"And people wonder how this farce of a candidate now controls one major political party and could well be our next president. One reason is that we do not have a functioning adversarial media uncorrupted by partisan loyalty and tactics."
Well, I suppose we're starting the week out with one mystery solved. That is, the mystery of why I received only negative respsonses--if indeed I received any responses at all--when I sent e-mail after e-mail to various media people, and writers of blogs far more widely read than this one, asking them if they were going to investigate Sarah Palin's risibly unlikely, riven-by-gaping-inconsistencies birth story (or rather, stories, since they kept changing), given that so much of her very thin political resumé was constructed around her having walked the walk of a pro-life politician. And given that she'd placed her fifth child Trig, a baby with Down syndrome, squarely in the bright lights of the national media along with her other children, it was an important, politically significant story, one worthy of pursuing and elucidating.
I am really, really troubled by this. It's not exaggerating to say I have knots in my stomach.
First of all, I want to say that I have immeasurable admiration for Ezra Klein, the talented journalist and blogger who, during the time the e-mails I want to talk about were written (when the Palin nomination and subsequent Babygate rumors were the topic at hand), was writing at The American Prospect (he's now at the Washington Post).
Back in 2007, when I was just getting started as a wee baby blogger (Ezra is half my age, so I'm kidding, of course), Ezra generously extended to me a regular weekend guest-spot at his eponymous blog (pre-Prospect and pre-WaPo).
I must also say this: while I do not, and did not, personally agree with the concept, I truly believe that in his own mind, Ezra meant to create something useful in Journolist--something that expanded, and served the cause of, free speech, as opposed to shaping and constricting it--by creating a forum for political writers wherein people could turn to one another as sounding boards and learn things, and do so without fear of kicking off the inevitable shitstorm of flaming and thread-derailing that occurs when people bounce ideas around in a fully public forum. Many, many writers (and, for that matter, non-writers) belong to e-mail groups; the authors at Cogitamus, of which I am one, use ours to pass along links, jokes, and exhortations for someone to "Please, please post this; it's so good, but I have to run out and pick up the children."
I know Ezra did not mean for Journolist to become a talking-points machine, or a constrictor and molder of the press, or of free speech. Based on some of the e-mails I've read, though--and I have read a number of them at this point--I am deeply disturbed by the way some of the correspondence appears to be doing exactly that. That is, it aims to constrict and sculpt the discourse no less than if it were an unwieldy, tentacle-sprouting Play-doh beast they wanted to fashion into a tidy, shapely creature more tastefully proportioned for the puppet theatre stage known as Politics in Media. Certainly this was true of some members, when it came to the issue of whether or not to pursue investigating the obviously fraudulent stories then-VP candidate Sarah Palin was telling the national, and international, press.
The obviously fraudulent stories.
Told to, and repeated by, the press.
Repeated by the press, or simply left to stand uncontested, without any apparent independent investigation to verify them or debunk them.
I salute Lindsay Beyerstein for writing this (e-mail via Palingates; emphasis mine):
The story is far-fetched and as yet unsupported by evidence. Kathy’s right: So far, there’s not enough evidence for any responsible commentator to discuss this. Public speculation without proof is cruel and counterproductive.
However, if some reporter thinks this rumor is worth investigating further, and he or she absolutely nails this story, that would be great.
If I had the smoking gun, I’d proudly publish the evidence. (I don’t think the story is plausible enough to bother looking, but that’s a separate question.)
Anyone who decided to raise her granddaughter as her daughter is a liar and a hypocrite, not to mention an abuser of two generations of children. What kind of parent would force her family to live that kind of lie?
What warped values would give rise to such a decision? Lots of grandparents raise their grandkids. That’s admirable and commonplace. Barack Obama spoke movingly before a crowd of 84,000 about how his own grandmother helped raise him.
Why lie about the baby’s origins, except to spare Palin political embarrassment? She’s a self-professed Bible believing Christian whose mommy cred might be diminished by the revelation that she raised an unwed teen mom. That said, I imagine that she would have scored a lot of points for openly raising her daughter’s disabled child–and rightly so. A hoax would suggest extreme selfishness and blind ambition, not to mention vanity and a distinctly irrational preoccupation with keeping up appearances.
