Media Matters: The Palin chronicles

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

It was inevitable that Sarah Palin's memoir would be a factually challenged exercise in self-victimization and that the conservative media would join in the pity party. Meanwhile, the mainstream press ignored polls and dabbled in sexism while fumbling for a Palin narrative.

It was all too predictable.

From the moment Sarah Palin was airlifted out of the Alaska hinterlands by John McCain and plopped onto the national stage, she's been telling anyone who will listen how poorly she's been treated by the media, the Democrats, the blogosphere, etc. After she did her part in scuttling McCain's already foundering campaign, she added to her list of personal persecutors the same McCain staffers who made her a household name in the first place. The conservative media have cheered on her personal pity party every step of the way, adamantly refusing to acknowledge that Sarah Palin -- perfect Sarah Palin, conservatism's hockey-mom messiah -- has done anything wrong.

So it was inevitable that when Palin and her ghostwriter teamed up to produce her newly release memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life, it would be anything but a tedious exercise in self-martyrdom. The second half of the book, which recounts her time with McCain and the aftermath of the presidential campaign, is a litany of complaints peppered with absolutions of any errors on her part. Palin's account of her disastrous interviews with CBS anchor Katie Couric consists mainly of attacks on Couric for "badgering" her, "edit[ing] out substantive answers," and trying to "frame a 'gotcha' moment." She chastises McCain campaign staffers for having "no script to begin with," for not following her advice and talking about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and for nurturing the "wardrobe fairy tale" so they could throw her "under the media bus" after the campaign ended.

When not complaining about how ill-treated she was, Palin wildly revised her own history, showcasing her penchant for falsehoods both big and small. She claims that the media were reporting "lies" about the Bridge to Nowhere, when it was she who, from the very start, lied about her own position on the bridge. She claims that she immediately liked the idea of going on Saturday Night Live, even though internal campaign emails show that she was initially reluctant because of the show's "gross" treatment of her family, going so far as to call the SNL crew "whack." She claims that there is no aerial hunting in Alaska, even though she proposed legislation supporting that very practice. The list goes on and on.

But remember, this is Sarah Palin we're dealing with here, and no matter how self-discrediting and ridiculous her book was, the conservative media would leap to her defense, claiming (once again) that she was the victim of a vicious liberal onslaught. Palin herself got the ball rolling before the book was even released, chastising the Associated Press (which got its hands on a copy prior to the release date) for assigning 11 reporters to fact-check it, saying that their time would be better spent fact-checking "what's going on with Sheik Mohammed's trial." Palin made no attempt to respond to the several factual errors and distortions the AP found, and neither did Fox News, which picked up where Palin left off and ran a breathless segment wondering why, exactly, the AP had assigned so many reporters to the book.

Then there's Rush Limbaugh, Palin's staunchest defender and perhaps the conservative media personality most disconnected from reality -- two traits that are in no way mutually exclusive. On November 13, Rush proclaimed that Going Rogue is "one of the most substantive policy books I've read." He must have received a special unabridged edition, because to every other observer -- even Fox News campaign reporter/operative Carl Cameron -- the book's policy prescriptions are few and far between, and rarely more detailed than "Ronald Reagan was right." In the conservative blogosphere, the adoration was even more comical: John Ziegler, the devoted Palinista who is -- and forgive the indelicate bluntness, but there is no better word -- an idiot, called the book the "greatest literary achievement by a political figure in my lifetime."

Meanwhile, the mainstream press ties itself into knots with their obsessive Palin coverage, trying to explain how it is that a riotously unpopular and ill-informed ex-governor speaks for legions of Americans. Newsweek undercut whatever merit its critical analysis of Palin's role in the political world had by festooning it with sexist Palin imagery. David Brooks continues to vacillate in his opinion of Palin, at various times calling her "smart," "a joke," "courageous and likeable," and a "cancer." PBS' Gwen Ifill said women "will be drawn to her story," even though Palin's popularity among women is in the toilet.

None of this is to say that Palin isn't shrewd. She's figured out that she can say whatever she pleases, lie freely, quit elected office to become a professional Facebook bomb-thrower, cash in on a ridiculous book she didn't even write, and still enjoy the adoration of her conservative fan base, as well as the attentions of the mainstream press.

