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The Media as Villains in the Palin Story? Not Guilty, Your Honor

5 years ago
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With all due respect, Carl: Horsepucky.

To claim that Sarah Palin is the victim of leftist journalism gone unusually amok is to cherry-pick the record and ignore the circumstances of her candidacy.

Where do I start?

I was one of the hundreds of U.S. journalists who reported on Palin last year but somehow never made it onto a cable TV talkfest. (My small corner was mostly looking at her religious background and its relevancy -- if any -- to her ideas about governance.)

So I resent the broad-brush accusation you apply to journalism as a whole. For the most part, you draw your examples from opinionists, some of whom do some journalism. And you ignore the opinionists who fail to support your conclusion.

For instance: Charles Gibson's "Bush Doctrine" question to Palin was roundly criticized in the days after that interview by pundits large and small. With the help of Nexis, I found just a few: Charles Krauthammer, Frank Luntz, Dan K. Thomasson, Michael Gerson, Mona Charen, Clifford D. May, Helle Dale, Dennis Prager -- even Clarence Page -- came to her defense.

And as to your broader claim that Biden got a pass on his gaffes: I know you didn't sleep through the campaign. "Gaffe" was as inextricably linked to "Biden" in those months as "hockey" was to "Palin." (Seriously: Do a Google search for "Biden" and "gaffe.")

But there's an obvious difference between Biden and Palin that you did not mention: Biden had a public record that went back decades. Votes, speeches, releases, positions taken. Palin did not.

In baseball, a new player's batting average will shift with every at-bat. For someone who has been in the lineup for a while, not so much. So too in the campaign: When Biden repeatedly misspoke -- as had been widely predicted -- the media and the public had a long context in which to place the bobbles of the day. With Palin, what she said was pretty much what we -- journalists and voters -- had to go on.

But even beyond that, Carl, do you suggest there was no fact-checking of the vice presidential candidates' debate by the media at the time? Here's one. And here's one. And here's another. And here's the GOP's list of Biden's errors that I know I heard most about on Fox (which had pretty good ratings during the campaign, as I recall).

Did any of them include your entire list? Nah. But did media large and small provide timely and ample examples of Biden's errors in that debate for anybody who was paying attention? Yup.

Let's shift to your complaint about how Palin was treated online and in e-mails. I got those same e-mails about the banned library books, etc. I also got the ones about Obama being a Muslim. (I'm still getting those.)

So? That's not journalism. Journalism is, in fact, the debunking of those online rumors about Palin. Which the fine folks at Snopes.com (to choose a respected online source) had done by September.

Attacking journalism in general because of spam e-mails and partisan blogs is like attacking the financial industry because of Nigerian bank scam e-mails.

Let me make this personal: In the days immediately after Palin was picked for the GOP ticket, a fierce debate (fierce in some quarters, anyway) spun up about whether she was a Pentecostal and what that might mean to the campaign. I was one of several religion reporters across the country who sifted through every public record we could find to come up with an answer. I found this. And this. And this.

Did I go hunting for Joe Biden's religious track record in the days after he was named to Obama's ticket? I did not, because that topic had been chewed over for many years. Discussions about whether Biden was a "good Catholic" and whether that would make a difference in the campaign were already littering the public record. Was I unfair to Palin? I think not.

Finally, here's where I agree with you: TV and the Internet have blurred the lines between journalism and opinion. The 2008 campaign provided ample examples of that. On the left and on the right. But that makes it all the more important to recognize that lots of real journalism was and is still being done.

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