I was never a member, so I can only speak to the e-mails that have been made public. I wish I could say reading them makes me feel vindicated for the number of times I've been called crazy, or a conspiracy theorist, or over-the-top regarding matters Palin, when all I wanted was for someone in the media to do his or her bloody job.
Or hell, to pass along my blog--which is packed with examples of my writing--to a managing editor somewhere and hire me. I don't think I'm unqualified. Passionate, yes. But able to be neutral and dispassionate when it's called for, not to mention extremely well-schooled in how the press ought to function in a free society (back in the day, we couldn't even get past Go unless we took ethics, critical thinking, and media law classes in addition to related subjects like literature, philosophy, and foreign languages.)
I do know Ezra to be a man of extraordinary integrity who is possessed of a powerful work ethic. I also know that in the course of being a creative person, we sometimes build things that take on lives of their own, and at that point, those things have the potential to run amok and generally be quite out-of-control. They become tentacle-sprouting beasts themselves. Case in point: Journolist.
Finally, I know this: Ezra, being a man, has never had a baby. And neither, it would seem, have a number of the members of JL.
This, by Maggie Mahar of Politico, is just unforgivably ignorant. Really, the smug assertions here are simply jaw-dropping and remind me of Amanda Marcotte's dreadfully sloppy post, not to mention the fact that virtually every bit of it--from the number of flights Palin took, to the premature nature of the alleged delivery, to Palin's high-risk age--was wrong on its face (my emphasis):
Airlines tell people not to fly becuse they're covering their ass (concerned about liability if, say a stewardess tries to help a woman delivering and something goes wrong.)No, Ms. Mahr is clearly not an authority. Not on babies with Down syndrome--no special danger? Does she not consider heart defects, breathing problems, and jaundice to be special dangers?--and not on pregnancy, labor, or delivery. Why say anything if you're this uninformed? Why not say, Let me research this a bit; let me investigate? Yes, it's a list-serv and people are supposedly just being sounding boards for one another. But let's also remember, the core topic at hand appears to be whether or not to pursue an enormous story, and people are discussing the merits of pursuing vs. not pursuing it by declaring as fact things that are in no way, shape, or form factual!
If you think about it, going into labor on a plane is not the worst thing–much preferable, say, to going into labor in a subway (too dirty) or a cab (only one person too help you.) or a car (with your husband in a total panic.)
Seriously, on a plane you stand an excellent chance that one or more woman who have had several children can be a big help–not to mention the possibility of a doctor or a midwife.
And if you’re not yet in labor, a six-hour flight is just not that long. You’d probably
have plenty of time. (And if she had actually been in labor at that point, she would not have been able to give a speech.)
I can certainly imagine getting on a plane rather than going to a strange hospital, alone.
Would I get on a plane in my 7th or even 8th month? Absolultely.
Would I get on a plane if my water had broken?
Depends on how badly I wanted to get where I was going, and whether I was actually in labor..
Finally, as far as I know (and I’m not an authority on Downs) a Downs baby is not in special danger during the delivery.
And this is how a significant portion of the blogosphere and media came to give ex-governor Sarah Palin a complete pass instead of pursuing the truth of the matter.
Would everyone have been so blasé about a politician fabricating a military story wherein he heroically performed his duties, leaking body fluids, before getting on two separate flights and endangering other passengers (if an emergency landind had been forced), and finally making it to a small regional hospital, so brave was he? Would they?
So why did our press--not just the aforementioned bloggers and journalists, mind you, but our entire national press--take a pass on investigating this dreadful fraud of a politician, this farce of a would-be leader, this reckless liar, Sarah Palin?
Today, the Daily Caller applauds Ezra Klein for attempting to head off the message-coordination ethos that sometimes took hold among the Journolist list-serv's 400 members:
Although he now denies that lots of informal — and some formal — coordination took place on Journolist, to his credit listserv founder Ezra Klein was a force for moderation. He stopped others from organizing a weekly message, stopped people from organizing open letters on Journolist (after they did so on one occasion), wouldn’t let those currently working in the government on the list, and seemed more reasonable than many in his remarks.