facts ceased to matter. A Sept. 9 post by Tom Blumer attempted to draw attention away from the fact that Palin's claim that she "told Congress 'thanks but no thanks' on the bridge to nowhere" was, in fact, a bald-faced lie by pointing to a statement by Alaska Democrats noting that the bridge was "officially abandoned" under Palin. Blumer then asserts: "We can quibble about specifics. But the fact is that Palin was governor when the project was abandoned, and no amount of spinning can change that." Blumer neglected that Congress stopped the earmark for the bridge in November 2005, more than a year before Palin took office and that Palin was a supporter of the bridge when she ran for governor. As Josh Marshall pointed out, "She couldn't say 'No Thanks' because Congress had already said 'Forget It'." Oh, and Palin never returned the money for the bridge, instead spending it on other projects.

But that's just a "quibble" to Blumer.

In a Sept. 10 post, Mark Finkelstein took a whack at Howard Fineman for claiming that "Barack Obama was not making fun of Sarah Palin when he talked about some Republican putting 'lipstick on a pig,'" asserting: "Short of sodium pentathol, or Carnac-like gifts, how can Howard possibly know what was in Obama's mind when he uttered his lipstick line?" But earlier that day, Finkelstein was doing his own mind-reading by declaring, "Obama knew darn well what he was saying."

A Sept. 10 MRC CyberAlert item by Brent Baker began: "With fresh media polls showing Sarah Palin causing a sizable percent of women to shift to support John McCain from Barack Obama, CBS and NBC on Tuesday night devoted full stories to fact check examinations to discredit her, specifically on the so-called 'Bridge to Nowhere,' even though all the newscasts have already run stories on how she was for the bridge earmark during her 2006 gubernatorial campaign." But that's a correlation-equals-causation fallacy; Baker has no evidence that one led to the other.

In a Sept. 13 NewsBusters post, Noel Sheppard declared that a New York Times article on Sarah Palin's years as Wasilla mayor and Alaska governor is a "hit piece" that "attacked Palin early and often." But nowhere does Sheppard dispute any of the information in the article -- specifically, the article's assertion that Palin "pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance," as well as that she hired "at least five schoolmates" to government posts "often at salaries far exceeding their private sector wages."

The MRC and NewsBusters weren't the only ones on the ConWeb to fall madly for Palin. WorldNetDaily's news pages were positively orgasmic:

  • "A star is born," trumpeted the headline on a Sept. 4 article by Art Moore, who gushed that Palin "rose above the expectations birthed last week when John McCain stunned the nation by choosing the Alaska governor as his running mate."
  • A Sept. 3 article by Moore uncritically reported that "six female Republican leaders denounced 'the outrageous smear campaign'" against Palin, failing to note that McCain's own national campaign co-chair, former eBay chairman Meg Whitman, said that it was "the right thing to do" for the media to dig into the background of someone who is "running for the highest office in the land" and that she didn't detect any sexism in the news coverage.
  • A Sept. 5 article by Moore profiled members of Alaska's delegation at the Republican National Convention, who declared "bring it on" to "reporters probing every nook and cranny of their popular governor's life and work." Moore also defended the McCain campaign's pushback against allegations that Palin was not properly vetted prior to her selection and downplayed claims that Palin fired the state's public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, "because he refused to dismiss the governor's brother-in-law, a state trooper going through a messy divorce with her sister," adding that "Other members of the state's delegation contend it's clear Monegan should have fired the trooper for gross misbehavior, such as driving drunk on the job and Tasing a young teen."

Meanwhile, WND editor Joseph Farah -- exacerbating the disconnect between Farah's "none of the above" campaign that purports to oppose both McCain and Obama and the utter lack of critical coverage of McCain on WND's news pages -- grudgingly admitted in a Sept. 4 column that "I have to admit, I like Sarah Palin. In fact, if she were at the top of the ticket, I would probably vote for her myself," but the problem is that "she's not on the top of the ticket. Sadly, she is window dressing for the ascension of John McCain to the presidency," who he insists is "a radical extremist on illegal immigration." Farah added in a Sept. 15 column: "I like Sarah Palin very much. If she were at the top of the Republican ticket, it would certainly change my thinking. But she isn't. She is running for vice president. John McCain is the presidential candidate, and I believe he will be a disaster for this country."

Nevertheless, WND went on to spend its news space explaining away and excusing various Palin scandals.

A Sept. 16 article by Chelsea Schilling suggested that Palin -- who "has a pro-life voting record and has not indicated support for the morning-after pill" -- was correct to make rape victims pay for police evidence-collection kits because they include "emergency contraception." Schilling then repeated a claim by Feminists for Life, of which Palin is a member, that emergency contraception medications Preven and Plan B "actually act as an abortifacient in many cases by preventing the implantation of an already-fertilized human embryo." In fact, according to Amanda Marcotte at RH Reality Check, emergency contraception "works the same way as the birth control pill by suppressing ovulation" and, thus, is not an abortifacient since a fertilized egg is not involved.

Another Sept. 16 article, by Bob Unruh, uncritically repeated claims by the conservative Liberty Legal Institute -- which Unruh describes only as a "Texas law firm" -- that an Alaska investigation into Palin's firing of Alaska public safety commissioner Walt Monegan, allegedly for not firing a state trooper involved in a contentious divorce with Palin's sister, has "lost the appearance of impartiality required under the Alaska Constitution." Unruh wrote that Palin "has said Monegan declined to cooperate with her budgetary plan for the state and was insubordinate," but didn't note that this is, as TPM Muckraker detailed, "the third substantive explanation given by Palin for that departure. And, to one degree or another, all those explanations contradict each other." Unruh also wrote that "She has said Monegan himself has confirmed that she never asked him to fire the trooper," but not that, according to the Anchorage Daily News, an audio recording shows an aide to Palin "pressuring the Public Safety Department to fire a state trooper embroiled in a custody battle with her sister."

