The French were right: The more things change, the more they stay the same. The “Spiral of Silence” that Professor Brad Scharlott wrote about in this draft of an academic paper examining the media and the Sarah Palin birth rumors, has begun to spiral again. Only it’s downward, and it’s not pretty.
This time, the media is not so much debunking the rumors and laying them to rest. Instead it is turning in on itself with outlets out-arguing and out-shaming themselves. Bloggers pressing for answers. Reporters turning on bloggers. Just when Professor Scharlott and I think we can forge ahead with our conversation about the actions of major news outlets in 2008, reports came out last week that reporters quaking in their shoes once saw the then governor’s pregnant belly.
The formidableAndrew Sullivan has weighed in on this new evidence. The incomparable Joe McGinnisshas as well. Both linked to my earlier interview with a specialist in the field of pediatrics (read the interview and figure out what he does. It’s not that hard. And they don’t get any more specialized than him.) I appreciate their guts and due diligence.
The immortal Immoral Minority’s Gryphen says the story still stinks like foul fish and I have to agree. So, Brad, let’s talk shop:
LN: “Make it stop,” cried one reporter who now says she thought the governor was pregnant, in part because her friends in another city saw Mrs. Palin sweating on a treadmill. And that’s what I say now because I’ve just read about a reporter swearing he shooed people out of her office and then begged her not to get mad at him. Tell me I am dreaming.
BS: You’re not dreaming. Well, that reporter is Wesley Loy, the one I praised in our last edition as having “a lot of guts” for writing in March 2008 that Palin “simply does not look pregnant.” The scene you describe above comes from his recovered memory, three years after the fact, in which Palin seemingly convinced him she was with child. So if a hard-nosed, call-it-like-it-is guy like Loy suggests he thought she was really preggers, that seals the deal, right?
But wait. I wrote to Juneau newsman Gregg Erickson in September 2008 asking about the alleged hoax. He wrote back that in the summer of 2008, he and his wife had offices next to Loy’s, and that they “especially enjoyed Wesley's accounts of his pursuit the ‘Grandma Governor fakes birth’ story.”
Huh? If Palin, by lifting her shirt and revealing her fabric-covered belly, convinced Loy sometime that spring that there was no hoax, why was he investigating the hoax that summer? After Loy took a buyout from the Anchorage Daily News, I understand he became a freelancer and a blogger.
And Julia O’Malley, still with the Anchorage Daily News, wrote the “Make.It.Stop.” story, in which she virtually called me an idiot. Indeed, everything coming out of the Daily News these days seems to have a strong pro-Palin spin. These are tough times, especially for newspapers, and the Daily News gets over half a million dollars a year from the state of Alaska for advertising and other services. And while Palin is no longer the governor, many of her friends, whom she put in high-level state positions, are still around.
So could the Palin crowd be orchestrating something like reporters’ recovered memories and attack-dog articles? Does a polar bear eat moose in the woods? I simply don’t know.
LN: I am stuck on this fact that a reporter is saying he actually apologized to Mrs. Palin behind closed doors asking her to not get mad at him, before she lifted her shirt to prove she was pregnant. Scrape me off the floor because not only can I not fathom a reporter ever doing this, I’d be too ashamed to ever admit it. And no matter what the truth in this whole ordeal, she had him right there. He was mincemeat. Am I right?
BS: I’ve never been a woman, but a couple of folks posting at blog sites have said that the above scenario sounds like a woman wrote it. I don’t know the first thing about Loy – maybe he is good at getting in touch with his feminine side. But my reaction as a journalist is like yours – it seems like a very strange scene.
But I don’t want to seem snarky. Palin was the governor. And she was also beautiful and charismatic. To be honest, I have no idea how I would have reacted when I was a young reporter faced with a situation like that – but I might have been every bit as deferential. I’m guessing the scene happened exactly as Loy described it, and he was just overawed by her presence. Loy should just be thankful it wasn’t her gender that was being questioned.
BS: Your turn Laura. Can you picture a circumstance where you would write a “Make.It.Stop.” piece like O’Malley’s, effectively telling journalists that further investigation of a potential presidential candidate should be off-limits, because you absolutely know the truth and have revealed it?
LN: Never. Yawn. Next question.
Seriously. Years ago, I worked with a very famous TV journalist in London and New York. Every time I went in to his office, he had his hands in his pants. Deep down. Fiddling with his shirt, I suppose, if I want to be charitable. Things like that happened often in the news business to young women. The sexism was rampant. So, had there been a weird story then that the man had no private parts, say, would I have said that no, that I was pretty sure there was something there to fiddle with? I’m sure I would have been discreet had that question been raised (he was a notorious philanderer.) Later, if someone asked, would I change my story about his fiddling with his pants and with other women? No. I experienced what I experienced. I wouldn’t adapt the story to fit the current agenda.
Same goes for my experience with Rush Limbaugh. We worked at the same all-news station in Sacramento. My experience was that he was a gentleman. He was always nice to me and had a good sense of humor. He’d often invite me on his show to debate issues. He called me a "flaming lib in the newsroom!" All these years later, with all that’s been said about him, would I change my story just because I disagree with his politics? No. I experienced Rush the way I did. It’s bogus to adapt to the current discussion rather than hold to our original truth.
BS: Joe McGinniss recently asked this in his blog: “Is it purely coincidence that so many are suddenly so intent on insisting that there are no legitimate questions to be asked?” What’s your answer?
LN: One must tread carefully, Obi Wan. Influence talks. Absolute influence talks absolutely. If reporters reported the story correctly, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Remember what you just said: Young reporters are more timid. They can be overwhelmed by the power brokers. I would probably have been as well, though to be honest, I overcame a lot of fear by compensating with fierce reporting. I could just get in their face!
But I want to point out one more thing. Powerful people have media people. Those media people do not, I repeat, do NOT leave the room because a green reporter tells them to. (again, scrape me off the floor). I’ve had them place their tape recorders next to mine for the interview. I’ve had them try to redirect the conversation. I’ve even had them sit directly behind me and click, click, click away on their laptops to log the entire interview, almost as if in an attempt to unnerve me! I’ve been pressured, leaned on, harassed, schmoozed and offered bribes.
Brad, anything is possible. Anything.