Monday, July 05, 2010

Again with a post about Sarah Palin: Responding to the Department of Disingenuously Selective Editing and Smug Name-calling

Last week, I wrote about what I consider Sarah Palin's biggest lie and ethics violation to date and subsequently accused the media of employing sexism (albeit in reverse, this time) by taking a Don't Go There attitude toward a pregnancy and delivery story that was full of gaping holes while, conversely, being all too happy to investigate--and expose as fraudulent--the war stories of male candidates when said stories were similarly pocked with lies and inconsistencies.

I expected that there would be pushback. What I did not expect was that it would come from another progressive blogger whom I have otherwise respected: Amanda of Pandagon, someone I was surprised to see engage in such tactics as offering up selectively truncated versions of the facts at hand--admittedly huge, labyrinthine, and unwieldy as this body of Palin Baby Story information has become--and then knocking them down before a cheering audience. And this after lamenting that although she has up until now been too high-minded, too busy writing about more important things, clearly she would have to be the one--ho-hum--to set things straight:

I thought I’d skip anything news-driven and instead whip out a little skeptical posting. Sadly, I’ve been avoiding this somewhat out of cowardice, but frankly, that’s no excuse. Most people are in the “ignore them and they’ll go away camp” when it comes to conspiracy theorists, but I’m not, so I’m a perfect person to try to push back against them.

She begins by attacking one of the most common theories involved in the Palin birth-story hoax/lie/deception, namely, that Palin faked a pregnancy to cover for her daughter Bristol's pregnancy in 2007-2008.
1) That Bristol took some time off school in 2008. This is the least interesting evidence to the theorists, from what I can tell. The reason is that focusing on Bristol is rhetorically unwise of them, because if you believe the theory, you have to accept Bristol conceived a second time while still pregnant. So they shy away from this one.

As far as I recall--and as it was only last week that I wrote those posts (indeed, that I addressed the issue of so-called Babygate on my blog or at Cogitamus at all), I think I recall pretty accurately--I made no assertion that I was sure Palin's daughter Bristol was definitely the biological mother of the family's fifth child, Trig. (For the record, I strongly suspect she is; I cannot prove this.) Rather, I focused on the logistics of Palin's story and the facts that are known about labor, childbirth, the policies of airlines, the standard recommendations of obstetricians--even for for normal pregnancies, carried to term, by non-high-risk mothers age 35 or under (Palin was 43)--and finally, the experiences I have had, as a mother of three, with labor.

In other words, while I don't really know for certain who gave birth to Trig, I am certain who did not. And that's because for him to be the biological child of Sarah Palin, I would have to accept the lion's share of the stack of lies she told, and embellished upon in her book, and I would also have to accept that the same woman who, in her twenties and close to giving birth, looked like this: her forties, after having birthed four previous children, and at eight months pregnant, looked like this:

(Photo stills from a 2008 FOX News program, "Sarah Palin, An American Woman",
with the second and fourth photos lightened for contrast)

But let's rebut the substance of Amanda's selectively edited words about Bristol anyway. Bristol did not merely "take some time off school". She took five months off school, and was out of sight (and probably out of town) for that long, due to a "case of mono", according to the Palins themselves. (Mono is admittedly bad--two of my boys came down with it at separate times; the worst case had my eldest son out of school for a total of three weeks--but five months worth of bad? When one is a popular, active student and a cheerleader?) This five month period coincided neatly with the time frame that Bristol could have been pregnant. Furthermore, Bristol had posted on a friend's MySpace account in the summer of '07 that her mother suspected her of being pregnant and had confiscated her cell phone. Upon Palin's selection by McCain, the Palin girls' MySpace accounts were scrubbed and/or deleted, and much of the photographic archives on the governor's official website, the ones taken during the months leading up to the day Trig was allegedly born, were scrubbed, too. Incidentally, a member of the campaign, claiming to be there to help deal with the press, moved in with Levi Johnston's family. Levi's sister, Mercede, said she came home one day and discovered her entire computer had been hacked--either it was completely scrubbed, such that all its photo files and more were gone, or else someone had completely replaced the hard drive with a new one that was completely devoid of photos and document files.

