Searching for Sarah Palin: Why the Media's Intense Scrutiny of the GOP Vice Presidential Candidate Is Essential

By Rieder, Rem | American Journalism Review, October-November 2008 | Go to article overview

Searching for Sarah Palin: Why the Media's Intense Scrutiny of the GOP Vice Presidential Candidate Is Essential


Rieder, Rem, American Journalism Review


Washington Post television writer Lisa de Moraes likes to say in her columns, "We watch so you don't have to."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The news media might say to John McCain's campaign, "We vet so you don't have to."

There has been no shortage of absurdity in the current presidential campaign, but few things are more ridiculous than the torrent of tears de crocodile shed over the big bad media's rough treatment of Sarah Palin.

From the start, the McCain forces have enjoyed deploying the Thrilla from Wasilla at staged events, where she was an instant smash, while shielding the GOP vice presidential candidate from the prying ways of those pesky journalists. McCain Campaign Manager Rick Davis set the ground rules early on when he said Palin would be kept safe from the Fourth Estate gaggle "until the point in time when she'll be treated with some level of respect and deference."

Deference? Really?

I know I read somewhere that the press was supposed to play a watchdog role in the American democracy. But maybe that's just too old-school. In our increasingly complex media and political environment, it's easier and easier to sidestep the MSM. But deference? Isn't that what got us all in trouble in the post-9/11 era, when the press rallied 'round the flag and failed to press the Bush administration hard enough in the run-up to the war in Iraq?

Besides, with her moose-hunting, Alaskan frontier persona, wouldn't you think Sarah Barracuda would be plenty tough enough to handle a bunch of effete, elite Beltway insiders?

And the campaign left the media no alternative. First of all, McCain picked as his No.2 a candidate unknown to pretty much everyone but people who live in Alaska and William Kristol. And he did it, as the New York Times reported, with a pretty cursory investigation of the woman who would be the proverbial heartbeat away. The ensuing reporting has shown just how important media scrutiny is.

No, not the ditty about 17-year-old Bristol Palin's pregnancy. While that got a ton of media attention that served as fodder for outraged thunder from the right, it doesn't have anything to do with Sarah Palin's credentials to be vice president. I'm about as interested in that story as in the latest about Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson, which is to say not at all. I'm thinking about the more substantive probing of Palin the politician and the person.

Remember Palin's alleged "thanks but no thanks" response to the world's most famous bridge, the Bridge to Nowhere? Well, turns out there was much more to the story. First of all, the Palinator was for it before ... well, you know. And she certainly didn't say "no thanks" to the money; she spent it for other purposes. …

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