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Media Criticism of Sarah Palin is Gender-Neutral, But GOP and Far Right Are Not

A friend of mine who is a Republican contends the rampant criticism of Sarah Palin in the media is largely based on the fact that she is a woman. My friend also blames the John McCain campaign for “mishandling” Palin and comes to her defense, stating that Palin is “ . . . a woman who from nowhere became a city council member, mayor and then governor . . . Obviously she's not stupid, ignorant or dumb.”


My friend also harshly criticized the press in general, namely commentators on MSNBC, and so refused to view the “Sarah Palin Annotated” video recently presented on Rachel Maddow’s show on that network.

I’d like to weigh in.

The choice of Palin had a lot, but not everything, to do with her gender, particularly in light of the defeat of Hillary Clinton in the primaries. Those in the McCain campaign thought that a good portion of the nation’s women supported Clinton because she's a woman and would subsequently support Palin for the same reason. They were extremely naïve and simplistic in their thinking.

George Will, one of the first conservatives to publicly disparage the choice of Palin, said recently on This Week with George Stephanopoulos that Palin was "chosen for her chromosomes." Rush Limbaugh was delighted with the choice and, typically in his bombastically sexist manner, characterized Palin as "a babe."

McCain wanted Joe Lieberman, Tom Ridge or Tim Pawlenty, all (maybe not Pawlenty) pro-choice candidates, but the evangelical right wouldn't be satisfied. McCain threw aside his instincts and pandered rightward, to his great regret.

The widespread criticism of Palin in the media, on the other hand, has had nothing to do with her gender, as my friend claims. I believe the media scrutiny arose from the fact that Palin was so unknown and from a largely unfamiliar state. Besides, it is the press's job to find out facts about nominees for high office and report those facts.

Yet, the campaign sequestered Palin for a couple of weeks, which is uncommon for a newly announced candidate. It only fueled the curiosity, and it indicated that even the campaign did not have full confidence in Palin’s abilities and that it might have faltered in choosing her.

Further, I didn't see any ball-breaker nut crackers fashioned after Palin or men at rallies yelling out for her to "iron my shirt," humiliations Clinton suffered that were obviously gender-related and reported by the press because it was news.

The designer-clothing debacle covered in the media had nothing to do with Palin's femaleness and everything to do with her parading as a Joe Six Pack, then wearing clothing costing four times as much as Joe the Whatever's yearly income. Apparently, someone in the campaign decided Palin needed to fit the image of Limbaugh's "babe" and spend big designer bucks.

What offended me most about this incident was that Palin could have worn really stunning outfits purchased at Nordstrom or Ann Taylor for a mere fraction of what was spent. She would have appeared professional and chic, and without incident. But, what's $150,000 to the GOP (as long as no one finds out)? Palin should have insisted she stick with Out of the Closet.

I agree with my friend that Palin is not stupid, but she is definitely ignorant outside of the confines of Alaska. It may be the largest state in terms of land mass, but its population relative to its size makes Alaska one of the smallest of our states. It is historically mired in corruption, harbors a certain small-mindedness because of its remote location, and has little in common with the lower 48.

Furthermore, when North Pole-adjacent seasons rarely allow one to get adequate rest and winters are long and unbearable, it can adversely affect one’s mental and physical well-being. As such, becoming "a city council member, mayor and then governor" in a few-peopled corner of the country would not be all that difficult to achieve. Still, I admire Palin for taking on some of the entrenched interests in her state.

Ignorance can be overcome, but Palin's current lack of intellectual curiosity and her disinterest in the wider world, as evidenced by her limited travel, various embarrassing interviews (there were no "gotcha" questions, as my friend insists), and dealings with the press, made her an inferior candidate this time around.

If she were as smart as my friend says, Palin should have recognized her own limitations and declined to run. The fact that she accepted the nomination under these circumstances, regardless of what the McCain campaign might have said to woo her, says a lot about her judgment. Moreover, it is obvious her background was not thoroughly checked out beforehand, so there was also bad judgment on the part of the campaign. Both Palin and McCain are at fault here, not the media.

Palin has certain abilities, and she definitely can learn. She also is blessed with a pleasing persona and is indeed an effective speaker. I don't think we've seen the last of her, but that doesn't mean she would succeed in running for office closer to Washington DC. Her self-imposed image of the "walking joke" could stick for some time. Or, she could utilize her engaging personality and seek another vehicle through which to make her mark on the wider stage.

