Sunday, September 7, 2008

NY Times' public editor: Nothing wrong with Palin scrutiny

Responding to some of his key arguments:

He writes: And, yes, it was inevitable, and right to a more limited degree, that her family would come under the spotlight, too. As Bill Keller, The Times’s executive editor, said, “Senator McCain presented Mrs. Palin’s experience as a mother as one of her qualifications for the job.”

This misses the point. The question wasn't whether Palin's family, and specifically Bristol Palin's pregnancy, should have been news. I believe the pregnancy was news - to a limited degree. My problem with the Bristol coverage was with the magnitude, tone, and degree of coverage. I do not believe Bristol should have been page 1 news. I believe the story was covered out of proportion to the issue's relevancy to Sarah Palin's ability to lead. I think it should have been a short inside one-day story. Finally, I seriously question the nexus that some drew between Bristol's pregnancy and whether Sarah Palin should run for VP as a result.

It was also predictable that party professionals would object vigorously to stories that might undermine the image they were trying to project of Palin as an accomplished governor successfully juggling her “hockey mom” family duties while fighting corruption in Alaska.

The argument here is that any time a candidate includes motherhood (or fatherhood) as a part of his or her biography it opens the door to a free-for-all regarding that candidate's family members' private lives. Well then... that's a standard not applied to the male politicians in the race, even when there IS more of a nexus to the candidate's public life. I don't recall hearing much about Joe Biden's son's lobbying activities, for example.

Just about all of the candidates, from the primaries on, included parenthood as a part of their biographies to some degree. The only degree to which Palin has done this more so than others was by specifically attaching the label "hockey mom" to herself and talking about breastfeeding in People Magazine (and there was no way the men could talk about the latter anyway). Consider how Obama appeared on Access Hollywood with his girls. Consider the way the Obama girls appeared on stage at the Democratic National Convention. For goodness sake, both Obama and McCain wrote books about fathers. The point is: Just because Palin includes motherhood in her biography does not justify the type and degree of coverage that resulted, especially because it's not applied equally to other candidates. It's true the media talk more about Palin's motherhood than the fatherhood of the other candidates, but that's the media's decision.

But the Times article that drew the strongest complaints from the McCain camp was the one that questioned not her record but his judgment. Published on Tuesday’s front page, the morning after Palin announced her daughter’s pregnancy, the article said that revelation and a series of lesser disclosures called into question how thoroughly McCain had examined Palin’s background....

Exactly. The problem that many people had with the "vetting" hysteria was the clear assumption driving that story that there was something wrong with McCain's vetting because Palin's daughter was pregnant and her husband had a 24-year-old drunk driving arrest, etc. No one turned up anything relevant or problematic to the race that McCain should have vetted, yet they still wrote hysterical stories making him sound reckless for not properly vetting Palin. Furthermore, McCain HIMSELF told the media about the Bristol pregnancy, so he clearly knew about it. Shouldn't the media come up with something serious that McCain should have vetted before they make it a big deal that he supposedly didn't properly vet Palin?
I took The Times to task for not trying to report the Edwards story until he acknowledged his affair, but once Edwards came forward, The Times put it on the front page and continued digging. In Palin’s case, the first hint of the daughter’s pregnancy was the family’s announcement of it, and once that happened, it was front-page news everywhere, including the conservative Washington Times. Palin was the anointed Republican vice presidential candidate, and her family was very much part of the biography she was presenting to voters.
It doesn't exonerate the Times just because it was front-page news everywhere. Regarding the bio, see earlier critique. I am one of those who think the media should NOT have reported the Edwards' story without proof. But that story involved Edwards' behavior, whereas the Bristol Palin story involves Bristol's behavior, not Sarah's.
Two of the New York Times articles were not directly about Bristol Palin: they were about how well McCain researched his choice and about women’s discussions on how Sarah Palin could balance the demands of the vice presidency with the demands of having a pregnant teenager, a baby with Down syndrome and two other children at home.
This is even worse. I don't recall the Times writing stories discussing the challenges male candidates have had balancing the demands of the presidency or vice presidency with their children and family lives.

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