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Palin Family and the Media

The Palin family continues to be the Simpsons of Alaskan politics. We can take the advice of the producers of the animated TV show. Whatever they do, we should do the opposite. It seems every story about the Palins could be condensed into two words: bad judgment.  Not that I am lacking any sympathy or compassion for them. I am not gloating over the latest news that Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston have broken up. Back in my college days, I had a few male friends caught in the situation of getting a girlfriend knocked up. In those situations, the couples got married and were able to work it out. Of course, they were able to do it outside the glare of worldwide publicity or the focus of a gossip-driven media. They didn’t have a parent running for national office. Sarah Palin does blame the media for everything that has gone wrong for her and her family. Then again, what else could we expect from the media, and what was Palin’s responsibility in how her family was covered? We could also ask about John McCain’s role.

I am not arguing that Palin’s nomination was a mistake. Placing a woman on the ticket was a move in the right direction for the Republicans. And nobody expects a perfect family life from any candidate. Parenting skills shouldn’t determine one’s fitness for office, and, even if they did, we should not base our judgment of Sarah Palin on her teenage daughter’s pregnancy. These things happen to the best and worst of families. The mistake was the way the nomination process was handled, and that is where McCain and Palin bear responsibility.

While Sarah Palin’s name had been circulating in the conservative media for months, she was never placed on any official short list. The announcement that was made just before the Republican Convention took most reporters by surprise. There had been no high profile meetings in the weeks before the announcement.  And yes, the selection was intentionally kept secret to steal Obama’s and the Democrats’ thunder. Even the Palin children were kept in the dark and misled on the reasons they were traveling to Dayton. And suddenly, there they were at a huge rally, posing for the cameras. Bristol was handed her youngest brother Trig to hold in front of her swelling belly.

Knowing so little about the VP candidate, it was natural that the media would start digging for stories to fill the vacuum. This quickly led to the admission of Bristol’s pregnancy after the denials of blog rumors that she was Trig’s real mother. At least one serious issue emerged with the story, the effectiveness of abstinence only education. Otherwise, the Palin soap opera generated more heat than light.

Conservatives complained the Palins were victims of a double-standard. Would a liberal candidate get nicer treatment by the press? I don’t think so. The media didn’t shy away from the Lewinsky scandal and was happy to supply us all the details about cigars and stained dresses. Nor did the media deal any differently with John Edwards.

In fact, both John and Elizabeth Edwards deserved exactly what they got. Both of them lied about John’s affair and did not consider the potential damage when he decided to run a second time for President. Imagine what could have happened if Edwards became the presidential or vice-presidential nominee and this story came out just before the general election. I feel bad that Elizabeth Edwards is fighting breast cancer, but she has lost all credibility with me. She was willing to sacrifice the causes she believed in to achieve the selfish goal of taking residency in the White House.

Nor has the media been unfair to former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich . The silliest argument against his impeachment was that he had not received his day in court. Yes, we all have a right to a fair trial, but the holding of public office is not a right. It is a privilege. Impeaching Blagojevich didn’t land him in prison. It just removed him from office. The voters have a right to demand a higher standard from its public officials and fire them if scandals prevent them from adequately handling their jobs.

And how could have McCain and Palin acted differently? McCain could have been upfront with the media about considering her for the ticket from the beginning. There could have been a well publicized visit to McCain’s Phoenix home, similar to those visits by the other short list candidates. Palin’s story could have been aired weeks before the Daytona rally. By that time, Bristol’s pregnancy would have been old news. With more time, Levi Johnston could convincingly explain his comments on his MySpace page as immature jokes. Actual sympathy for the teenage couple could develop, allowing Sarah Palin to address more serious issues, such as her qualifications to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Instead, McCain took a gamble. Maybe he was afraid that an early announcement would land Hillary Clinton the VP spot. Maybe he really wanted  Joe Lieberman so bad and hated Mitt Romney so much that Palin became the compromise that would satisfy his party’s social conservatives. In the end, he came off looking weak and impulsive as a decision maker. His reaction to the economic collapse a month later didn’t help. Not only did the gamble backfire on McCain, it showed he was more interested in using Palin as a publicity stunt than finding the best person to potentially lead the country. That is especially odd for a candidate who’s motto was “Country First.”

I do feel compassion for Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston in their decision to end their engagement. I feel even more for the infant Tripp who didn’t volunteer to be involved in any of this. But, like the rest of us who must live with the mistakes we make, I am sure the three of them will get by one way or another. A compassionate news media may allow them to fade from public attention until at least 2012. Then God help us.

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March 14, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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