Jonathan Bernstein asks:
Sullivan believes that Palin's birth story for her youngest son is implausible. I think he has a good case for that, for what it's worth. As I've read over the last two years, I've seen three possible explanations. The first is the wild one, that the baby isn't really hers; she's covering for someone else's inconvenient pregnancy and has adopted that child. The second is that she was an irresponsible mother, and took terrible risks given the dangerous nature of the pregnancy. The third is that she made the whole thing up, or most of it: she invented a heroic birth story, and then wound up being stuck with it when she suddenly had a massively larger audience.
So. Let's say one of these is true. Why should I care?
I'm tempted to say that Sullivan owes it to us to explain what he thinks is at stake in the story of Palin and Trig, but I think that's not quite right. I'll leave it at this: as a regular reader, I would like to know what he thinks is at stake here. And I might even believe that he owes it to Palin and her family to explain why the stakes are high enough to outweigh their privacy. At least for me, it has to be more than just her habit of straying from the truth; we have more than enough examples of that.
These are excellent questions in an excellent summary of the options. Let me start with the obvious. If any of the three scenarios Jonathan has pointed out is true, then Sarah Palin has no business running for president and should never have been picked for vice-president. Why? Because if her giving birth to a Down Syndrome child is a complete hoax, then she's simply psychotic to double down on such a crazy invention, and we should try and avoid psychotics as political leaders (yes, it's hard given the normal inclinations of a political class, but we can try, no?). If the scenario is merely a function of deep irresponsibility, an unconscious desire to miscarry her child by extreme recklessness, then the same applies. After eight years of Bush, it seems that willful recklessness that places the vulnerable and powerless in great danger is not a good idea. The last is easily the least worrying - pure fabulism, exaggeration, and a completely random relationship to reality. Yes, we're all human. But again, sane people who tell fibs once dial them back subsequently - they don't repeat them, embellish them even more, and concoct - in Going Rogue - a simply baroque, incoherent and, yes, nutty version of a labor story that defies all we know about human biology, space and time.
But in many ways, my real frustration here is not with Palin, who has behaved in ways that are rational for a gambler of such proportions. My frustration is with the media who have never questioned, let alone seriously investigated, the story, and who have actually gone further and vouched for its truthfulness and accuracy without any independent confirmation. I know why. It was because they wanted, as the WaPo ombudsman put it, to avoid any further damage to the mainstream media
"among conservatives who believe it is not properly attuned to their ideology or activities.”
That's why the Washington Post actually operated as an extension of the McCain campaign against the press in the last election, through the Republican sock-puppet, Howie Kurtz. So my issue here is of the same kind as my issue with how the MSM missed the Hastings scoop. They are simultaneously in bed with the powerful and afraid of the masses. So they end up in this ghastly middle.
What's their excuse for not investigating or even asking? Their first is Palin's alleged family privacy.
But there is no family privacy once you have deliberately forced an infant with special needs into the bewildering public space, held him up at a convention way past his bedtime, made campaign speeches featuring him, hauled him around night and day on a book tour, and used him as the central prop in the construction of a political identity. Trig matters because Palin has insisted that Trig matters. If she had had a child under odd circumstances and insisted that it was private and kept the child away from cameras and ensured that he had all the care and privacy that such a child obviously needs, no one, including me, would have inquired further. But when you advance a political campaign using a child, it is imperative that the media investigate and probe the story.
Their second reason for not investigating is that it doesn't really matter. As I am often told by the Beltway crowd, she's never going to be president, she's just a flash-in-the-pan, leave it be, she'll go away soon enough. Well, she hasn't yet, has she? And for all those who believe as a fixed nostrum that she could never win the nomination, I can merely ask: who beats her, then?
