The Sarah Palin controversy is either the media doing its job or it’s the media with it’s hair on fire. Bob Steele wrote a cogent argument on Poynter.org that ” It’s appropriate for journalists to examine a politician’s beliefs at the intersection of one’s personal and professional lives.”
Mary Matalin made the “hair on fire” charge and now the entire GOP including John McCain have joined the bandwagon to label the media “elitist,” sexist and now McCain warns the media to “lay off.” He lashed out at the Media’s “old boys network.”
I thought Kelly McBride’s piece on Poynter.org was tremendous,. She resisted the idea that the blogosphere dragged mainstream media into the mud with this story. Her suggestion that mainstream media did its job by verifying true facts was a great one. This paragraph could form the spine of a great class session in Media Ethics: “That takes us back to our current object lesson. Watch the YouTube video, then read any news story on this current rumor, and you will see the difference between speculation and verification. You will see the difference between anonymity and accountability. And you will certainly see the difference between uncertain sourcing and certain sourcing.”
That is a sensational description of how media should work. What concerns me is this: Few journalists identify what I consider the true source of this entire problem. That was the McCain camp’s initial secrecy about the pregnancy. As this TV blogger correctly questions, “How long was the Palin camp going to wait to tell us about Bristol’s pregnancy?
McCain officials now say they knew about the pregnancy and campaign Spokesperson Steve Schmidt said “We made a political determination that the American people would not object to a female candidate with a 17-year-old daughter who was pregnant,” Schmidt said Tuesday. “We believed that parents all over America would understand that life happens. The team made a recommendation to the senator that these issues were not disqualifying.”
I happen to agree with that political determination, but I think it is disingenuous for the campaign to act as if they are surprised by all the scrutiny. If the campaign was so comfortable with the fact, why didn’t they include the pregnancy information in the first biography of Palin. If they had done that I think this entire issue would have a very different appearance today.
A non-journalist just asked me in a hallway why Barack Obama did not get the same kind of scrutiny. There is an object lesson in Obama’s disclosure of his cocaine use in his own book. He disclosed! McCain and Palin did not. Disclosure always mutes the “hair on fire” attitude of the press AND the public
The decision to keep the information a secret raises questions whether secrecy will be the campaign’s standard operating procedure. It also inevitably raises the vetting question the Republicans are so vigorously defending.
McCain’s decision to swing for the fences with his vice-presidential question is intriguing and admirable. Yet, he can’t claim an audacious move like that, and then bristle when the news media does the vetting he should have done.