Believe it or not, some people criticize the press for its handling of the Sarah Palin story. We have had grousing about that, some counterpunches thrown, with no concession of petty pursuits or double standards.
Joe Klein of Time seems especially peeved. He tells us a Republican operative is aiming to “slime the press” with allegations of “unfair” and “personal” assaults on the vice presidential candidate, and hopes his “colleagues stand strong” in the face of this outrageous meanness.
And columnist Roger Simon says politicians at the Republican Convention just wanted the media to cheer their decisions and forgo basic questions.
Mr. Simon’s surely right, but the same is true of all politicians everywhere, all the time, both Democratic and Republican, liberal and conservative, and not just in the case of John McCain’s picking Mrs. Palin to run with him on the Republican ticket. Let’s reflect for a second on the Obama campaign’s efforts to shut up and vilify Stanley Kurtz.
Mr. Kurtz, whose pieces appear in such publications as the Wall Street Journal and National Review, has been investigating the relationship of Barack Obama and William Ayers, the Illinois professor who is an unrepentant Weatherman bomber of the 1960s and ‘70s. Published reports tell how Mr. Obama supporters inundated a radio station with phone calls and e-mails in an effort to stop an interview with Mr. Kurtz, and accused him of “baseless fear-mongering.” It was “intimidating,” a radio producer said.
Some of Mr. Kurtz’s digging seems to have disclosed possibilities Mr. Obama was tighter with Mr. Ayers than was previously known, but mainstream media have paid scant attention to this story, apparently fearing the implication of guilt by slight association, and maybe because you just don’t cast suspicion of any kind on Saint Obama. Only aggressive reporting can determine how slight the association was, of course, and we’ve had a dearth of that on Mr. Obama.
High in a story on Page One of the New York Times, it was reported Mrs. Palin’s husband was convicted of drunk driving 22 years ago, and we have had endless, personally intrusive, even trashy attention paid to the irrelevancy that Mrs. Palin has a pregnant daughter who has not yet - but soon will - marry the father. What we are not now getting is very intensive press exploration about Mr. Obama’s $1.65 million house and the peculiar circumstances of its purchase, his nonaccomplishments as a community organizer or his see-no-evil days in the company of Chicago politicians sometimes rumored to tread where they shouldn’t.
For a study in press double standards, you could do little better than to look at the grave journalistic concern now being expressed about whether Mrs. Palin once attended a meeting in her town of the seemingly innocent if kooky Alaskan Independence Party, and the virtual press neglect four years ago of whether presidential candidate John Kerry had attended a 1971 Kansas City meeting at which members of the radical Vietnam Veterans Against the War voted on whether to assassinate pro-war members of the Senate.
Mr. Kerry first said he had not been there, but it turned out there were a half-dozen witnesses and FBI documents saying he was, and he then conceded that maybe he had been in town at some point but still had no recollection of it. The press reaction in effect was, “Oh, so what?” because, among other things, the initial allegation had come from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and the a priori press line was that their allegations were false, even though several have been proven true. (By the way, witnesses said Mr. Kerry opposed the assassination plan, which was defeated in a vote, and did quit the group about that time.)
Without question, reporters should pursue the details of Mrs. Palin’s public career; she is a fresh face and there is much to learn about whether she is qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. But some in the press are now going overboard, and her acceptance speech is already one piece of evidence that she is a gifted leader.
Jay Ambrose is former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard News Service.