- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2009

Alaska has a new form of wildlife: Gov. Sarah Palin, who has turned into a mama tiger, or a grandmama tiger anyway, in defense of her young.

Mrs. Palin is engaging in an unusually personal attempt to protect her 18-year-old daughter Bristol from the inaccuracies of the press.

In three different accounts, journalists have described Miss Palin and/or her fiance Levi Johnston as “high-school dropouts.”

Them there are fightin’ words.

Mrs. Palin has personally contacted People magazine, the Associated Press and the Anchorage Daily News contesting Saturday’s reports on the birth of Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston, the unmarried couple’s child and the governor’s first grandchild.

The news organizations had blithely referred to the couple as “dropouts,” leading the irked grandmother to set the record straight.

“You need to know that both Levi and Bristol are working their butts off to parent and going to school and working at the same time. They are certainly not high-school dropouts,” she said in a phone message to People, which promptly published the words on its Web site Wednesday.

The designation, Mrs. Palin said, could harm the reputation of the young parents, “and their chances for good work opportunities.”

The AP and the Alaska paper were contacted by e-mail.

The governor was not done yet, however. Within hours, she released a terse statement about the academic status of the young parents - and the motherhood matter itself.

“Bristol begins her final semester of high school next week where she’ll get her last credit needed to graduate,” Mrs. Palin said. “Levi is continuing his online high school work in addition to working as an electrical apprentice.”

“The road ahead for this young couple will not be easy, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy,” Mrs. Palin said. “Bristol and Levi are committed to accomplish what millions of other young parents have accomplished, to provide a loving and secure environment for their child. They are both hard workers, they’re very strong and have faith they’ve made the right decision in setting aside their own interests to make this child their highest priority.”

Mrs. Palin then cut to the chase.

“When Bristol and Levi first told us the shocking news that she was pregnant, to be honest, we all at first looked at the situation with some fear and a bit of despair. Isn’t it just like God to turn those circumstances into such an amazing, joyful blessing when you ask Him to help you through?”

The kerfuffle has since been covered by a gleeful, global press — the content snarky at times. Rumors persisted on MSNBC, for example, that Miss Palin was to receive $300,000 from People for exclusive photos of her new son. The magazine’s spokesman Larry Hackett said the rumors were untrue.

Some observers empathized with Mrs. Palin, however.

“I can’t blame her. Say what you will about me, but you say something about my kid and I come out swinging,” said Maggie Rodriguez, host of CBS News’ “The Early Show,” which offered coverage suggesting that Mrs. Palin had always maintained a “love-hate relationship” with the news media.

Michael Levine, a public relations expert, told the network he questioned Mrs. Palin’s decision to contact the news organizations personally, rather than through a representative.

But Ms. Rodriguez noted that Mrs. Palin was no longer running for high office, so “she has nothing to gain now. There’s no reason to hold back.”

Such directness, though, was part of Mrs. Palin’s cachet, deemed “refreshing” by some journalists, and the governor still resonates with Republicans as they regroup and prepare for the arrival of President-elect Barack Obama.

Others have taken notice.

Mrs. Palin is the front-runner to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, according to the online gaming site Superbook.com.

The group — which lists the findings under the “exotic” category — put Mrs. Palin’s odds at 3.5-1, besting both former presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.

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