If you’re just joining me, and I doubt you are for no reason in particular, I am continuing what I have decided to call “a story about a story about a story.”
I’m speaking again with Bradford W. Scharlott, Ph.D., a tenured professor a Northern Kentucky University. Several days ago, he released an academic paper entitled “Palin, the Press and the Fake Pregnancy Rumor: Did a Spiral of Silence Shut down the Story?”
For now, I’ve decided to pursue a format I’ve used on my Blog to interview authors, and as I did with Dr. Scharlott the other day. I'll ask Brad two questions, then he can ask me two. Like I said, I don’t have any editors managing this product. So if at some point that doesn’t work, we’ll change it. It’s all good here in the Bay Area.
LN: Brad, I want to begin going through your paper chronologically. You say, in the second sentence no less, that the premise of all of this media coverage/lack of media coverage is that Mrs. Palin “faked the birth of her fifth child, Trig, in 2008 to cover for her daughter, Bristol.” Does this story inevitably have to link to Bristol Palin? Where does that come from? Why go down that path?
BS: There at the start I was merely paraphrasing what the MediaMatters columnist had written – I did not foresee that people would take that as my theory of who Trig’s mother must be – but I understand why it seems that way. So I will revise that part and take Bristol’s name out. Indeed, I will make the point more than once in that paper that I am not pushing Bristol as Trig’s likely mother. I do spend a good deal of time in the paper on Bristol’s delivery of Tripp, but not because I think she must be Trig’s mother, rather because Palin’s people were jerking the press around concerning the exact place and/or date of delivery. That in itself suggests something odd was afoot – but I don’t know what.
Let me stress that this is not a finished paper ready to be published. I have submitted it for presentation at a conference, where professors generally get feedback on how to get a paper ready for publication in a journal. So, I’m now getting feedback from people all over the world – that’s nice, even if some of them call me a “scumbag … in the service of evil.”
LN: On page two you break your thesis down into three parts. 1) “…there was insufficient evidence for the press to conclude that Palin was telling the truth about Trig.” 2) The press gave “Palin more deference than she was due.” 3) “…spiral of silence theory casts light on press performance relative to the Trig hoax rumor and, relatedly, the Obama fake birth-certificate rumor.” My question is this: you see these as inter-related obviously. Why? How did you come back to these three main points after researching this story?
BS: Well, as to #1, what evidence did Palin provide that she was Trig’s mother after the rumors spread over the Internet that she wasn’t? She merely waved a shiny object in the air and distracted the oh-so-easily-distracted press. The shiny object was her daughter, Bristol, and while waving her in the air she said, “Just look at that baby bump. Obviously, I’m Trig’s mother.” And that is the sum total of her new evidence since she was selected as McCain’s VP candidate.
What I just said about #1 also answers #2 about giving Palin more deference than she was due. In my paper I point out how some journalists in a private chat group speculated that maybe it would be in the best interest of the Palin family for any hoax to remain hidden, and thus journalists should ignore the hoax if there was one. Since when does the hypothetical best interest of a candidate’s family outweigh the right of the public to know about the trustworthiness or even mental health of that candidate?
As to #3, I’m interested in why the press came to avoid the Palin hoax story like kryptonite, but at the same time gave the Obama hoax story great play, both back in 2008 and, as we see, up to the present day. And as I argue in the paper, the reason in part has to do with how easily the press is manipulated by politicos on the right who want the Palin story buried, while at the same time folks on the left don’t know how to keep crazy-like-a-fox birthers from planting doubts about whether Obama meets the constitutional requirements to be president.
BS: Laura, here’s a question for you: Can you conceive of a circumstance under which you might wait 20 hours after your water broke to go to a medical facility? How about if you had an important speech to give eight hours later? What if you were in Texas and, in a fit of state pride, decided you would gird your loins and make it back to California because “Whoever heard of a surfer born in Texas?”
LN: Dude. (May I call you Dude?) My personal story is illustrative of what a high-risk, very complicated pregnancy can be. That’s all. But it’s food for thought for those who have no exposure to that world. My son’s birth defect was discovered in utero at 20 weeks. By 29 weeks, he wanted to come into the world. I stopped working out and went on bed rest and a rough regime of drugs to keep him inside me. I had massive amounts of amniotic fluid building up in me. In fact, I lost hearing in one ear from it. Had my water broken, it could have been very dangerous. As it was, it took four people to break it in the operating room. So, I am the last person to ask about leaking fluid and long plane rides. You might as well ask me how the food is on Mars.
