Media frenzy over Veep pick Palin at RNC

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

“Drill, baby, drill!” shouted the National Republican Convention floor delegates in support of GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s push to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to solve the energy crisis.

In the media press boxes closer to the Xcel Center steel rafters, the message might have been garbled and heard as, “Grill, Palin, grill!”

“Sarah Palin is fresh and new. She is our sister, our mother, our daughter, and we want to see her succeed,” said Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, standing amid waving “Women Power” and “Hockey Moms for Palin” signs on the Xcel Center convention floor.

“We don’t want to see people get on TV and assassinate her character!” declared Lambert.

The legislator’s description of Palin might explain why John McCain chose the newcomer to national politics as his running mate. The 44-year-old Alaska governor energized the convention and drew 37.2 million viewers — just shy of the 38.4 viewers who watched Barack Obama’s nomination acceptance speech in Denver.

On the flip side, the choice of Palin set off a media feeding frenzy to discover more about her. Palin was shielded from the press throughout the Sept. 1-4 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Because Palin was quarantined, reporters were dispatched to Alaska to rummage through her political records and high school yearbooks, and TV talking heads badgered anyone remotely connected to the McCain-Palin campaign.

A love-hate relationship was developing between the McCain-Palin campaign and the media.

The Colorado delegation wasn’t immune to the innuendo that passed as news flashes — or the brewing anti-media sentiment — and some enjoyed having “15 minutes of fame,” or more, on television.

It was common to see interviewers capturing the insights of GOP Chair Dick Wadhams, Attorney General John Suthers, El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink, Monica Owens, Frances Owens, Summer Vanderbilt and Kendall Unruh, whose hat was laden with anti-media messages.

On the night of Palin’s nomination acceptance speech, Nathan Chambers was interviewed by Samantha Bee, senior correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

“Every family and every woman should have the right to… What is the word I’m looking for?” asked Bee. “Alternative? Decision? I think it rhymes with voice, she said.”

Other delegates who were interviewed carefully avoided saying the word that rhymes with “voice” — but not Chambers.

“You know the left clamors for choice. We want to make choice. We want choice. And Sarah Palin’s daughter has made a choice,” said Chambers with a smile and a nod.

Chambers wasn’t the only Colorado delegate to be filmed in a satire produced for The Daily Show. Frances Owens and daughter Monica, wearing a hot-pink polka-dot dress, were among the “victims” trapped in the Xcel Center without a real convention program on Sept. 1 because of Hurricane Gustav.

Straight talk media releases

The McCain-Palin campaign issued press releases to denounce the rumors. That, however, inadvertently gave credibility to the rumormongers, because mainstream media reported information about the misinformation.

The firestorm of rumors included the pregnancies of Palin and her 17-year-old daughter, the Alaska investigation into allegations that the governor had tried to have her former brother-in-law fired from his state trooper’s job, relationships with allegedly corrupt Alaska politicians that propelled her political career from Wasilla to the governorship, and more.

Pundits questioned McCain’s wisdom in selecting a woman who, they speculated, might need to pay more attention to her family’s needs than to a tutorial on national and foreign affairs. Others called those remarks, “sexist!”

One of those was Bay Buchanan, who told The Colorado Statesman that she’d eagerly tutor Palin. President of the American Cause, Buchanan served as political consultant to 6th Congressional District Rep. Tom Tancredo’s presidential campaign.

McCain said Palin had passed the vetting rigors — and joked that it’s as easy as googling a person’s name. That raised questions about McCain’s zero-hour choice of Palin and the limited time for her to be vetted.

“This vetting controversy is a faux media scandal designed to destroy the first female Republican nominee for vice president of the United States who has never been a part of the old boys’ network that has come to dominate the news establishment in this country,” declared Steve Schmidt, a senior McCain campaign adviser, in a media statement, adding, “It’s over.”

“Sarah Palin accepted the problems that God gave her and made them into positives. She’s an example of what pro-life means,” said Charcie Russell of Windsor. “It’s has to be difficult for her and her family to be scrutinized like this. I’d hate to have my family put under a microscope.”

Sue Sharkey shared a different perspective on press persistence.

“The media has a right to report about Sarah Palin’s background and that her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant,” said Sharkey, adding that she experienced a similar situation as a teenager. “I loved that they’re not ashamed. I got married when I was 17 and had a baby — that’s 35 years ago, and we’re very happy. I’m proud of the choices we made. There’s no shame.”

“The problem is TV pundits talking about the family’s personal lives, like the daughter’s pregnancy, all day long,” said Sharkey. “That has nothing to do with the real issues facing our country, like economic issues and paying $4 a gallon for gas.”

Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, a speaker at the convention and a friend of McCain, agreed with Sharkey’s assessment.

“I actually think it’s completely fair for the media to vet Sarah Palin, just as they did Barack Obama, John McCain and everyone else running for office. (Palin) is running for the
second highest office in the land,” observed Whitman, adding that the inquiries and reports did not
constitute sexism.

