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The Media Descend to a New Low

The smearing of Sarah Palin gets uglier.

6:25 PM, Sep 2, 2008 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Time's Mark Halperin has posted an advance copy of the cover of US Weekly magazine, the tabloid published by Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner. That cover shows a smiling Sarah Palin, holding her youngest son Trig. The screaming headline: "Babies, Lies and Scandal: John McCain's Vice President."

Wenner has contributed $5300 to Obama's campaign since 2007.

The cover was sent to select news organizations by Mark Neschis, the head of corporate communications for Wenner Media and former director of television in the Clinton White House. An email from Neschis that accompanied the cover read: "Thought I would send over our Us Weekly/Sarah Palin cover story, on stands Friday, if helpful in your coverage. Might be useful as an illustration of how the news is playing out. (Us Weekly has 12 million, mostly female readers)"

"How the news is playing out." That's an interesting way of putting it. In one sense, it's accurate. The mainstream media have been focused on pseudo-scandals about McCain's running mate. Does it really matter at all that Palin's husband, Todd, had a DUI in 1986? Who cares? And yet I've seen and heard news organizations mention -- even discuss -- the issue several times over the past couple of days.

The "news is playing out" that way because irresponsible journalists publish cover stories promoting "Babies, Lies and Scandal," without any evidence of an actual "scandal." Maybe US Weekly will publish news of an actual "scandal" by Friday, when the magazine is scheduled to hit the newsstands. But the three it mentions on its cover are not scandals. ("Under attack, admits daughter, 17, is pregnant" and "Investigated for firing of sister's ex-husband" and "Mom of Five: New embarrassing surprises.")

There are legitimate questions about how Palin was vetted. But many news organizations are using the vetting issue as an excuse to make insinuations about Palin's family and her role as a mother. Instead of asking whether McCain knew that Palin wanted "an exit plan" from Iraq in December of 2006, for example, reporters are obsessing about Bristol Palin's fiancé and whether Sarah Palin can serve as vice president and be a good mother.

It's ironic, of course, that the same establishment news organizations consumed by such tabloid issues not long ago refused to investigate reports that John Edwards was having an affair and had a child out of wedlock. Why? The story was originally broken by the National Enquirer and deemed too tawdry to touch. And, perhaps as important, Edwards was running for the Democratic nomination for president, with an agenda favored by the liberal media establishment.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.