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Mad Libs

Palin Derangement Syndrome overwhelms the media.

Sep 22, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 02 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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The liberal media are angry. Very, very angry. How do we know? Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post's chronicler of all things media, says so:

The media are getting mad. Whether it's the latest back-and-forth over attack ads, the silly lipstick flap or the continuing debate over Sarah and sexism, you can just feel the tension level rising several notches. Maybe it's a sense that this is crunch time, that the election is on the line, that the press is being manipulated (not that there's anything new about that).

Of course, politicians are always trying to manipulate the media. And the liberal media are always allowing themselves to be manipulated by liberal politicians. So why the foot-stamping snit by liberal journalists? Not because "the press is being manipulated." Rather, because the American people are resisting manipulation by the media.

For, as Kurtz goes on to say, the media "are increasingly challenging false or questionable claims by the McCain campaign." In other words, the media are going after McCain. In his piece Kurtz cites two allegedly false claims from McCain ads that are in fact basically true--or, at least, no more one-sided than dozens of other campaign ads. Back when Barack Obama was coasting toward victory, normal campaign exaggerations ("You know, John McCain wants to continue a war in Iraq perhaps as long as 100 years") didn't fill the media with loathing for Obama. Now the McCain camp's exaggerations do.

Why? Because McCain is doing well. And because Sarah Palin is surviving--even flourishing--in the midst of the liberal media onslaught.

When the media get mad, they don't just pout. They pounce. How? By any means necessary. The day of Kurtz's article, September 11, ABC's Charlie Gibson conducted his first interview of Sarah Palin. Gibson asked: "You said recently, in your old church, 'Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.' Are we fighting a holy war?"

Palin responded, "You know, I don't know if that was my exact quote."

"Exact words," Gibson triumphantly retorted.

Not so fast. As Palin explained, quite eloquently, what she was saying was in the spirit of Lincoln: "Let us not pray that God is on our side in a war or any other time, but let us pray that we are on God's side." The tape of Palin's church appearance bore out her interpretation and revealed Gibson's mischaracterization. "Pray for our military men and women," she had said, "who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God." Gibson had made it sound as if Palin were claiming to know God's will, rather than praying that U.S. actions might be in accord with God's will and in a cause worthy of God's blessing.

No doubt the mere fact of Palin's asking for any kind of blessing on our troops and our national leaders at some backwoods Alaska church was sufficiently distracting to the scripters of Gibson's questions that they didn't look closely at the wording. God knows (so to speak) what they believe at a place like that! Why, their kids probably even enlist in the Army to fight our enemies.

Speaking of enemies: Within hours of the ABC interview, the Washington Post distorted straightforward remarks made by Palin that same day to U.S. soldiers deploying to Iraq. She praised them for going over to help "defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans." Palin clearly meant that our soldiers would be fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq--a group connected to the al Qaeda central command responsible for 9/11. The Post claimed to believe that Palin was asserting a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11--as if she thought soldiers now heading to Iraq were going to fight Saddam's regime--and triumphantly noted that even the Bush administration no longer asserted such a connection (it never did, in fact).

Palin's remarks should have been unexceptional: We've been fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq for several years now. But the media are desperate to try to make her look foolish. In the same interview, she praised Ronald Reagan for having won the Cold War. What a gaffe, some media watchdogs barked. The Soviet Union didn't collapse until three years after Reagan left office! Gotcha!

Not a chance. Sarah Palin is quickly proving to be more than a match for the mad, mad media. Having foolishly started a war with her that they can't win, the liberal media would be well advised, for once, to implement their own favorite war-fighting strategy: cut and run.

--William Kristol