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Why a Free Press?: Palin vs. the Media

Print outlets’ coverage has been proper. Network and cable TV? Not so much

The media, to their credit, never photographed President Roosevelt being hoisted into his wheelchair.

The media, to their credit, never photographed President Roosevelt being hoisted into his wheelchair.

Has the media coverage of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin been proper?

The initial reaction if you’re a Democrat is, absolutely. If you’re a Republican, absolutely not.

As a kinda-sorta media observer, I say it depends on your definition of “The Media.”

McCain selected a virtual unknown to serve in the second-highest office in the land if elected, a heartbeat from the presidency.

Like it or not, it’s the press’ job to find out who Palin is and examine what she’s said she’s done and what she’s actually done.

Time magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and, not surprisingly, the Anchorage Daily News, her home state’s largest newspaper, have written excellent, informative articles about Palin and her public record.

I can’t say the same for broadcast and cable news outlets, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and Fox.

Broadcast news stories about Palin and her record have been few and mostly superficial. A great deal of opinion about her has been expressed on these channels by the so-called punditry, however.

Some of what’s been written on credible Web news sites, such as Salon or Politico.com, also has been excellent.

But most of it, as “reported” in the blogosphere, has been abysmal, childish and even vicious.

Much has been made about whether it was proper for “the media” to report on the pregnancy of Palin’s 17-year-old daughter. (I don’t say “fair.” Fairness is in the eye of the beholder, and journalists should expunge the word from their vocabulary when discussing news coverage.)

The proper answer is yes, mostly because Palin brought it up. She was responding to false rumors posted on several liberal blogs, including the popular Daily Kos, that Palin’s 5-month-old baby is really her daughter’s and that Palin faked a pregnancy to protect her.

Palin opened the door and “the media” piled in. But while responsible newspapers and news magazines have reported on the pregnancy only as it pertains to Palin’s admission and her effort to quash vicious rumors, the punditry have gone berserk with it.

Unfortunately, most Americans seem to have lost the ability to separate objective news reporting from subjective opinion making.

But can you blame them? They’re besieged by opinion every day.

Most of what’s presented on cable news outlets is opinion. Save NPR, radio “news talk” is all opinion.

Conservative blowhards – Rush Limbaugh and the gang – are outraged at Palin’s treatment by “the media.” That’s to be expected.

They’ve made a science out of dismissing anything negative published about a Republican as an attack by the “liberal media.”

Leave it to “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” a mock news show, to stick a pin in the outrage by juxtaposing clips of conservative commentators clamoring about Palin’s poor treatment by “the media” with clips of them criticizing Democratic presidential candidates, namely Hillary Clinton, in the same way earlier this year and last.

Palin’s public record is fair game for news and opinion.

I’m torn about her private life. The conventional wisdom in my profession these days is that a public person’s private life is open to scrutiny because it reflects on their character, which is an important factor in determining fitness for the job.

But this argument makes me think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

He was confined to a wheelchair and so helpless that he needed strong men to lift him from his car, from the train, up stairs and into his bath and bed.

He also had two extramarital affairs, including one while he was president.

But few Americans in the 1930s and 1940s ever knew that.

The White House press corps chose not to report it because they didn’t think it relevant (among other reasons).

There are few photos of Roosevelt in his wheelchair or being carried by his porters. That’s not because the photos were suppressed, but because news photographers never took them.

My newshound senses and the issue of character tell me the press was wrong not to report on Roosevelt’s condition and his affairs with his secretaries. History tells us they were right.

What will it tell us about the coverage of Sarah Palin? That depends on what happens Nov. 4.

Mark B. Evans is a Tucson Citizen assistant city editor. He can be reached at mevans@tucsoncitizen.com or 573-4614.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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