Palin Pummels the Press

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 9, 2009 7:49 AM

She's back:

Sarah Palin, still smarting over coverage of her vice-presidential run, calls the media's reporting on her family "very scary" and says there may be "a class issue" that explains the more sympathetic treatment of Caroline Kennedy.

The Alaska governor also took a swipe at Katie Couric over the CBS interview in which Palin stumbled badly, saying: "Katie, you're not the center of everyone's universe."

Palin did her venting Monday with John Ziegler, a conservative radio talk show host turned filmmaker, who posted excerpts online to promote a forthcoming DVD titled "Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected." "I think this woman was assassinated by the media," he said yesterday.

By turns aggravated and bemused, Palin complained in the video that her press office is still getting calls about rumors that she is not the mother of her infant son. She called this "quite absurd," saying she is "frustrated that I wasn't believed that Trig was really my son.

"When did we start accepting as hard news sources bloggers, anonymous bloggers especially? It's a sad state of affairs in the world of the media today, mainstream media especially, that they're going to rely on bloggers, anonymous bloggers, for their hard news information."

Mainstream news outlets reported the rumor in September only after John McCain's campaign revealed the pregnancy of Palin's teenage daughter Bristol, citing the chatter about Trig as the reason for the disclosure. Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan -- who is hardly anonymous -- has questioned why Palin would not release medical records to prove she is the boy's mother, but has also posted information supporting her account.

Although her campaign brushed aside most inquiries on the subject, Palin asked: "What is the double standard here, why reporters would choose to believe lies, reporters especially not just taking one extra step to get to the facts . . . Is it sexism? What is it that drives someone to believe the worst and perpetuate the worst, in terms of gossip and lies?"

Palin also objected to reports that Bristol and her fiance, Levi Johnston, are "high school dropouts and they're going to just look for government handouts to raise their child and stuff, nothing could be further from the truth. And I've asked some in the media to correct that, and they haven't corrected it, and that gets frustrating." Palin contacted People magazine, the Associated Press and the Anchorage Daily News last week. She said Johnston -- who, according to the Anchorage paper, recently quit his job as an apprentice electrician -- is taking a high school correspondence course, and that Bristol is still a student.

Palin was hit by an avalanche of coverage after her surprise nomination in August, some of it critical of her Alaska record and her qualifications for the vice presidency, and some of it more personal, questioning how she could handle the job with five children. Tina Fey's "Saturday Night Live" impersonation cemented an impression of her as a bit of a ditz.

Ziegler showed Palin a clip of Fey saying, "I believe marriage is meant to be a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers." Her reaction: "Cool, fine, come attack me, but when you make a suggestion like that that attacks a kid, that kills me."

Palin questioned whether Kennedy's bid for an appointment to the Senate "will be handled with kid gloves," and if so, "we will perhaps be able to prove that there is a class issue here" when contrasted with the scrutiny of her campaign. Kennedy, of course, is not running for vice president but to be one of 100 lawmakers, and has drawn critical coverage lately for a series of halting interviews.

Palin criticized the McCain camp's decision to send her back for a second round with Couric, and tried to explain why she declined to name a single publication she reads. Palin said she interpreted Couric's question as "Do you read, what do you guys do up there," but conceded: "Perhaps I was just too flippant in my answer back to her." Couric made no reference to Alaska in her question, asking, "What newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this?"

Asked by Ziegler how she would have fared as Barack Obama's running mate, Palin accused the press of ideological "hypocrisy," saying: "I think they would have loved me as a candidate . . . You would have seen an absolutely different and . . . much prettier profile of Sarah Palin and the Palin family and my administration."

Would she do it again? "That's a darned good question," Palin said, before concluding that she would. But she doesn't want people in the "lower 48" being "sucked into believing what too many in the mainstream media want them to believe."

Ziegler, whose film will be sold online next month, said Palin was "very concerned about appearing whiny" before the 50-minute sitdown at her Wasilla home. He said he found her Republican convention speech "awesome" but had wondered about the media portrayal of her as "a diva or a wack job." He now believes that "the fact that she's mocked is a travesty."

On his Web site, Ziegler says that when Palin saw a picture of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, "she literally let out a shriek and, pointing to his photograph, declared, 'THAT guy is EVIL!' "

Meanwhile, as Barack Obama tries to rally support for his gazillion-dollar stimulus plan, he's got one asset in his back pocket.

Most people think the coverage of the incoming president has been fair.

Even half of Republicans think the coverage has been fair. (Though that probably doesn't include Palin.)

From where I sit, the media's post-election take on Obama has been unusually positive. Just look at all the slobbering over his shirtless photo (as if wearing swim trunks in Hawaii is breaking news), the breathless accounts of his workout regimen and basketball prowess.

There have been critical stories, sure, about the stumbles on Bill Richardson and Leon Panetta, but by and large the transition is being portrayed as a smooth and successful one.

The Pew Research Center says: "The American public is more likely to say the press has been too critical of President George W. Bush in his last days in office than to say the same about coverage of President-elect Barack Obama. About three-in-ten (29%) see coverage of Bush as too critical, while just 11% see coverage of Obama that way. Still, a plurality (41%) says press coverage of Bush has been fair, while a substantial majority (61%) says the same about coverage of Obama. About one-in-four find coverage of both not critical enough."