Other major stories this week

KSM trial drives conservatives into hypocritical hysterics

On May 3, 2006, Bill O'Reilly led off his Fox News show with the sentencing of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was tried in civilian court and handed several consecutive life terms for his role in the September 11 terrorist attacks. According to O'Reilly: "The al Qaeda savage promptly thanked them by saying 'America, you lost. I won.' But like what most of this degenerate says, he is wrong. Moussaoui is condemned to rot in his cell until he does die and if the Federal penitentiary is run properly, Moussaoui will be denied any and all privileges." O'Reilly explained that "by not executing Moussaoui, the U.S.A. shows the world we are a nation of laws, a nation that puts power in the hands of regular folks."

Now fast-forward a few years -- the Democrats take control of the White House, and the new president announces he's bringing Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to New York to face trial before a civilian court. O'Reilly, who praised the civilian trial of Moussaoui, says of the decision to Bush White House adviser Karl Rove: "Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, that is a terrible decision. ... Because you know, I know, and everybody knows it's going to cost the city of New York between $75 and $100 million. These animals are going to get up there. They're going to lie. The lawyers are going to turn it into an anti-Bush, anti-CIA, anti-American extravaganza."

Just think about that one for a moment -- O'Reilly, who praised the civilian prosecution of Moussaoui in 2006, is complaining about the White House's civilian prosecution of Mohammed in 2009, to a person who was part of the White House that decided to prosecute Moussaoui in a civilian court.

O'Reilly wasn't the only person to pull the ol' Moussaoui/Mohammed switcheroo on Fox News. Former New York mayor and 9-11 enthusiast Rudy Giuliani appeared on Neil Cavuto's show last Friday to attack the Mohammed decision as a "terrible, terrible mistake," explaining that the terrorist "should be prosecuted in a military tribunal." Cavuto neglected to point out that in 2006, Giuliani said of the Moussaoui trial: "It does demonstrate that we can give people a fair trial, that we are exactly what we say we are. We are a nation of law."

Indeed, confusion abounded among conservatives everywhere. Morning Joe namesake Joe Scarborough declared it "unprecedented" to try a terrorism suspect in the U.S. judicial system. To his credit, Scarborough later corrected this false assertion.

No one expects conservatives to support President Obama, particularly on issues of national security. But is a little consistency too much to ask? Well, maybe consistency is too much -- how about something less than outright hypocrisy?

Rupert's "racist" revisionism

Last week, Media Matters chronicled News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch's humanitarian efforts to help recuperate ailing Fox News superstar Glenn Beck by going on TV and announcing that Beck was right to call Obama a "racist." It was a curious comment for several reasons -- Fox News had already dismissed Beck's statement as an expression of opinion and not the position of the network, and people were already painfully aware that Beck hadn't faced any repercussions for his outburst. So in throwing his lot in with Beck, all Murdoch did was essentially confirm that outlandish attacks on the Democratic president are nothing short of official policy over at Fox News.

Then, of course, came the inevitable denial, in which Murdoch's spokesman stated without elaboration that his boss "does not at all, for a minute, think the president is a racist." Perhaps he was unaware that when you say things on TV, lots of people see it (unless, of course, you say it on Fox Business Network).

So you can understand why we were feeling a bit confused. Does Rupert Murdoch think President Obama is a racist or not? Well, there was only one way to get an answer -- ask Rupert himself. And that's exactly what we did. Confronted by Media Matters and asked which comment of the president's he considered racist, Murdoch responded: "I denied that absolutely. ... I don't believe he's a racist."

Well, that clears things up.

Wait. Actually, no ... it doesn't.

It's funny, in a way, to watch all this play out. Murdoch and his Fox News underlings know that even they have lines they can't cross, such as lobbing accusations of racism at the president, but they do it anyway, seemingly unable to help themselves. And when they do get in trouble, their response is always the same -- deny you said that thing that millions of people saw you say, make sure absolutely no one faces any consequences whatsoever, and move on to the next ridiculous story about Obama, which this week was the hyperventilating obsession over Obama's bow to the Japanese emperor.

Fox News would like everyone to believe that they operate under some sort of journalistic standard. If you want to be extremely generous and grant that this standard does in fact exist, then it's irreparably broken. Misbehavior is rewarded, accountability is nonexistent, and the ethical cues coming from upper management are hardly worth emulating.

This week's media columns

This week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert asks, "Why is Rupert Murdoch so clueless about Fox News?"; and Jamison Foser says, "Contrary to media hype, Sarah Palin is very unpopular."

Greg Lewis notes the latest conflicts between Rush Limbaugh and reality in The Friday Rush, a review of Limbaugh's radio shows over the past week.

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This weekly wrap-up was compiled and edited by Simon Maloy, the deputy research director at Media Matters for America. Maloy also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web, as well as original commentary.

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