Media's hypocritical fixation on Palin a boon to McCain

Culture wars now a factor in campaign

by Dave Kopel

Rocky Mountain News. September 6, 2008

"Please, media, keep it up." So begged Tom DeLay, speaking at a press panel on Tuesday at the Republican National Convention. According to, DeLay said that "The media has done more for John McCain in the last two days than he's done for himself in the last year and a half."

Why would the hard- nosed Republican want the media's anti-Sarah Palin frenzy to continue?

Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton - expert politicians all - have been polite in their comments about Gov. Palin. The media have not, and they have inadvertently done the Republicans an enormous service by making the culture wars a key factor in the presidential election.

The local and national media's treatment of Palin and her family this week has been the quintessence of hypocrisy, the vilest form of the politics of personal destruction.

When Bill Clinton offered Al Gore the vice presidency in 1992, Clinton had met Gore only once before, according to The New York Times (Oct. 20, 2000). Clinton's thin personal knowledge of Gore did not result in relentless media harping - like that of Rocky Mountain News columnist Mike Littwin this week - that Clinton had not properly vetted Gore.

For Gore had been vetted - in the sense that he was personally well-known and well-liked - by the establishment media.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd fussed that Palin has never been on Meet the Press, a charge that could not possibly be leveled against Gore.

With MSNBC in the forefront, the mainstream media switched sides and recommenced the mommy wars, piously fretting that a Vice President Palin wouldn't spend enough time with her five children, including her Down syndrome baby. (Although it's really four, since the eldest is shipping out to Iraq.) Never mind that the vice presidency has no must-do commitments except showing up in the Senate once every few years to break a tie vote. Compared to being governor of a state, it's rather easy, at least in terms of scheduling flexibility.

Nor have the media worried about how infrequently Obama has seen his little girls in 2007-'08, or how little he would see them, given the enormous responsibilities of the presidency. And by the way, unlike Obama's spouse, Palin's spouse has never announced an intention never to be a stay-at-home parent.

We have been given in-depth analysis - from Rocky columnist Paul Campos among many others - of Palin's decision to fly home to Alaska after her water broke. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think the tactical details of childbirth are a fit topic for political dissection.

Biden's adult son is a Washington, D.C., lobbyist for credit card companies, and Biden sponsored a massive rewrite of the federal bankruptcy code that drastically changed the law to the benefit of credit card companies. The issue has received some attention; nobody could call that coverage obsessive.

On Monday, military control of Anbar province - formerly the stronghold of al- Qaida in Iraq - was turned over to the Iraqi government. But on Monday and Tuesday, the 2 4/7 focus of the media was Bristol Palin getting pregnant before marriage. The media's prurient assault on the governor's 17-year-old daughter was couched in terms of speculation that her pregnancy would alienate conservative Christians - a flimsy pretext, and a maliciously ignorant misunderstanding of the Christian worldview, in which the rule against premarital sex is of far less importance than the commandment against intentionally killing innocents.

An adult child of a candidate who enters the public policy arena - like Ronald Reagan's daughter Nancy Davis (who promoted unilateral nuclear disarmament) or Joe Biden's lobbyist son - is fair game for media analysis. Children who have not chosen to do so have been left alone. In 1992, a Saturday Night Live skit mocking the young Chelsea Clinton produced such tremendous blowback from the rest of the media that she was, properly, left unmolested by the media during the Clinton presidency.

The media have not treated Bristol Palin with comparable respect. I know of no example in American history of the majority of the respectable media intruding so deeply and hurtfully into the personal life of a national candidate's child. This week's treatment of Bristol Palin is a new, shameful low in for the American media. (Kudos to Obama for stating that a candidate's children should be off-limits, as he pointed out that his own mother got pregnant with him when she was 18 and unmarried.)

The media should report topics such as Palin's change of mind on the Bridge to Nowhere, or her former support of pork king Sen. Ted Stevens. Or, if you want, the Internet charges that Palin bullied her way onto the basketball team that won the state championship. But leave her children alone.

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