Contrary to what my friend stated, I don't think the press continues to go after Palin because they fear her eventual success. They continue because she keeps talking to them and offering ammunition to feed a negative story. For her own good, she should put a lid on it and lie low for a while. If my friend had watched the "Sarah Palin Annotated" video and other recent interviews, she would likely agree.

I have to defend Keith Olbermann and MSNBC. He once worked for Fox News (as a sports reporter), so he has first-hand experience with its objectives as a media source. It is the blatant hypocrisy and "fair and balanced" garbage he witnessed first-hand at that network that encouraged him to change course and expose Fox and its right-wing blowhards for who they really are.

Remember that Roger Ailes runs that network at the pleasure of the Republican Party, and phonies like Limbaugh and Sean Hannity had been steering the political discourse either on the air or on the screen, or both, and convincing millions of Americans to take a very narrow and biased hard-right viewpoint.

Something had to give, so Olbermann (and Chris Matthews), and now Maddow, stepped in. I'm glad they did, because it's been sorely needed since the Fairness Doctrine was chucked in the 1980s.

Aside from the injected humor, which I love and feel his targets have truly earned, Olbermann reveals the right’s hypocrisy and backs up what he reports with facts and documentation.

For example, in October Olbermann played a recording of long-time conservative talk-radio host Bob Grant, who inspired modern-day bloviators such as Limbaugh and Hannity. Grant had seen a televised speech by Barack Hussein Obama with flags behind him containing the letter O and said that, insinuating Obama had these flags made for him, it was “symptomatic of a potentate, a dictator.” The flags, in use since 1902, actually were the state flag of Ohio, where Obama was giving the speech. Someone this dim in his determination to smear the opposition deserves ridicule.

If he is ever wrong, which is rare, Olbermann acknowledges it and apologizes on the air. He also has gone after people in the Democratic Party when deserved, so he is not one-sided. Maddow, an extremely intelligent Rhodes scholar, operates with the same amount of thoroughness, honesty and integrity (and humor). It’s no wonder her fledgling show has garnered such great ratings.

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The likes of Bill O'Reilly (or Billo the Clown, Bill Orally, or Bill Oh, Really? – names Olbermann hilariously came up with), Hannity (the Manatee), and Limbaugh (the Comedian) don't have the thoughtfulness, wherewithal, or the guts to do the same because they have to be right, even when caught with their ideological pants down.

Case in point: Limbaugh once said that all drug dealers and addicts should be executed, or something similar to that, and then thrice-married “family values” Rush was revealed to be an Oxycotin addict. What a rush for sober thinkers everywhere.

I never heard that Olbermann lives in the dark with his windows covered up, as my friend claims, but I wouldn't blame him if he did. He's probably had more than one far right-generated hit put out on him precisely because he's been very successful in helping expose them.

It is my contention that the Republican Party loathed, and still loathes, Bill Clinton because they knew he could and eventually did disrupt the Reagan Revolution and that their hope for a "permanent Republican majority" would be dashed. I also believe they’re mad because Clinton snatched away the Great Communicator mantle. So, the GOP went after him, and his wife, relentlessly.

The stupid Monica thing (and Clinton was so incredibly stupid for letting it happen) should have remained between him and Hillary. The impeachment spectacle was an embarrassment to our country and in the eyes of the world, and more importantly it was a complete waste of government time and taxpayer money. Impeaching George W. Bush would have been far more cost-effective.

After Clinton's largely popular and successful two terms and leaving office with a budget surplus, I believe the GOP felt it would have a hard time selling its message to the vast majority of Americans and so instead chose to strong-arm them into agreeing with their agenda, largely through the Fixed News, Fox Noise or Faux News (thank you, Keith) machine and other right-leaning media, as well as an organized ground effort on the part of the GOP.

Thus, the nation had the pleasure of meeting Karl Rove, the protégé of Lee Atwater (remember Willie Horton?), and his infamous antics. There were chads in Florida hanging under the watchful eye of Katherine Harris, and the Supreme Court’s ruling to stop the recount.

Then we had the very shady election of Bush, who lost the popular vote but provided David Letterman with years of material for “Great Moments in Presidential Speeches.” And, there were scads of missing ballots in Ohio, the state where the 2004 election was decided.