McCain evidently worried that “Sarah the Barracuda” ¬— her high school basketball team nickname — might not survive the starving shark-infested media pool. While Palin was sequestered with advisers, practicing her speech and preparing for domestic and foreign policies, McCain was slaying the media dragons.

The Arizona senator abruptly cancelled an appearance on the Larry King Show as punishment for CNN commentator Campbell Brown’s interview with Tucker Bounds, a McCain campaign spokesman.

Bounds claimed that Palin’s role as governor and commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard trumped the executive experience of Sen. Barack Obama.

Brown hammered Bounds to cite an example of one decision that Palin had made as commander in chief. Bounds repeatedly ducked the questions. Brown, however, persisted.

“Campbell, certainly you don’t mean to belittle every experience, every judgment she makes as commander,” replied Bounds. The dialogue deteriorated into a demand-and-duck match.

Media bloopers

“If you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone,” declared Palin in her convention speech on Sept. 3.

The convention floor roared with a mix of boos and chants, “NBC … NBC … NBC ...”

Avid convention television viewers — and channel surfers — understood Palin’s punch at the pundits.

The first startling gaffe occurred on MSNBC when Peggy Noonan appeared with Mike Murphy, former adviser to McCain and Mitt Romney, and Chuck Todd, NBC political director.

Noonan, a guest political commentator and speechwriter, is well known for writing the memorable phrases “points of light” and “Read my lips: no new taxes” for former President George Bush in the 1990s.

The trio was caught off-guard and on-mike during an MSNBC interview predicting that the choice of Palin would doom the GOP.

Murphy said, “… it’s not gonna work.”

Noonan moaned, “It’s over.”

Todd asked, “Don’t you think this Palin pick is insulting to (Texas Senator) Kay Bailey Hutchinson? … Is (Palin) really the most qualified woman they could have turned to?”

Noonan asked, “The most qualified? No! I think they went for this, excuse me, political bulls - -t about narratives … Every time Republicans do that, because that’s not where they live and it’s not what they’re good at, they blow it.”

Murphy called the choice, “cynical,” and Todd deemed it, “gimmicky.”

Later, Noonan tried to minimize the blunder in her Wall Street Journal column.

The “foot-in-mouth” disease appeared contagious as it spread through MSNBC. Countdown host Keith Olbermann, and Hardball host Chris Matthews had been paired to anchor the election coverage — but that blossomed into a match made in hell.

The scrapping between the news dynamos began during coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Denver and continued in Minnesota. Actually, Olbermann covered the Republicans from New York.

In Denver, Matthews had sniped at Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman and MSNBC show host, for lauding the McCain’s campaign tenacity through ups and downs over the past year.

“Jesus, Joe, why don’t you get a shovel?” growled Matthews.

During the Republican National Convention, Olbermann besmirched political consultant Pat Buchanan and derided the GOP for airing a 9/11 video.

Hours after Palin’s speech and the media snafus, Matthews and Washington correspondent David Gregory joined a group of diners at the St. Paul Grill in the Saint Paul Hotel overlooking Rice Park — a sanctuary for protesters.

Judging by the camaraderie, there wasn’t an inkling that MSNBC execs had decided to yank Olbermann and Matthews off coveted prime-time political coverage and replace them with Gregory.

Across the restaurant, Bay Buchanan was talking excitedly about the McCain-Palin ticket and the prospect of electing a Republican woman as the vice president. Two days later, Buchanan collided with CNN’s Campbell Brown — and took no prisoners in a heated exchange over Palin’s speech.

Campbell scrutinized Palin’s speech and questioned the governor’s accomplishments.

“That luxury jet was over the top, so I put it on eBay,” Palin told conventioneers.

Campbell questioned Palin’s integrity because the plane didn’t snag a buyer on eBay; it was sold through a private dealer for $2.1 million — about $500,000 less than its original cost.

“As for that plane, she absolutely saved taxpayers money,” Buchanan said on CNN. “She got rid of it … She didn’t have expenditures on the budget line for the dumb plane. So give her credit for something.”

The exchange between Campbell and Buchanan — punctuated several times as Buchanan said, “That’s ridiculous!” — escalated into a challenge of professional credibility between the two women.

“For every two (people) that you found that don’t like (Palin) there’s another eight that like her. But you guys seem to overlook that,” said Buchanan, suggesting that CNN’s coverage didn’t mirror the governor’s 80 percent voter approval rating.

“That’s entirely unfair!” shot back Campbell with a firmly planted smile.

“It is not entirely unfair!” retorted Buchanan. “This hour should be called … ‘The anti-Sarah show.’ C’mon!”

Brown sniped, “Clearly, Bay Buchanan got the talking points from the McCain campaign. You’re very much on message tonight.”

A livid Buchanan hissed, “I never read talking points, Campbell. I never read them and don’t accuse me of such!”

Perhaps Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee best described the weeklong media circus.

“The reporting of the past few days has proven tackier than a costume change at a Madonna concert,” said Huckabee.

Or maybe that was an omen. A few of days later, Madonna opened her “Sticky and Sweet” concert with colossal flashing slides of McCain along with Hitler.