Caroline Kennedy's, Rod Blagojevich's and Sarah Palin's Botched Time in the Media Spotlight

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 2, 2009

Caroline Kennedy has been hiding from the press. Rod Blagojevich has been racing to every studio this side of Rachael Ray's kitchen. And Sarah Palin is accusing network anchors of blatant bias.

As a case study in media mismanagement, it would be hard to find three public figures who more badly botched their time in the searing spotlight. Kennedy's U.S. Senate bid was buried under an avalanche of negative headlines. Blagojevich lost his governorship last week after deciding he'd rather be called a "potty mouth" by Joy Behar than mount a legal defense in his impeachment trial. And Palin is trying to repair her tattered image after two disastrous interviews led her vice presidential campaign to largely freeze out the media.

They have their share of legitimate gripes. The late president's daughter was hit with uncorroborated rumors about her personal life, based on anonymous sources. The Alaska governor was subjected to stinging criticism about her parenting skills and unfounded speculation online that she is not the mother of her baby. The now-former Illinois governor has been presumed corrupt without a criminal trial -- but didn't help himself by blabbing about everything except the expletive-laden scheming caught on federal wiretaps.

Everyone knows the rules: Candidates and public officials are expected to hit big-league pitching. If they whiff, it's hard to mount a comeback, and grumbling about the umpires doesn't get you very far.

Palin delivers her indictment in previously unreleased portions of a forthcoming DVD on the 2008 election. She said that "some in the mainstream media" are on a "mission" to "destroy someone's reputation via thrashing their record, telling lies, spreading gossip and slander." Palin added, however, that she didn't want it to sound like she was "whining" or "like I'm a victim."

Kennedy, who had always led a sheltered celebrity's life, made an inauspicious debut when she literally walked away from reporters at her first photo op and then, you know, stumbled through a series of interviews marked by her halting delivery. When Kennedy decided 10 days ago against seeking the appointment to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat, she retreated into silence -- issuing a terse statement saying she was withdrawing for "personal reasons."

That, of course, created a vacuum that some journalists rushed to fill. The New York Post quoted a "source close to" Gov. David Paterson as saying he never planned to pick her because of unspecified problems with "taxes, her nanny -- and, possibly, her marriage." Bill O'Reilly went further on Fox News, saying Paterson "was told by unidentified sources that Caroline Kennedy was having an affair with" -- and he named a prominent man. O'Reilly went on to say that he couldn't "verify" it and was being careful, "unlike the New York Times, which at times prints gossip, innuendo, and you know, terrible stuff to hurt people with whom they disagree; they did it to me on a number of occasions."

But how is it anything more than innuendo to suggest that Kennedy is having an affair based on what unnamed sources supposedly told Paterson? Such an approach is unfortunately reminiscent of the widely criticized Times story last year, which said that two former John McCain aides were worried during his 2000 presidential campaign that he had a romantic relationship with a lobbyist.

When a New York Daily News reporter said on MSNBC's "Hardball" that "the affair issue" had surfaced on blogs, Chris Matthews cut her off, saying, "Let's stick to journalism." Days later, the New York Post said Kennedy was "innocent" of the affair slur -- in a Page Six gossip item.

Kennedy, of course, could clear things up by talking about why she withdrew. Her allies say she has ended her political career and believes she would revive the rumors by discussing her reasoning.

Palin, who went on a television blitz after the election, offers harsh assessments of the news business in a 40-minute interview with conservative commentator John Ziegler for a DVD titled "Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected." An unedited copy, made available to The Washington Post, goes beyond recent excerpts.

While Palin says it was her responsibility to "fight my way through the filter," she challenged the way CBS's Katie Couric and ABC's Charlie Gibson interviewed her during the campaign. She said there was nothing wrong with her asking Gibson what he meant with a question about the "Bush doctrine," which she was widely seen as having bobbled.

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