And we have Dick Cheney, mourning the loss of executive privilege after Watergate, choosing himself as vice president so he could assume the task of flouting the Constitution to rectify a delusional injustice. He not so stealthily has run the White House since, resurrecting Nixonian behavior and ignoring the Congress. The right’s Ailes via Fox News has tried to justify most of what Bush has since reduced to rubble.

Citizens likely to vote Democratic have been intimidated into not voting, over and over and over again, in an attempt to preserve and extend the GOP’s increasingly fragile reign. My own son fell victim to a scheme, reported in the Los Angeles Times, to switch parties and help pad the GOP rolls when he had already registered as a Democrat.

But, Bush and the GOP squandered the surplus, got us into an unnecessary war over oil (not WMDs) with almost 5,000 Americans dead, with tens of thousands, if not more, wounded and without sufficient follow-up care, with countless Iraqi civilians dead, and all this, I believe, motivated in part so Dubya could one-up his dad by killing the dictator Bush 41 wouldn’t.

In the process, they lost our country's good standing in the world and violated the Geneva Convention numerous times. It’s the return of imperialism and arrogance, but Osama bin Laden is still out there.

The Bush administration and those on the right promote states' rights when those rights suit their purposes and then ignore those rights when they don't. They have overseen the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and have looked away while inadequate healthcare besieges our citizenry.

They say government should be off our backs and then, in the same breath, tell people in this religiously diverse and religiously devoid (a choice any American individual has) country how the Bible says they should live.

This administration and its allies have constantly pushed for less regulation and then wondered why the financial system fell apart, screamed that universal healthcare is socialism while bailing out Wall Street with taxpayer money (what do they think Social Security and Medicare are??), have let loose too-business-friendly EPA administrators to set this country many years back in our fight for a healthier environment we all need for ourselves and our descendants, denied solid scientific data whenever it served Bush’s and/or God’s agenda, et cetera.

The persistent muddying of the line between church and state, the concept of which is the very basis of our country’s founding, and our freedom, and the hypocrisy and ruinous reach of Bush and the GOP, are truly astounding.

And, no one can tell me that if Obama's teenage daughter had carelessly gotten herself pregnant, the GOP would have left her alone as the Obama campaign so graciously did Palin's daughter. The Limbaugh-O'Reilly-Hannity bunch would have had a field day and delighted in every moment, and the McCain campaign, being behind in the polls, likely would have followed their lead.

If you want truly fair and balanced news, watch the revered and much-awarded Lehrer News Hour on PBS. The News Hour has always and continues to practice the Fairness Doctrine, which includes all viewpoints, even though Reagan’s pro-broadcaster FCC removed it in 1987 (and we all know what’s happened since). Voices from every side of the argument are invited to participate in the discussion, as they should be. If an invitee declines to appear, it is so stated.

But remember, in an effort to wrest control of the message going out to the American people, Newt Gingrich and his “Contract with America” ilk tried to kill financing for public television.

A great American conservative who was truly intelligent and wise was William F. Buckley, founder of the conservative magazine National Review. He was wise because, while loyal to his convictions, he was open-minded and in constant pursuit of knowledge and intellectually vigorous but fair debate (and his long-running show, “Firing Line,” was on public television). Buckley’s qualities parallel few conservatives these days, and it is more than evident by her highly questionable performance as a candidate why Sarah Palin is not among them.

My friend says we cannot get “the best and so-called smartest,” because, she asked, “who would put their family in the cross hairs of the press?” In pursuit of a higher calling, Barack Obama, clearly one of our best and brightest, did just that. To the utter consternation of the right, Obama rose above it with calm, assurance, compelling ideas, and, most of all, hope. And, he prevailed.

Now, the onus is on him to deliver. It won't be easy, but Obama has the country, and much of the world, behind him. Even with the huge mess we're in on so many levels, I feel far better now than any time I did during the last eight years, and my faith in our country’s future has at last returned.

But I’ll sure miss “Great Moments in Presidential Speeches.”

Joanne Turner

Joanne Turner has lived in the community of Eagle Rock in Northeast Los Angeles for 33 years and served as president of The Eagle Rock Association (TERA) from 1997 to 2003. In addition to her community activism, she has worked as a middle manager in a prominent law firm, as a storyboard colorist and illustrator, and as a freelance writer and editor.