THE PERSECUTION OF SARAH PALIN
By Matthew Continetti
Sentinel HC, $25.95, 256 pages
Reviewed by Roger Lott
Can you imagine Newsweek magazine putting a picture of Bill Clinton in running shorts on its front cover after the release of his memoir? Of course not, but for its Nov. 23 issue, that’s exactly what Newsweek did with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who just happens to be an attractive woman, pro-life, outdoorsy, a mother of five, and a gut-level conservative.
In the past couple of years, Mrs. Palin has seen her teenage son deployed to Iraq, given birth at age 44 to a child with Down syndrome, learned that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant, been placed on the Republican presidential ticket, had her personal e-mails hacked into, was straitjacketed by Arizona Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign team, lost an election, returned to Alaska to find it impossible to do her job and spent $500,000 in her own money on legal defense in the aftermath of the presidential campaign. To top it all off, the media have treated her extremely unfairly every step of the way.
Matthew Continetti, associate editor of the Weekly Standard, tells this story in “The Persecution of Sarah Palin,” relating how the media reached new levels of dishonesty and double standard in its treatment of Mrs. Palin during and after the 2008 presidential campaign.
The fact that many still believe Mrs. Palin didn’t know Africa was a continent, couldn’t say which countries participate in the North American Free Trade Agreement, didn’t read any newspapers and claimed she could see Russia from her house, is a reflection of just how good a job the media have done of spreading falsehoods about Mrs. Palin. In the book, Mr. Continetti rejects these claims one by one in convincing fashion.
One striking example is the following: Mrs. Palin’s chief foreign policy aide, Steve Biegun, was walking Mrs. Palin through various free trade agreements in preparation for an interview with Spanish-language media. Mrs. Palin and Mr. Biegun were in a noisy hotel room with the television on, and when Mr. Biegun had finished, Mrs. Palin said, according to Mr. Continetti, “OK Steve, one more time. Go from the top: who’s in NAFTA, what are the key issues, etc.?”
Fox News, the Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post and MSNBC all construed this as Mrs. Palin not knowing who’s in NAFTA. MSNBC, to its credit, later retracted its claim.
Mr. Biegun has since said the accusation that Mrs. Palin doesn’t know who’s in NAFTA convinces him that “somebody is acting with a high degree of maliciousness.” Mr. Biegun, who talked to Mrs. Palin about a range of issues relating to Africa, from failed states to Sudan, also insisted that whoever is saying she didn’t know Africa was a continent must be distorting “a fumble of words,” as Mr. Continetti says likewise in the book.
Mrs. Palin never said she could see Russia from her house. She said one could see Russia from an island in Alaska, which is perfectly true. It’s also relevant, as the proximity of Alaska to Russia has raised international issues on the use of waterways and drilling for oil on the seafloor. Alaska, as isolated as it is from the 48 contiguous states, has to deal with many of the same issues as an independent sovereign country would.
Listen to Mrs. Palin’s interview with Katie Couric, though, and you’ll find her qualifications treated with little respect. Would Ms. Couric have asked any other governor in the country what newspapers and magazines they regularly read before being tapped for the job? Maybe it was Mrs. Palin’s - in the words of David Letterman - “slutty flight attendant look” that led Ms. Couric to treat Mrs. Palin with less than the respect deserving of the chief executive of a state.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has spent more than 30 years in Washington, gets slightly different treatment. “When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed.” The market crashed in 1929, when Herbert Hoover, not Roosevelt, was president. Television wasn’t released to the public until 1939. But of course, Ms. Couric let it slip by.
The media were out to get Mrs. Palin, and one of the biggest “gotcha” moments in the campaign came when, as Charles Gibson stared down his nose at the pupil before him, it became clear that Mrs. Palin didin’t know the single, correct definition for “The Bush Doctrine.” As Mr. Continetti points out, however, there is no correct definition.
In fact, according to Charles Krauthammer, who coined the term, there have been four definitions, and the one Mr. Gibson used wasn’t even the most widely accepted one at the time.
Mr. Continetti paints Mrs. Palin as a regular American with from-the-gut conservative beliefs that violate the sensibilities of liberals (who claim to appreciate nuance and complexity). “Sarah Palin thinks the answer to energy is ‘Drill, baby, drill,’ ” said Mr. Biden during the vice-presidential debates. Then, he added, “It’s a lot more complicated, Sarah.”
The book portrays liberal urban “elites” determined to believe Mrs. Palin is stupid, uneducated, ignorant and incapable of raising a family, and therefore incapable of running the country. Those liberal “elites” have slandered Mrs. Palin using their prominent places in the media, which, according to Mr. Continetti, have a liberal bias as blatantly obvious as the fact the sky is blue.
This bias is obvious in the way the media toed the line when President Obama said, “my family is off-limits” but treated Mrs. Palin’s family like a soap opera. Much of the media kept quiet when Michelle Obama said, “For the first time in my adult life, I’m really proud of my country.”
The media hardly exercised the same restraint when it came to questioning Mrs. Palin’s parenting skills because of the pregnancy of her daughter Bristol, or when the governor was criticized for not aborting a child with Down syndrome.
Mr. Continetti is unashamed of revealing his conservative leanings. Writing about Alan Colmes’s questioning of Mrs. Palin’s prenatal care, Mr. Continetti couldn’t help but add, “Did Alan Colmes’s mother teach him any manners?” Mr. Continetti, 28, is unafraid of going out on a limb, and the book makes for an entertaining and dramatic read. Although it might have been improved by the addition of footnotes and endnotes, Mr. Continetti does an important job in helping us see the real Mrs. Palin despite all of the over-the-top, false criticisms propagated by a liberal media fearful of what the conservative superstar could become.
Roger Lott is an editorial intern at The Washington Times.