Furthermore, Amanda says:
The reason is that focusing on Bristol is rhetorically unwise of them, because if you believe the theory, you have to accept Bristol conceived a second time while still pregnant. So they shy away from this one.
I have not seen people "shy away" at all. Rather, I have read numerous times that it would be very easy for a case of "Irish Twins" to have occurred (forgive the regrettably insulting term), wherein a mother has another baby within a year of giving birth. Remember, Palin did not make Bristol's pregnancy public until the rumors that had been swirling in Alaska were now all over the country, the Internet, and even in Canadian media. By throwing her pregnant teenage daughter under the bus--embarrassing her by putting her on the world stage and dragging her boyfriend along too, and declaring she was about five months along--Palin believed she could put those rumors to bed and protect her own political ambitions (as well as those of John McCain, I'd add--one wonders how on earth he and his campaign could have missed such a thing as a potential VP selection having a teenage daughter pregnant out of wedlock when he was actively trying to reclaim the fundamentalist Christian vote for the Republican Party?) However, if you think Palin is capable of lying, and lying big--and I happen to think she is definitely capable of that, as she has done just that, and far too many times to count--it's not that much of a leap to question whether Trig's birth was in April after all, but rather, took place earlier in the year, and Palin simply took a page from the script of the prior season's Desperate Housewives series and pretended to be pregnant. It would not be the first time a prominent and purportedly religious family engaged in that very kind of deception.

Assuming for the moment, and for the sake of argument, that Bristol was pregnant once before, with Trig, but gave birth to him earlier than April 18, this would have allowed enough time for a second pregnancy to take place in 2008. And this was addressed by a midwife and childbirth educator known only as Audrey, whose blog Palin's Deceptions went dark shortly after Robert Stacy McCain and Dan Riehl blackmailed and threatened both her and her husband, a physician. Before the blog shut down, though, Audrey addressed the Trig birth date question:

Based on an (undocumented) birth date of December 27th, Tripp was conceived no earlier than April 2008, and arguably later as he was not presented to the world until mid-February (exactly as I predicted). So even Bristol could not have been aware of the pregnancy until late-April 2008, at the earliest.

Yet we know that rumors of the pregnancy preceded this time frame, so much so that Sarah herself tried to dispel the rumors prior to March 2008. The Anchorage Daily New wrote a story about the rumors on August 31, 2008 and as we now know, they pursued the story about the rumors again in the fall. We also know that, almost a year ago, a poster on reddit reported on the Bristol pregnancy rumor and said she was going to high school in Anchorage.

(Note: The Reddit article Audrey references, wherein numerous Alaska residents discuss their governor's just-announced pregnancy and the rumors she was faking it to cover for her eldest daughter, was posted on April 8th, 2008, long before Palin was selected by McCain; long before she, and the pregnancy rumors, would be known outside Alaska. This strange and unbelievable story did not originate after Palin's selection, but rather, upon Palin's surprise announcement that she was seven months pregnant, and well before Trig's birth was even announced.)

Numerous other blogs, from Alaska (like The Immoral Minority) to Germany (Palingates) have doggedly pursued the truth that must surely be stashed somewhere underneath the very strange and tangled mound of vines that is Palin's birth story. So has Andrew Sullivan. No-one, to my knowledge, has "shied away" from Bristol's potential role in it; quite the opposite.

Absent conclusive proof that Bristol is Trig's birth mother, she is certainly, nonetheless, at the top of my own very short list of people for whom Sarah Palin would go to the risk and trouble of faking a pregnancy.

And if she were not, would it not have been the more caring, sensitive, and prudent thing for Palin to do if, in the days after her selection, she'd merely laughed off the rumors and shown Trig's birth certificate and/or had his delivering obstetrician hold a brief press conference with a statement to the effect of, Yes, I am Governor Palin's obstetrician, and I was present and personally took care of her when she gave birth to Trig on April 18th. Certainly more caring and sensitive than announcing that, Well, look here: My teenaged daughter is pregnant--five months along, in fact--so that means she couldn't possibly have given birth to Trig on...(what was that date again?). Certainly much more politically prudent, given that the issue is still unsettled after all this time.