To prepare my son to come into the world as healthy as possible, my obstetrician ordered me to be injected with betamethazone, a steroid that would boost his lung development. I got the shots twice a week, 24 hours apart, for 5 weeks. On that fifth week, when I was 35 weeks along, the doctor did an amniocentesis in the hospital to test the baby’s lung development. This is the same amnio that is done early in a pregnancy for genetic testing. At that late stage, it was very painful…and very risky. It could have started labor at 35 weeks and she did not want that!
This is a triple marker test and two of the markers came back positive, meaning good, that the baby was ready. The third was graded on a bell curve. The doctor wanted to see a level 2.0. Mine was 1.8. She sent me home again. Those were not fun days. The following week, she did another amniocentesis in the hospital, under radiology. The three markers indicated that the baby had enough surfactant and his lungs were ready for him to be born.
Short of that kind of testing, I don’t know how a doctor can determine if a baby’s lungs are ready for birth. But at 35 and 36 weeks, my OB decided against delivery until she had medical proof that it was safe. I should point out that she is a member of FACOG as were the two perinatologists (high risk OB’s) who I also saw. She was also a surgeon. And in those days, their malpractice insurance was in the 6-figures. I don’t know how doctors manage risk when it comes to a complicated baby with other issues who wants to enter the world at 35 weeks. But my OB was a cracker jack. Nothing got by her. She took no chances.
BS: Palin maintains she chose to give birth to a premature Down syndrome baby with a heart condition at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, which lacks a neonatal intensive-care unit, and en route bypassed several hospitals that have neonatal ICU's. As someone who had a premature baby yourself, does this ring true?
LN: It was long known that our baby would be transported as soon as he was born to the Children’s Hospital a mile away even though our birth hospital had a Level II nursery (it does not handle surgical patients). We had already met our pediatric surgeon. They had a bed ready for our son that night. And by bed, I mean a space in the Level Three Intensive Care Nursery. This is a major, regional trauma center and pediatric facility with dozens of pediatric sub-specialties. One of those subspecialties is pediatric cardiology.
I delivered in an adult hospital in a major city. A neonatologist, or high-risk pediatrician, from the team that serves the neonatal nursery in that hospital as well as at the children’s hospital down the street, was present at the birth. She was present at the birth. We have a picture of her in scrubs, with her gloved hand on the top of our son’s head on the warming table in the corner of the operating room with 4 other people around the baby.
During my pregnancy, we had a fetal echo-cardiogram to rule out heart problems. This was done at the children’s hospital, even though I was a pregnant lady, not a child. Two pediatric cardiologists did the scan and interpreted what they were seeing. The results were not good. A serious defect was suspected. The case got more complicated and my OB, the perinatologist who ordered the test, and our pediatric surgeon all talked to us about it. So, as soon as our son was transported to the NICU at Children’s that night (yes, night, he was born at night!) they ordered up another echo-cardiogram on him. The results were blessedly clear.
If you have a baby in a smaller regional hospital, without even a Level II nursery, I don’t know how heart defects are ruled out or confirmed, especially those that were suspected in utero. Does an adult radiologist or cardiologist do the test and interpret what they are seeing? Pediatric subspecialties require years of extra training. Would a pediatric cardiologist interpret or diagnose an adult’s echo-cardiogram? I would guess not. Does an adult doctor do that easily for a newborn? They probably can, but again, with all the changes the fetal/newborn heart goes through, I would think they wouldn’t. Did a pediatric cardiologist visit the smaller hospital where Trig Palin was reportedly born and do the scan there? Was there some other way to determine that his heart was okay and he was ready for discharge?
I offer no answers. But I wonder if there were answers, would people feel differently about this entire controversy? I simply say that my own exposure to that world of medicine has left me with very specific questions about this story. I received an extraordinarily high level of care, as Mrs. Palin must have. And I was not a 44-year-old, multipara sitting governor or celebrity. I was a 34-year-old primo-gravida TV reporter with excellent insurance, top-notch hospitals near my house and an incredibly cautious team of board-certified doctors who took care to manage my health as well as their own liability and risk. Again…just medicine for thought.
When we come back, I would like to talk to you about the press coverage, both in terms of the birth and the purported hoax. I’m looking at page 5 of your paper and there’s some good stuff there to discuss.