Joel Mowbray reports: The Times in a tizzy over Palin

Our occasional correspondent Joel Mowbray ([email protected]) writes:

Hell hath no fury like the Gray Lady scorned.

This weekend, the venerable New York Times ran five hit pieces on Sarah Palin: three breathless op-eds, one blistering editorial and a scathing 3,200-word front-page “news” story deficient even in the pretense of balance. (In the interest of thoroughness, at least, the paper also trashed Todd Palin as too involved in his wife’s governorship.)

The paper of record, of course, was hardly the sole perpetrator the Palin Pile-on. It was just the nastiest.

In its sole piece of substantive reporting this weekend on Governor Palin, the Times eschewed a “mixed bag” approach, as evidenced by the headline, “Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes.” No surprises followed.

Despite 75 to 80 percent of Alaskans approving their governor, the Times managed to find the most vocal members of the small minority who feel otherwise. Almost to a man, the locals quoted in the ostensibly fair front-page story furthered the narrative of John McCain’s running mate as someone whose leadership is marked by vindictive cronyism. While the news piece makes two fleeting mentions of her actually having supporters in her home state, both positive references are quickly coupled with critiques.

Perhaps the Times felt it offered balance by not smearing Gov. Palin in a Style section story on her this weekend. That piece was—all 1,000 plus words of it—dedicated to the pressing issues related to the vice presidential candidate’s fashion choices. And that was as kind as the paper got.

Compare this weekend’s coverage to the Gray Lady’s fawning profile of Barack Obama in May. With an unmistakably positive headline of “Pragmatic Politics, Forged on the South Side,” the 5,000 word hagiography managed to bury any mention of Obama’s former financier—and now convicted felon—Tony Rezko almost 2,000 words deep. Even then, the man who at that point was on the cusp of being convicted on corruption charges was mentioned in two brief sentences—treated as nothing more than a mere footnote in Obama’s life.

After doing legitimate reporting on Rezko in June 2007, the Times largely ignored the criminal trial of one of Obama’s closest friends and associates, who helped the candidate and his wife Michelle buy their self-described “dream house.” Never mind that Obama’s name popped up in meaningful fashion several times during the proceedings.

Over the past 15 months, only ten Times articles have devoted significant ink to Rezko’s trial or his relationship with the Democratic nominee. The page numbers where each piece ran, though, tell the real story of the Times’ editorial priorities: 21, 25, 13, 20, 13, 16, 15, 18, 15, 18. The last substantial reporting on Rezko came on June 5, in which the page 18 article announced his felony conviction.

Not one Times columnist expressed serious concern about Obama entering into a high-dollar land deal with Rezko, a man he knew to be under federal investigation and now known to all as a convicted felon. Though apparently not worried about Obama’s judgment, the polemical trio of Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman and Frank Rich are apoplectic about the prospects of Palin moving to Washington.

Watching Palin’s ABC interview, Herbert wrote, made him realize that “dimwittedness is not just on the march in the U.S., but that it might actually prevail.” Ignoring the obvious comparisons to Obama’s paper-thin résumé, Herbert passionately argued that Palin is simply “not ready.” Not to be outdone, Krugman warned that a McCain-Palin administration could be “much, much worse” than the current one. Rich, for his part, labeled Palin a “candidate who embodies fear of change”—and, as he does with impressive regularity, somehow also managed to jab Republicans as racist homophobes.

Uncorking the most venom, though, was the paper’s editorial titled “Gov. Palin’s Worldview.” Wasting no time, the Times stats in the opening paragraph: “As we watched Sarah Palin on TV the last couple of days, we kept wondering what on earth John McCain was thinking.” Though the Times’ editorial page never once expressed concern about Obama’s judgment in light of his financial dealings with a man he knew to be under investigation in Rezko, McCain’s selection of Palin “raises profound questions about his judgment.”

The Times’ unbridled hysteria over Palin has undoubtedly “raised profound questions” about the paper’s judgment in the minds of voters. Palin, like any politician, has failings worthy of examination, but the sheer level of deranged panic only batters the paper’s already-diminished reputation.

By savaging her, the Times and its mainstream media peers actually could help the woman who strikes such fear in their hearts. Once this initial wave of attacks subsides, Palin may well still be smiling, still exuding the can-do attitude at the core of her appeal. The more desperate the media get, the classier she looks.

Just don’t expect that story line to sneak into the Times.

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