by Adam | Yesterday, I read a devastating takedown of the mainstream media's coverage of the DNC by Eric Boehlert of Media Matters. I highly, highly recommend that piece in it's entirety; it's a meticulous deconstruction of the media's artificial focus on the non-story of Hillary Clinton's embrace of Barack Obama. As he says at one point,
I suspect if a truth serum poll could have been conducted in Denver to find out how many professional pol watchers within the press corps actually thought that Bill or Hillary Clinton would refuse to "embrace" Obama at the convention, the answer would have been zero. But how many within the press pretended for days that that was a possibility? Almost all of them.
In another story he wrote a few days earlier, Boehlert goes into even deeper detail as to how historically normal it is for Hillary to be placed in the roll call, and to get a speaking role at the convention. This follows earlier articles of his from the primary season where he highlights the media overblown reactions to fairly conventional actions by Hillary's campaign.
While I've often felt that the negative feelings Hillary supporters directed toward the Obama campaign were more appropriately focussed on the media, I'm not particularly interested in re-hashing the primary wars. Unfortunately, though, this recent history is becoming quite relevant, as it helps understand much of what is going on in the ongoing Sarah Palin saga.
There are two distinct ways in which the media's tendency toward tabloid style coverage in general, and their bizarre fixation on Hillary in particular, are driving the way this story is playing out.
The first is the way in which so much coverage of Sarah Palin has focussed not only on Bristol Palin's pregnancy, but on the appropriateness of covering Bristol Palin's pregnancy. The Republicans have pushed back very hard on this issue, which of course makes it a bigger issue, particularly when they invent their own new angles of media inquiry.
Let's be clear on why the media started covering this. It's not "liberal media bias" - an animal which has become hard to find in the wild. The reason they are covering this is because it's a tabloid story, and the line between tabloid journalism and respectable political coverage has more or less dissolved. Really, is this story much different than the coverage of Britney Spears? (With that in mind, calls to leave Bristo Palin alone have echoes in pop culture...)
But the broader issue here is the way that the media's fixation on Bristol Palin has allowed the McCain/Palin campaign to shift the focus away from Sarah Palin's many legitimate failings. By fuming with righteous indignation over the Bristol Palin story, they can avoid drawing focus to Palin's ultra-thin resume (which Campbell Brown famously exposed, in a rare bit of tough interviewing from a MSM source). They also can suck the air away from Palin's numerous other scandals, all of which are much more significant to evaluating her as a candidate. Not to mention her false reformer tag, and, of course, her far-out-of-the-mainstream positions on sex ed, global warming, abortion, and many other issues.
These are the real issues with Sarah Palin, and focussing on the Bristol Palin story is not only a distraction, it's misdirection.
The second is how the Republicans are proving themselves far more adept at playing the gender card than the Clinton campaign ever was. The criticisms of Sarah Palin, or at least the ones that are being repeated in the mainstream media, have been entirely legitimate and have nothing to do with gender. This hasn't stopped the Republican surrogates sent on cable news shows (ALL women, without exception) from accusing every accusation of belying a double standard. Here's a pretty typical example, where the Palin surrogate brings up sexism when it's a complete non sequitur. This leads to a vintage James Carville littany, punctuated with "I supported a woman for President".
Ironically, Hillary surrogates in the primaries were far less willing to take the media to task for statements that quite clearly did have something to do with gender. But the aftermath of the Democratic primaries has allowed Republicans to tap into the heightened sensitivity about sexism. Again, the goal is to deflect criticism over Palin's real and legitimate shortcomings as a potential Vice President.