Now, on to addressing some other points Amanda sets forth.

2) That Bristol cuddles Trig a lot. [...] theorists enjoy putting up pictures of Trig being cuddled in public by Bristol, implying that she, as the mother, cannot resist this.
I have never said that. Nor, to my knowledge, has Andrew Sullivan. Nor have any bloggers or journalists, to my knowledge, asserted that Bristol's affectionate behavior toward Trig is proof that she is his mother. Humans who happen to like little babies tend to hold them affectionately, period. People will of course point out that Bristol always appeared affectionate toward, and natural with, the little boy, and commenters at any and all blogs are going to speculate on what this or that might mean, in matters Palin as well as every other story of interest. But making the jump from that, to calling Sullivan, me, and others "conspiracy theorists" because of it, is baseless and unnecessarily accusatory.

3) Palin didn’t show very much. It’s interesting to me that the theorists focus most of their energy on the Sarah Palin half of the equation, because focusing on the Bristol part would actually produce better evidence, if this deceit actually occurred. Even though I’d imagine it’s harder to prove that someone wasn’t pregnant than that someone was, they find way more emotional satisfaction going after Sarah Palin, so they do that.

Actually, what the vast majority of writers and mothers who've covered and/or discussed this have unanimously concluded is not so much that Palin did not show very much--although she clearly didn't show much before the seven-month point or her office staff would have noticed--but rather, that her size fluctuated so strangely, from virtually no baby bump at all beforehand--just big, floppy scarves (did any women reading this remember wearing long scarves at seven and eight months along, and having them fall plumb, that is, directly downward as opposed to off to the right or left? I didn't think so)--to the strange, squared-off-at-the-bottom baby bump on display on video filmed for FOX on April 8th and 9th, to the much, much larger figure she was reported to have just one week later at the Republican conference in Dallas. Then, all that somehow disappeared, or shrank dramatically enough, so that when she boarded the flight home, flight attendants reported that they did not notice her in any kind of distress whatsoever and that the stage of her pregnancy "was not apparent".

Amanda also disputes the fact that a slim, petite woman cannot hide a baby if her abs are tight enough. She mentions women at her gym who are slim and vain, and how you'd never know they were pregnant until the very end. Set aside my own experiences here, because although I'm on the thin side and a fair bit taller than Palin, I did get much bigger with my pregnancies--all in the stomach, too--than most women do. Let's instead consider some of the "tiny starlets" we see in the media all the time--women who are professionally beautiful, who work out like maniacs to keep themselves buff. Who have undeniably tight abs, in other words. At a certain point, it matters not how tight a woman's abs are, because a baby isn't in her stomach--he's in her uterus, an organ that sits deep within the pelvis at the beginning of pregnancy and rises upward and outward, along with its human resident, as gestation progresses. And it's not just a flesh-and-bone baby that's in there: there is a big, hard ball of fluid, a fat disc of muscle-like tissue (the placenta), and an umbilical cord. Here's a comparison, of dated photos, of the normally slim and very fit Heidi Klum and Gwen Stefani (neither of whom was in their forties or having their fifth baby, if should be noted) and Palin, all at the 25 week point (via):

Amanda's next odd statement:

4) Sarah Palin got on a plane while having contractions and flew all the way to Alaska from Texas. I’ve never understood why this is supposed to be proof of anything. [...]

Litbrit claims it would be impossible to fly during labor, because it’s so painful. But there’s no reason to think she was in heavy labor during the flight. ( Amanda has mistakenly reversed the departure and destination here.)