Unruh also plays the idiot messenger, never bothering to explain why a "Texas law firm" that claims a mission to "protect religious freedoms and First Amendment rights for individuals, groups and churches" would get involved in a state-level dispute in Alaska that does not involve religious freedom. Nor does Unruh ask who is funding the legal work of the Liberty Legal Institute in this case. But then, incomplete, one-sided reporting is how Unruh rolls.

At Newsmax, James Hirsen fluffed Palin's short tenure as a sports reporter for a TV station in Alaska for a couple years after college, baselessly claiming in a Sept. 2 column that this "gives mainstream media the jitters": "Palin's experience as a journalist should really come in handy when the mainstream press start brandishing their long knives, hoping for the Alaska governor to make a geographic error or mispronounce the name of an obscure world leader."

A Sept. 8 "analysis" -- credited only to "Newsmax Staff" -- purported to make the case that Sarah Palin is the victim of "smears." Seeming to take cues from Moore's one-sided reporting at WND, it stated:

Meanwhile, the media has been elevating minor controversies in Palin’s home state of Alaska to national “scandals.” For example, the firing of a state trooper who allegedly Tasered his own 10-year-old son has been elevated to an international human-rights case.

That description of the "troopergate" controversy is completely wrong. The trooper in question hasn't been fired; Palin has, however, fired the trooper's boss, the state public commissioner, reportedly for not firing the trooper -- who is embroiled in a bitter divorce battle with Palin's sister -- upon Palin's demand. Further, the trooper has already been disciplined by state officials over the Tasering incident and others; he has said that his stepson (not his son, as Newsmax claimed) "wanted to feel the Taser in the same way that troopers tested the device on themselves during training," the device was set on test, and "When it was over he thought it was great and wanted to do it all again. He was bragging about it and telling everyone in the family about it."

One has to love Newsmax's sudden concern over "elevating minor controversies ... to national 'scandals.'" Isn't that what Christopher Ruddy and Newsmax (not to mention other right-wingers) did to the Clintons regarding Whitewater a decade ago?

Newsmax columnist Lowell Ponte undertook a massive leap of logic and common sense, in his Sept. 2 Newsmax column in order to bizarrely accuse Democrats of racism:

[Palin's] husband, the liberal media reported, back in the 1980s got a ticket for driving “under the influence.”

This seemingly trivial story is actually the opening wedge of a multi-pronged orchestrated left-wing attack designed to appeal to the racism that has always been at the heart of the Democratic Party.

Palin’s husband, you see, is part Native American. His ancestors include Inuits, i.e., Eskimos. But if this fact enters the news untinted by left-wing bias, it would show Gov. Palin to be inclusive, non-racist, and noble — qualities the media intends to prevent voters from seeing.

The liberal media is therefore falsely implying that Palin’s husband is alcoholic, and from there it will echo those left-wing blogs who paint him with the “drunken Indian” racist stereotype long promoted by Democrats.

Huh? When has any major media figure -- or even a minor one -- claimed that Todd Palin's DUI was a direct result of being of Eskimo descent? And when have Democrats ever described Native Americans as "drunken Indians"? Ponte made no effort to substantiate his claims.

Ponte also engaged in some Finkelstein-esque mind-reading when he said of Obama's "lipstick on a pig remark" in a Sept. 11 column: "Yes, Mr. Obama was doing precisely this, and he deserves the backlash he is receiving from women and men across the political spectrum."

Like NewsBusters, Newsmax also started treating the truth about Palin as irrelevant: A Sept. 15 article by Jim Meyers portrayed anyone who corrected her falsehoods or pointed out her thin record as "gang[ing] up" on her and "unleash[ing] new attacks."

At Accuracy in Media, Cliff Kincaid joined Newsmax's Hirsen in overstating Palin's journalistic credentials in a Sept. 7 column: "More than most, she should understand the journalism 'profession' and its liberal bias."

Kincaid followed that up by using his Sept. 9 column to endorse the views of a misogynist. Kincaid approvingly cited Marc Rudov, who claimed that women who are critical of Sarah Palin are "fascist feminists." Kincaid described Rudov's column, posted on right-wing, as an "insightful article"; of Rudov's claim that Palin "has achieved success while expressing love and admiration for her husband, anathema to the misandrist underpinning of fascistic feminism," Kincaid added: "Palin can never be forgiven for this. That is why she must be destroyed."

Kincaid overlooked some claims made by Rudov that were less than insightful, such has his assertion that feminism "has evolved into a militant, totalitarian train of entitlement, misandry, superiority, and privilege," that the "unconstitutional Violence Against Women Act" is a "passport for female-on-male violence and false claims of male violence," and that the National Organization of Women is "a fascist organization."

Additionally, Rudov is on record as:

  • Describing the downside of a woman president: "You mean besides the PMS and the mood swings, right?" (Doesn't that conflict with Rudov's endorsement of Palin?)
  • Claiming that "that most American women are as shallow as" the characters on "Sex and the City."
  • Asserting that if "the woman is complaining that the man doesn't work enough around the house," it may be because "she said 'I do' at the altar and 'I don't' in the bedroom."
  • Said of Hillary Clinton: "The woman is not called a B-word because she's assertive and aggressive; she's called a B-word because she acts like one."
  • Claimed, against statistical evidence, that "women are equal-opportunity domestic abusers."

That Kincaid thinks a man like this is "insightful" says much about Kincaid himself -- not to mention the kind of people who have so unquestioningly flocked to support Sarah Palin.

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