Twice in the last six months we've had the spectacle of a candidate clinging to a provably false personal narrative. Each tale was meant to show something admirable and significant about the candidate's character. But in each case the press had the goods to show that the tale was too tall to be believed.
One, of course, was Hillary Clinton's "hail of bullets" account of her arrival at the airport in Bosnia.
The other is Sarah Palin's "thanks but no thanks" claim to have opposed funding for the "bridge to nowhere."
In Senator Clinton's case, the more often she repeated the story, the more relentlessly the press said the story was not true. All parts of the press did this: right, left, middle. They didn't say that there was a "controversy" about her story. They said it was false. And eventually she bowed to the inevitable and stopped telling the story any more.
In Governor Palin's case, the more often she has repeated the story, the more abashed the press has seemed about pointing out its falsity. The accurate version would be more like: "I said 'Yes, please!' until the Congress said 'Sorry, no.'" As best I can tell (from my distance in China), the right-wing press has played no part in this truth-squadding. The mainstream press has seemed to treat it as a "controversy" rather than a falsehood. And there is no evidence of Palin hesitating to use the story again and again.
There can't be any difference in gender or race bias in treatment of these two cases: they both both involve successful, married white female politicians. There is no essential difference in the falseness of their claims, though there was a greater comic potential in the film footage of Sen. Clinton's "harrowing" arrival. The major remaining difference is that one case involves a Democrat (though the more conservative of the primary-campaign finalists) and one a Republican.
So here are the controlled-experiment questions:
1) At any point will the right-wing press join the effort to hold Palin accountable for her false claim, as all of the press held Clinton responsible?
2) If Palin keeps making the claim, will press critics redouble their debunking, as they did with Clinton, or taper off for fear of seeming biased or boring?
3) At any point will Palin herself -- or, far more significant, McCain -- acknowledge that there are such things as fact and fantasy, and stop making a demonstrably false claim?
I pose it as a set of questions rather than an assumed conclusion. For now.