I did not claim; rather, I know. How many times must I repeat this to the non-childbearers of the world who keep questioning this? Other than taking an emergency flight directly to the hospital on a medivac helicopter, where there would be personnel and equipment designed to save your life and hopefully that of your infant, you simply couldn't and wouldn't do that--get on a long commercial flight having ruptured membranes and contractions of any sort at eight months. (No airline would permit it if they thought you were more than seven months along; some airlines would require documented permission from your doctor, but wouldn't let you on while you were in labor). And medical science--not to mention the reports of countless mothers and my own experience with two of my three pregnancies wherein the water broke early on--will solidly back me up here: once one's water breaks, the contractions become significantly more painful. Again, no doctor would ever sanction such a thing. And not only would every single doctor in the world who was worth his medical license NOT tell a woman whose water had broken at eight months of pregnancy that it was okay to fly (!) for that long (!!) and take yet another flight (!!!) for a similar length of time (!!!!), and drive for an hour or so through the snowy, curving roads between Anchorage and the valley (!!!!!), it would not be physically possible for any woman, even Sarah Baracuda, Queen of the Tundra, to endure, for that long, that kind of pain--the baby's heavy, hard, bony skull is now lying smack on top of the contracting and dilating cervix, without the benefit of much or any water to cushion it. That's why contractions hurt so damned much once the water breaks. You couldn't do it without at least wincing, over and over (as I wrote before, for me, it was more like screaming pitifully, and other mothers have reported choking their husbands, threatening the nurse, and being willing to take the epidural in their eyeball, if that's what it took to subdue the pain). In short, people would, at the very least, suspect that something was wrong.

Surely Amanda knows this. She has given birth many babies?

I asserted, and I stand behind my assertion, that Palin is lying about a large portion of the Story of Trig that she told the media, in her own voice. She claims to have flown to Texas for a conference and while there, awakened in the early morning with her water breaking and contractions beginning--prematurely, at eight months. And she alleges her doctor, unbelievably, reassured her that instead of going straight to an emergency room, she could go about her day and then fly home later. As every doctor I've ever spoken to (including my own, who wanted the name of this "theoretical doctor" so he could report him or her and have the license suspended!) has insisted, once water has broken prematurely, at eight months, it is a now a medical emergency, as labor and even delivery can occur at any point, the risk of infection is high and climbs with every passing hour, and the serious risk to a special-needs infant born to a woman in her forties is yet higher still. Going directly to the hospital is mandatory.

Yet, as we have all heard repeatedly, Palin did just that: went about her day, then flew home. Further, she bypassed larger hospitals equipped with the neonatal intensive care units that, again, are mandatory for premature, special needs babies born to high-risk mothers, and proceeded through snowy roads to the small regional hospital in the Mat-Su Valley, the same hospital that, as several independent phone calls by a number of bloggers confirmed, not only does not have a neonatal intensive care unit (for premature infants) on site, but also is not equipped to handle high-risk births (i.e. to mothers in their forties), or even multiples (twins, triplets, etc.).

And one last thing: lets say, for the sake of argument, that Palin did indeed give birth to Trig, somewhere, on April 18th 2008. This was a special-needs baby--a Down Syndrome baby--who was not only born prematurely, but also had infantile jaundice and a heart defect.

Yet Palin took to him to work work with her three days after she alleges to have given birth.

A super-preemie! Magically immune to all airborne pathogens--and permitted to trip the light fantastic of Palin's own office within 36 hours of his premature birth--unlike typical, full-term-and-40-weeks-old, unjaundiced babies, those plump, pink, infection-prone slackers. (Perhaps Palin did not properly read that one e-mail from her press agent (pdf), one of many redacted ones and thousands of non-redacted ones, netted in MSNBC's FOIA request and now posted online, courtesy of MSNBC, that bore the subject line "re: strategy for responding to questions about pregnancy".)

It's an utterly astonishing pack of lies on which Palin's political bona fides rest, and as we've seen, her other, non-maternity-related political bona fides amount to pretty thin gruel. Plenty of people, nonetheless, will dismiss this matter as no longer important: the "It doesn't matter" folks.

That's a different argument altogether, even though I continue to assert, as Sullivan does, that it matters a great deal because Palin has dominated one half the political divide for nearly two years now, and she continues to reign supreme: she remains one of the top choices for the Republican presidential ticket among the hardly-insignificant fundamentalist Christian right and tea-party factions.