There are clear partisan divisions: 62 percent of Republicans say the press has been too critical of Bush, compared to--yes--12 percent of Democrats. And while 37 percent of GOPers say the press hasn't been critical enough of Obama, 11 percent of Democrats feel that way.

By the way, "nearly equal pluralities say that the media have been fair in coverage of actions by Israel (43%) and actions by Hamas (42%). But a slightly greater percentage say that the media have not been critical enough of Hamas than say the same about coverage of Israel (30% vs 25%, respectively). Fewer say that the press has been too critical of Israel (16%) or too critical of Hamas (8%)."

Out in Illinois, lawmakers are finally doing something about the Pay-Rod scandal:

"Paving the way for an unprecedented House vote Friday to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a legislative panel unanimously approved a scathing report accusing the two-term Democrat of a wide array of offenses, including criminal corruption and wasting taxpayer money," the Chicago Tribune reports.

And how about this?

"Before Gov. Rod Blagojevich picked him to fill the state's empty U.S. Senate seat, Roland Burris called a top Blagojevich staffer to recommend his nephew for a state job, a close Burris aide said."

Actually, if that were illegal, we'd have to build a lot more jails for politicians.

The pundits are still picking over the Burris imbroglio, even as most folks now assume he'll get his Senate seat. 538 blogger Nate Silver says that piling on Harry Reid has been unfair:

"I think Reid can be criticized for one thing -- for failing to advocate for a special election. But even if the Democrats had made a more earnest push to hold a special election, that would still have provided for the possibility that Blagojevich would attempt to nominate someone in the meantime. What were they supposed to have said? 'You know Rod, we really have no legal grounds to block your nominee, so please pretty please with a cherry on top don't do it?' "

This LAT report won't help another Obama nominee who's hit choppy waters:

"Attorney general nominee Eric H. Holder Jr. repeatedly pushed some of his subordinates at the Clinton Justice Department to drop their opposition to a controversial 1999 grant of clemency to 16 members of two violent Puerto Rican nationalist organizations, according to interviews and documents."

Washington Monthly's Steve Benen sees one critic engaged in a double standard:

"Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa, who said that Burris has 'got a perfect right to have that seat,' pivoted to an absurd Blagojevich-related attack against Eric Holder, Barack Obama's Attorney General nominee.

" '[Eric Holder] was a counsel or at least Governor Blagojevich had sought to have him involved with something with race tracks in Illinois and casinos, I think. And so we're trying to get freedom of information on that because we need to know what the relationship is with Governor Blagojevich. And I don't say that in denigrating in any way except Governor Blagojevich's recent troubles raises questions with anybody that's had a relationship with him . . . [I]t's not going to be smooth sailing.'

"In reality, Blagojevich tried to hire Holder for some independent state review a few years back. The governor screwed up the process, Holder went back to D.C, and the two had no further connection. This, according to Grassley, should detract from Holder's nomination."

Fred Barnes, continuing his farewell tributes to the Bushies, sits down with the veep:

"Vice President Dick Cheney believes he hasn't 'fundamentally changed' since he came to Washington 40 years ago. Only his job has changed. As vice president, he doesn't talk freely to the press about what he's doing. And he's been deeply involved in shaping controversial policies aimed at making sure America doesn't suffer another terrorist attack like 9/11.

"That's his explanation for his relative unpopularity as he prepares to leave office in less than two weeks. He doesn't offer it as a complaint. He doesn't blame the press for caricaturing him. 'I don't feel like I've been treated unfairly,' Cheney says. 'It goes with the turf.'

"Having known Cheney since he was deputy White House chief of staff to President Ford in 1974, I think he makes a pretty persuasive case. His jobs have changed -- congressman, defense secretary, Halliburton CEO, now veep -- and he's adapted to them. Washington journalists, however, haven't adapted. They expect him to be as chatty and candid as he was in his earlier jobs. Sorry, but he can't."

On the other hand, Al Gore was VP for eight years and managed to talk to the press. Not that it did him much good in 2000.

It's possible that Sanjay Gupta won't simply sail from CNN to the SG's office. John Conyers is opposing him as not having the right experience, and the New Republic is raising an ethical question:

"For over six years, Gupta has been co-hosting 'AccentHealth'--a CNN television segment beamed straight into doctors' waiting rooms, sponsored in part by many of the major pharmaceutical companies. Touted on its website as an 'integrated marketing opportunity' that allows companies to deliver their message 'in a trusted environment,' the show has been underwritten by drug industry leaders Aventis, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Merck, and Warner Lambert.

"At the same time, Gupta has been appearing on CNN's primary broadcasts as an ostensibly objective medical authority, discussing the drugs produced by the very same pharmaceutical companies . . .

"A representative for AccentHealth says there is no relationship between Gupta and the show's sponsors, and even if there were, it wouldn't necessarily disqualify Gupta to be the next surgeon general."

Obama and I have a couple of things in common, it turns out. We both grew up playing basketball, and we both were big Spidey fans:

"Spider-Man has a new sidekick: The president-elect.

"Barack Obama collected Spider-Man comics as a child, so Marvel Comics wanted to give him a 'shout-out back' by featuring him in a bonus story, said Joe Quesada, Marvel's editor-in-chief."

Just another media institution in the tank. What would J. Jonah Jameson think?

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