Trig's political salience is obvious, and critical to Palin's brand - in fact, the only thing, apart from her amazingly good looks, that keeps her in the game. For generations, pro-lifers have voted Republicans into office on a strong anti-abortion platform. For forty years, they have been largely let down. They understandably feel as if the leadership condescends to them, exploits them and does not really believe in the cause. This was true of Reagan, Bush, and the second Bush. So how does a Republican politician truly convince the base that he or she is a true believer on the life issue? Nothing does that like walking the walk of carrying a special needs child to term. (And indeed, if that is the case, it speaks enormously highly of Palin, in my view, as I have said from the very very beginning.) The way in which Palin has not let this speak for itself but has relentlessly exploited her story and child makes this an even more salient political issue - and one which deserves appropriate press scrutiny, as with any other core campaign platform.
But there has been no press scrutiny. In fact, there has been enormous pressure from the press not to investigate the story and to mock anyone who does so. No MSM interviewer of Palin has ever asked a single question about the bizarre stories that Palin has told about her political prop - not Oprah, not Couric, not Gibson, not anyone. Newsweek has reprinted minute details of Palin's story as fact with no independent confirmation but Palin's own words. No MSM newspaper has asked for or demanded easily available proof of the pregnancy and birth - except the Anchorage Daily News, after the election, which prompted Palin not to quietly offer proof to an editor keen to put the entire controversy to rest, but to explode in rage.
It may be a loony conspiracy theory, like the 9/11 Truthers and the Obama birthers. But we have all seen mounds of evidence that prove the Truthers are out of their minds and we have seen the birth certificate that refutes the Birthers. What have we seen to back up the maternity of Trig? Nada. Not a single page from what must be a mountain of medical records, no birth certificate, nothing but a single page doctor's note confirming the birth in passing, issued four hours before polls opened, by a doctor who once spoke freely with the local press but clammed up completely as soon as Palin hit the national stage. Yes, we have three photographs of her looking slightly pregnant (though much less so than in her previous pregnancies) toward the end of her term, but we also have photographs, like the one above, from the same period revealing almost nothing at all. The story she has told about her pregnancy, moreover, has not passed any sniff test by some of the leading obstetricians and pediatricians in the country's leading teaching hospitals.
No one in the McCain campaign asked for confirmation and some in that campaign now privately wonder if the whole thing wasn't and isn't a scam. Palin, for good measure, directly claimed that the medical records had been released early in the campaign, a simple falsehood. Why would anyone say such a thing if it were not true? How would any mother who had actually given birth to a child with special needs exploit him so publicly for political gain? Why has the press not asked a single question about the insane wild ride that included water breaking at 4 am in Texas and a birth in Alaska a day later after three plane flights?
For me, the issue here is about the political-media system that now operates in America. It was a system that never challenged the facts about the rush to war in Iraq - something I take personally as a failing of mine as well as of everyone else. It was a system that allowed a vice-presidential candidate to be selected by a Google search, with no vetting, and didn't insist on an open press conference for the entire campaign. It was a system that gave a pass to a candidate who could have become president if a 73 year-old cancer and torture survivor were to become incapacitated, and who had a long, documented record of crazy lies, tall stories and a chaotic family life, because it was too unseemly to ask such a question and because asking it would have provoked an uproar from the heartland.
I have never claimed I know the truth. I don't. I only know that none of us does. We all have to rely on the word of Sarah Palin - something about as reliable as a credit default swap. I want to know the truth. Because if I am loony, I deserve the pushback and criticism for suspecting a story that turned out to be true. And because if Palin has lied about this, it's the most staggering, appalling deception in the history of American politics. Not knowing which is true for real - and allowing this person to continue to dominate one half of the political divide - is something I think is intolerable. In the end, this story is not about Palin. It's about the collapse of the press and the corrupt cynicism of a political system that foisted this farce upon us without performing any minimal due diligence.
And only Joe McGinniss seems to give a damn.
(Photo: Sarah Palin in a photograph confirmed as taken on March 26, 2008, less than a month before giving birth to a six pound baby. In a photograph only four days earlier, she looked more pregnant.)
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