But the other, more central argument--the "Did it happen?" argument--is tentacular and complicated; it will not likely be settled until and unless some definitive proof is set forth, something that Sullivan has always asked for: Prove me wrong, please. And I am going to echo that: Prove me wrong, too. Even Alaska Daily News Executive Editor Patrick Dougherty said as much in a long email to then-Governor Palin, dated January 12, 2009, responding to an angry e-mail from her (emphasis added):

Because we have been amazed by the widespread and enduring quality of these rumors. I finally decided, after watching this go on unabated for months, to let a reporter try to do a story about the "conspiracy theory that would not die" and, possibly, report the facts of Trig's birth thoroughly enough to kill the nonsense once and for all.

Lisa Demer started reporting. I don't believe she received any cooperation in her efforts from the parties who, in my judgment, stood to benefit most from the story, namely you and your family. Even so, we reported the matter as thoroughly as we could. Several weeks ago, when we considered the information Lisa had gathered, we decided we didn't have enough of a story to accomplish what we had hoped. Lisa moved on to other topics and we haven't decided whether the idea is worth any further effort.

Even the birth of your grandson may not dissuade the Trig conspiracy theorists from their beliefs. It strikes me that if there is never a clear, contemporaneous public record of what transpired with Trig's birth that may actually ensure that the conspiracy theory never dies. [...]

I cannot address your concerns if I do not hear them. Perhaps after reading this you will conclude that the facts are not exactly as you thought, or that there was more to these issues than you knew. I hope you see that we have tried hard to practice sound journalism. We may have trusted the accuracy of the AP too much, but I won't know that for sure until you confirm that Levi will graduate from high school.

When we heard that you were upset about Lisa's inquiries, we immediately extended an invitation to your office for you to meet with me and other editors so we could explain our interest in the Trig matter, and answer any other questions you might have. As far as I know, that invitation was never acknowledged.

We remain willing and available to meet with you to discuss these or any other issues. I would be happy to meet with you one on one, as would Pat Doyle, or as part of any group of editors and publisher you would like.

Annointing oneself as Lone Defendress of Reality-based Blogging, or some version thereof, and discrediting writers (or bloggers or investigative journalists) with belittling terms, while at the same time leaving out key elements of the story at hand, and doing this so as to make them appear delusionally wed to what one has already decided are merely their fantasies and conspiracies, is a cheap shot and an appalling way to write a blog post. For example, leaving out the small detail of ruptured membranes and saying "Litbrit claims it would be impossible to fly during labor, because it’s so painful. But there’s no reason to think she was in heavy labor during the flight".

I'm going to give Amanda the benefit of the doubt and assume she wasn't aware of those details because she simply hasn't ever paid much attention to the whole story (which is of course her right, until such time as she wishes to discuss it in an informed way); that she had long ago arrived at a conclusion (and set of explanations) she was comfortable with, and thus she skimmed--rather than read with an open mind--the posts I wrote; and finally, having not had any personal experience with childbirth, she didn't have the same reaction that I did, or that so many other mothers did, upon first encountering the story.

I think that's a more gracious way to regard a blog post sneeringly entitled "A little holiday skepticism"--wherein commenters remarked, unrebutted by Amanda, that I was "full of shit" and worse--than to malign her or insult her intelligence.

To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle, as Orwell said, and Andrew Sullivan is nothing if not constant and unwavering, having put up with plenty of denigration--and for long enough--just for struggling, ever struggling, to commit the journalism that others will not: investigating and trying to disentangle an amazing, Brobdingnagian collection of lies, and pointing out that, in the absence of clear contemporaneous record to prove otherwise, the Empress has no clothes. Sullivan says he "doesn't give a toss" what others think or say, he just wants the truth.

I wrote this lengthy set of corrections to Amanda's post because I want the truth, too. And I really don't give a toss what people think or say, either, as I'm well aware how impulsively sharp-tongued and nasty bloggers can be; commenters, nastier still. Truth matters, always.

Once more, then, for our weirdly and inexplicably squeamish, sexist, ethically-challenged Barbecue Media:

The Empress has no clothes. Kindly investigate same.

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