Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Some serious questions for Dave Weigel re: his decidedly unserious and woefully uninformed Sarah Palin assertions

Dear Dave,

That's quite a post you put up at Andrew Sullivan's blog today. I'm guessing you were told by the higher-ups to be provocative--hey, I watched that MSM Orientation video, too--and I'll admit it, you provoked me.

Let's get right to it then. I'll quote you first, and then I'll reply.

Dave: Were Sarah Palin to become president and everything the Trig Truthers believed to be proven right, it wouldn't matter at all.

How can you say--what proof do you have--that "it wouldn't matter at all?"

As you would agree, Sarah Palin's political bona fides are largely built around her pro-life beliefs and her enormous popularity within the evangelical Christian movement. Indeed, as we all know, and as has been reported on extensively now by all major newspapers, and written about in books that covered the 2008 election such as Game Change, Senator John McCain selected Sarah Palin precisely because she could deliver the until-then disaffected religious Right and pro-life vote in ways that Joe Lieberman, his preferred choice, could not. Palin's political record was very thin; her travel, language, foreign policy, and educational backgrounds, flimsier still. She was, however, a pro-life mother of five who had walked the walk.

As you no doubt remember, one of the very first pieces of information released about Sarah Palin to the media in August 2008, in fact--after her name and the fact that she was the sitting governor of Alaksa--was that she was such a strong pro-life candidate. So strong a pro-life candidate was she, earlier in the year, she had carried and given birth to a Down Syndrome baby.

As you'll further recall, within a few days, various networks and newspapers reported on Sarah Palin's so-called "Wild Ride", a heroic tale of a woman in her eighth month of pregnancy (they're supposed to last nine months, Dave, or forty weeks if you want to be precise), who had ignored the customary warnings issued by obstetricians against air travel in the final trimester and was in Texas for an energy meeting with other Republican governors, and who despite waking up to leaking amniotic fluid and contractions (Palin's words, not mine, as told in interviews) did not go to the world-class hospital down the street, but rather, went to the luncheon, gave the speech (during which, she wrote, she experienced "big laughs; more contractions"), then boarded not one but two transcontinental flights, each of which took some four hours and had a layover in between, then bypassed the hospital in Anchorage--the one that had the NICU (that's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Dave) that any premature special-needs baby would require--and, she claims, delivered the baby at the Mat-Su Regional Hospital in Wasilla. The hospital that not only does not have the aforementioned facilities to care for special-needs babies, it does not even handle any high-risk births at all (high risk meaning, if the mother is over age 35. Or there are twins or triplets. You get the idea.)

No obstetrician I spoke to--and I have spoken to three in person, myself, and other mothers have spoken to more--once he was made aware of the details (high-risk multi-para mother, special needs baby, leaking amniotic fluid at eight months) would okay a patient to get on two long flights like this. Not a single obstetrician, Dave. Please ask a few yourself, if you don't believe me, a mother who's given birth three times. Tell them all the conditions, and ask if they'd give the go-ahead to an eight-months-pregnant woman with broken water and contractions to skip getting any medical check whatsoever, take a half-day to give a speech, get on two transcontinental flights, arrive some 18 hours after the initial rupture of membranes and continue to bypass hospitals with the facilities such a premature infant would require and finally give birth in a small regional hospital that doesn't handle such high-risk births.

I'll save you the bother (because I trained as a journalist and, as I said, I did ask, repeatedly): You will not be able to find an obstetrician who would okay such outrageous risks.

The story, as Palin herself told it in speech and in writing, is patently and categorically false.

So, to rephrase my intial question, as pertains to the first of these big lies about Trig: If a male candidate for high office described an act of bravery in war that never happened, complete with details about leaking body fluids, and he were elected president, and then it was proven that said story was just that--pure fabrication--is it your contention, Dave, that it wouldn't matter at all?

On to the next issue.

Dave: All of the evidence indicates that Trig Palin is Sarah's son, and none of it suggests otherwise. I paid close enough attention to this in 2008, and realized pretty quickly that the countervailing theories made no sense. Too many people watched Palin announce the pregnancy and saw her come along until she went into labor, prematurely, while attending a National Governors Association event in Texas. Here in Alaska, people tell me that Palin fans (who at one point made up 85-90% of Alaskans) held "baby showers" for her, and she'd drop in to thank them.

Deborah: "All of the evidence...." but what evidence, exactly, Dave?

"People watched her announce the pregnancy?" So here, you're taking Palin's word for it. Palin announced her pregnancy; she told you she did; therefore she must have been pregnant, because she told you, and she told others. Journalists aren't supposed to do that, Dave--surely you know better.

And regarding the so-called announcement, her own office staff were shocked when, at seven months along, Palin told them she was pregnant. Seven months. (An aside: have you ever known anyone who'd given birth a few times in the past and was now seven months pregnant, Dave? Did she look like the woman at the top of this post? Lighten the contrast on your computer screen so the photo won't be as dark, and you can see where her pink and black scarf ends and the body behind it, dressed in black, begins. There is no seven month pregnancy there. If you're not familiar with how the female body looks during pregnancy, look at the side-by-side photos of Palin and similarly slim, fit celebrities, at 25 weeks of pregnancy--that's less than seven months--that I posted here, or hell, look at anonymous pregnant women: a Google image search offers countless examples. I chose this one, at random, and the woman's "baby bump" is relatively small compared to the one I had with my three pregnancies, and I'm quite slim and fit. At the seven month point, as you can see with your own eyes, there's simply no hiding that thing behind a floppy scarf that falls plumb. There is no way.)

