GOP 'Gotcha Journalism' Charges Throw Spotlight on Debate

Sarah Palin's sometimes wandering interviews with CBS News's Katie Couric have drawn mixed reviews, even from some conservatives.
Sarah Palin's sometimes wandering interviews with CBS News's Katie Couric have drawn mixed reviews, even from some conservatives. (Cbs News)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 2, 2008

For days now, television viewers have watched Sarah Palin unable to explain the significance of her home state's bordering Russia, unable to name a Supreme Court ruling she disagrees with, unable to name a single newspaper she reads.

Her halting, unfocused answers in a series of interviews with Katie Couric have left an unmistakable question hanging in the air before tonight's vice presidential debate: Is Palin going to fall on her face?

Even as some conservative commentators have panned her performances and fretted about how the Alaska governor will fare against Sen. Joe Biden, Palin has challenged the ethics of those interviewing her. Her running mate, John McCain, has complained about "gotcha journalism." And a top campaign official says female journalists are being especially mean to Palin.

All this may or may not add up to a stab at the age-old technique of preemptive spin.

Nicolle Wallace, a senior McCain adviser, maintained that Palin is connecting with voters, despite the "mixed reviews" for her sit-downs with CBS's Couric and ABC's Charlie Gibson.

"We didn't expect anyone to treat her as a cream puff because she's a girl," Wallace said. But, she added, "I'm shocked personally at how brutal many of the women in the media have been." Wallace pointed to CNN anchor Campbell Brown, who urged the campaign to arrange more interviews for Palin and stop treating her "like a delicate flower who will wilt at any moment."

Some of Palin's occasionally rambling responses to Couric have been used verbatim in Tina Fey's "Saturday Night Live" send-up. In an interview Tuesday with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Palin, a former sports reporter, said: "I have a degree in journalism also, so it surprises me that so much has changed since I received my education in journalistic ethics all those years ago." She said she would "take those shots and those pop quizzes" in stride.

But most of the questions have been straightforward. In an exchange last night that was replayed on several networks, Couric, after a question about Roe v. Wade, asked Palin what other Supreme Court decisions she disagreed with.

"Well, let's see," Palin said, smiling and stalling for time. "There's -- of course -- in the great history of America rulings there have been rulings, that's never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are -- those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know -- going through the history of America, there would be others but --"

Asked again, Palin answered without naming a ruling. Surprisingly, she failed to mention the court's June decision to slash the punitive damages awarded to those whose livelihoods were affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, which Palin denounced at the time.

In another widely replayed exchange:

COURIC: What newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this -- to stay informed and to understand the world?

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