Thursday, July 01, 2010

On Sarah Palin's falsehoods and the audacity of committing non-sexist, non-partisan journalism

Sarah Palin, with Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell and Sandy Parnell, March 14 2008
(four weeks and four days before allegedly giving birth to a six-pound infant)

This Monday evening, I wrote about Sarah Palin's strange and incredible tall tales, specifically, the ones surrounding the youngest Palin child (not counting the grandchild Tripp, fathered by Levi Johnston) whom Palin introduced to the world as Trig. As everyone is well aware, this little boy was born with Down Syndrome; on the day Senator John McCain announced his selection of Palin as his running mate in the presidential race, Trig's reportedly recent birth to the then-sitting governor of Alaska was trumpeted as concrete proof of Palin's staunch pro-life beliefs. Political observers across the nation and across party lines opined that Palin's selection was a stroke of genius--a way to recapture the enormous far-right fundamentalist Chrisitan vote for McCain.

And as subsequent poll numbers bore out, McCain did, initially, enjoy an enormous boost in his approval ratings.

Then, as journalists and bloggers began to delve into the stories themselves, and investigations turned up all manner of inconsistencies, outright lies, and biological impossibilities, an overwhelming tide of Don't Go There seemed to wash over everyone. Instead of pointing out that the Empress had no clothes, our national media and national blogs alike--with the Daily Kos leading the way--declared Palin's maternity fables off-limits. The very maternity fables from which she derived the bulk of her political power and enormous popularity with the country's large and powerful fundamentalist Christian/pro-life base.

I realize that for many readers--particularly those who live in blue states or liberal-majority cities, and who, like most of us lefties, tend to read mostly progressive blogs while shaking our heads at the overly-familiar-with-their-subjects, right-leaning media Sir Charles describes so eloquently--it may be hard to appreciate exactly how prevalent, how dominant and all-consuming, the fundamentalist mentality is in these modern United States. Please take my word for it, readers: it is a potent force, one that supplies the dominant warp and weft of our culture's tapestry, even as small-but-tough, multi-hued threads persist (and thank goodness for them).

I live in the South, and have done so since we emigrated to the States in the mid-1970's; before that, I attended a small school, one that was run by Mennonite and Baptist missionaries, in the mountains above Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Every day, lessons began with Bible study; every year, at least once, we'd have a visiting preacher lay hands on us, prompt some of the students to "speak in tongues", and warn us about the evils of the flesh that comprised our adolescent bodies. And we'd sit there on the floor, cross-legged and trying not to look at each other and giggle, knowing it would only be a matter of time before one of our more adventurous classmates broke into a teacher's car and found the stash of naked-girl or naked-boy magazines (or, sometimes, worse).

So all that said, let me put to rest once and for all any question about the fundamentalist mindset being powerful. If decades--nay, centuries--worth of stone-cold reality about human beings' normal red-hot desires cannot sway you from your religious worldview, or at least give you pause, make you wonder why it's okay for leaders (or preachers or teachers) to do one thing while telling you to do another...well, that's powerful stuff, readers. And in Florida and the South, as at my little school in Central America, that powerful stuff reigns supreme.

Fundamentalist Christian businessmen in our town won't re-wire our house, repair our plumbing, or install a glass shower door because Robert and I don't attend church, and politely declined their stern invitation to show up at theirs. I have spent a greater percentage of my life than I care to admit commuting--from this small, rural town through three counties and across a body of water--in order to have my children attend a school where they teach real science, not courses entitled God's Plan for Seeds.

So yes, Sarah Palin and her rabid fan base scare me. As they should scare you.

Science matters; facts matter; and always and forever, the truth matters.

Now, on to addressing a recurrent theme I encountered in emails to me and in comments at my post, both at litbrit, and at Cogitamus. Namely, the very same Don't Go There attitude that has permitted Palin to, as Andrew Sullivan so fittingly put it, dominate one-half the political divide for the past 22 months.

I find that attitude to be exceedingly sexist and unfair.

When male politicians who aspire to far less significant offices than vice president or president of the United States use their military pasts to build their political power, and appeal to a significant voter bloc, bloggers and/or traditional journalists (once they've been prodded) delve into the candidate's past with gusto. If they find inconsistencies and outright lies, they say so. They call the candidate on it, they demand proof of his assertions, and if they find out he lied about such a thing, they report this to the country. As well they should.

A man who says he has fought in combat--an act that is fraught with life-and-death decisions and details that would spin the heads of the more squeamish among his audience; that affects a person, both emotionally and physically, for the rest of his life; and the retelling of which narrative treads through extremely sensitive grounds--does so knowing he'll incur the admiration and support of a large, electorally significant group of voters.

A woman who says she has carried and given birth to a special-needs infant (after first satisfying her speech-giving obligations as governor, then, incredibly, flown across a continent while in labor)--an act that is, by any stretch of the imagination, fraught with life-and-death decisions and details that would spin the heads of the more squeamish among her audience; that affects a person, both emotionally and physically, for the rest of her life; and the retelling of which narrative treads through extremely sensitive grounds--does so knowing she'll incur the admiration and support of a large, electorally significant group of voters.

With the former candidate, any inconsistencies and lies in his narrative are dug up and military records--personal and sensitive as they may be--are called for and examined. Reporters might talk to those who served with him (if indeed he served); newspapers and televised news programs discuss the serious problem with his story.

In short, the candidate is asked to explain himself. The narrative--the heroic soldier bona fides--that helped define him as a man with a "servant's heart" is, at least most of the time, exposed as a partial or complete fabrication.

Yet with the latter candidate--who in this case is embodied by one Sarah Palin, former half-term governor of Alaska, vice-presidential running mate and likely, if not certain, presidential candidate in 2012--the vast sea of inconsistencies and outright lies in her narratives is simply accepted, or else acknowledged in private by those with functioning ears and eyes but never questioned fully and responsibly by our national media, and, to a great extent, by bloggers of any political persuasion.

Other than a handful of Alaskan bloggers, Palingates (which is written and read by Europeans and Americans and has unearthed and published a staggering amount of linked, on-the-record facts), Andrew Sullivan, and now, me.

This is unacceptable. I find it deeply troubling in ways that go well beyond the story of Palin, even. And I believe it to be sexist in the extreme that our press will investigate, and hold responsible for their lies, male candidates--and do so in the adversarial manner in which the press should approach its subject matter--yet when a conservative female is the topic at hand, everyone takes a Don't Go There attitude.

Worse, they ridicule, lambaste, and even harass those few writers, reporters, and bloggers who have the audacity to point out that the Empress has no clothes.

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

The Empress has no clothes. Kindly investigate same.


UPDATE: On the subject of ex-Governor Palin's multitude of deceptions--for those interested in further reading by non-Alaska bloggers who have, in the apparent absence of attention by mainstream media, continued to do plenty of researching and reporting--reader and blogger Ennealogic points to her blog Hypocrites and Heffalump Traps, specifically the section dedicated to "Babygate".

And for discussions of various interesting theories, see Floyd Orr's Babygate.

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