"...she went into labor, prematurely, while attending a National Governors Association event in Texas..." Again, you are taking Palin at her word, Dave. Unless Palin had gone to Baylor Hospital (just a stone's throw from the convention and one of the best hospitals in the country) and been checked--which is exactly what every single obstetrician I talked to said that every single doctor would be required by his oath, not to mention the company that provides his malpractice insurance, to tell her to do--and you happened to be there within earshot when the doctor said out loud, Yes, you are now in labor, you have absolutely no proof--nothing, just Sarah Palin's word--that she was in labor then, either.

I can hear your argument: I have no reason to not take Sarah Palin at her word.

Okay, Dave, give me a moment, please--I'm laughing. And so, if you're honest, are you.

Let's face it: Sarah Palin did not experience premature rupture of membranes (also known as the "leaking of amniotic fluids" or "the breaking of water"--same thing.) And she was not in labor, not "big laughs; more contractions", as she described it in her own words. In print. Many times over. More like Big lies, Dave.

"...people tell me that Palin fans (who at one point made up 85-90% of Alaskans) held baby showers for her, and she'd drop in to thank them."

All this proves is that:

(a) Sarah Palin likes baby showers (because people had them, and she dropped in, so one can reasonably conclude that she likes them.)

(b) Sarah Palin likes parties that are given in her honor and getting presents (because people had such parties, and probably regaled her with such presents, and she dropped in, cf. [a] above) and finally

(c) Sarah Palin is well-mannered enough to say "thank you" to people who have parties for her (because when people had such parties, she dropped in and said just that).

Presumably, the people who held the parties, and bought the presents, believed Sarah Palin to be pregnant because Sarah Palin told them she was, and like you, they took her at her word.

Dave: The other Trig theories seem to be based on vapor -- that she wasn't "showing" much in some photos, that her campaign was less than 1000% forthcoming when asked about it. I don't generally trust politicians, but I know the difference between a "dodge" and an answer given to ward off annoying tabloid stories. The answers on Trig were in that latter category.

First--and I repeat--it is not so much that Sarah Palin was not showing much in some photos, but rather, as I wrote in a previous post, that her size fluctuated so greatly, so strangely, and so physically impossibly, from no "baby bump" at all, to an oddly square-shaped stomach--just a ten days before she "gave birth!"--in stills taken from a FOX News video (see the third photo in this post), to briefly large-enough-to-pass-as-eight-months-pregnant for an interview with a local tv reporter and on the day she experienced leaking amniotic fluid and contractions while in Dallas, to quite small later that day--small enough that Alaska Airlines flight attendants would report that "The stage of her pregnancy was not apparent by observation. She did not show any signs of distress."

Next, an "answer given to ward off annoying tabloid stories" would have taken the form of proper and comprehensive medical records, released as per tradition by the other three candidates, including John McCain. An "answer given to ward off annoying tabloid stories" would have taken the form of a birth certificate, as it did when the ridiculous so-called "birther" rumors about then-Senator Barack Obama began circulating and he ordered the State of Hawaii to provide it, along with a vintage 1961 birth announcement from the Honolulu newspaper.

Here's the thing, Dave: Sarah Palin's "war stories" were full of holes. And no journalists, other than Andrew Sullivan and the Anchorage Daily News, did what journalists are supposed to do when confronted with a story that's full of holes: investigate.

In fact, when the Anchorage Daily News sent a reporter to try to do just that--to investigate all the inconsistencies, conflicting stories, and persistent rumors surrounding Trig's birth, with the intention of, they hoped, shutting down what its editor Patrick Dougherty called "the conspiracy theory that would not die"--Sarah Palin fired off an angry reply that she could not believe people were questioning that she was, and I quote, "Trig's mother".

Notice the wording: Trig's mother. Not, "that I gave birth to Trig". A comparable thing would be for a male politician to say, after being confronted with questions about his service, "I wore the uniform of the U.S. Army" as opposed to "Yes, of course I fought in combat, and risked my life, during Battle XYZ on such-and-such date, and here is proof.". Do you see the problem here? It's as if a male politician had previously claimed to have fought in a certain battle--and had even described it in detail, right down to his spilled body fluids and how he heroically toughed it out for the better part of a day until he could get to a hospital--and was now, upon being confronted, saying "Hey, I wore the uniform of the U.S. Army--how DARE you question whether I'm a soldier!"

Unlike President Obama, Sarah Palin never released medical records or a birth certificate, although--quelle surprise--she lied about that too when she said in an interview, while attempting yet again to deflect and blame others, that people had asked them to release Trig's birth certificate and "we did". Neither Palin, nor her husband, have ever released Trig's birth certificate. No, they aren't required to (though one has to wonder why, as Andrew Sullivan has so many times, they wouldn't do so in the interest of closure). But Palin lied and said they did.

The final point you attempt to make--that it somehow hurts Andrew Sullivan in that his all-too-rare ethical compass compels him to commit journalism and investigate the very story out of which a prominent politician's entire catalog of political bona fides is built--is irrelevant. Sullivan himself has said, repeatedly, that he does not "give a toss" what others think. I can't speak for Sullivan, but I believe he would include you in that group ("others").

But what is relevant is that you're claiming people's skepticism, about a known fabulist's ridiculous birth story along with the odd cirmumstances surrounding the parentage of the child himself, is based on vapor.

If anything is based on vapor, I'd say it's the cumulonimbus of sloppy, ill-informed assertions in your post. Because all of them, when it comes down to it, depend on one thing and one thing only, as stated rather neatly in your title:
Believing Sarah Palin
For shame, Dave Weigel. I happen to think you're a far better journalist than this.

All Best,

[Edited to directly quote the Alaska Airlines representative.]

Palingates has also posted a detailed and very well-substantiated rebuttal to Weigel's post.

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