A Full-Fledged Feeding Frenzy On Sarah Palin

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks at an Aug. 31 rally in O'Fallon, Mo. i i

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks at an Aug. 31 rally in O'Fallon, Mo. The media continue digging to find out everything about Palin. Whitney Curtis/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Whitney Curtis/Getty Images
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks at an Aug. 31 rally in O'Fallon, Mo.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks at an Aug. 31 rally in O'Fallon, Mo. The media continue digging to find out everything about Palin.

Whitney Curtis/Getty Images

The theme of Tuesday night's Republican National Convention, once it resumed in earnest, was "John McCain: The Person He Is."

Presumably, the title: "John McCain: He Da Man" was already trademarked.

Unfortunately, the media had settled on a different theme: "Sarah Palin: Who on Earth Is This Person"?

Monday we found out about Palin's unwed teenage daughter. Republican allies argue, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota did Tuesday on MSNBC, "It just seems that's unfair and out of bounds" to pin the blame for the teenager's pregnancy on Palin — who is McCain's running mate.

Now the press is turning its attention to all other aspects of her record. For example, McCain aides claimed the new governor's credentials in foreign policy came from her role as titular head of the Alaska National Guard.

The campaign felt CNN's Campbell Brown was deeply unfair Monday night by persistently challenging McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds with variations of this question: "Can you just tell me one decision that she made as commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard, just one?"

Viewers waited in vain for a direct reply. McCain's response was to cancel an interview scheduled on Tuesday evening on CNN's Larry King Live. But the network isn't apologizing.

"She's a virtual unknown who's been on the national stage for exactly at that time three days, and the American people need to know exactly who she is, because she will be a heartbeat from the presidency, to use the trite expression," said Jon Klein, president of CNN's U.S. channel. "I don't think anybody expected the news media to just sit there and accept the Norman Rockwell painting. That's not our job. It's not our job for any of the candidates."

The Palin Media Frenzy

Well, no. They didn't just sit there. Here are some of the other news headlines, none of them particularly gratifying for the McCain camp:

That's Us WeeklyUs Weekly! — turning on a 44-year-old moose-hunting grandmother-to-be governor who appears to be a Mad Libs answer to a Lifetime movie plot.

The frenzy over Palin completely overwhelmed former Sen. Fred Dalton Thompson's stirring biographical tale of McCain's record of service and renegade independent Joe Lieberman's speech against Democrat Barack Obama. (It also overwhelmed the remarks by satellite hookup of President George W. Bush — remember him? — but that's not considered a bad thing among many McCain loyalists.)

Republican stalwarts turned the media onslaught into an attack line — aimed right back at the media.

"What a breath of fresh air Gov. Sarah Palin is," candidate-for-12 minutes Thompson told GOP delegates to rousing applause Tuesday night. "She's from a small town, with small-town values — but apparently, that's not good enough for some of the folks out there attacking her and her family. Some Washington pundits and media big shots are in a frenzy over the selection of a woman who has actually governed rather than just talked a good game on the Washington talk shows and hit the Washington cocktail circuit."

For what it's worth, former senator and movie actor Thompson was a frequent presence on the Washington talk shows and rarely failed to impress in the Washington cocktail circuit.

But the other story threads kept arriving throughout the day Tuesday:

This is a situation where there's all peripheral vision and no depth perception. Palin is simply not known. McCain's staff says the press is punishing her because pundits so desperately want to be in the know. But leaking has its benefits, one of which is that her flaws might have been scrutinized and even dismissed ahead of time by the press. And another benefit is that the candidate herself would have been prepared to address them all.

Instead, we're in a full-fledged feeding frenzy.

"We will try to be respectful of the governor and her entire life — but in this case the governor was put forward as a candidate precisely because her entire life was said to exemplify a certain independent spirit and an attitude that's exactly what the country needs," CNN's Klein told Media Circus. "Well, we need to know more about her attitudes, how she lives her life, and how that influences public policy." CNN is among those media outlets that sent a team of journalists up to Alaska to comb through her record.

Rove's Non-Denial Denial

On Tuesday night over on Fox News, O'Reilly Factor host Bill O'Reilly bantered with Fox analyst (and Bush administration Rasputin) Karl Rove. They condemned the media for hounding Palin; and then O'Reilly hounded Rove into agreeing that The New York Times and other major outlets wanted Obama to win; and then they had this exchange:

O'Reilly: She's got to turn it around and get it away from the soap opera ...
Rove: They'll look at her and say, how good is she? How impressive?
O'Reilly: So this becomes far more important than the average vice presidency.

Of course, on the Factor, O'Reilly was addressing another media pundit's criticism of a vice presidential candidate: Rove's reported closed-door dismissal of Democratic running mate Joe Biden as a blowhard and a doofus.

O'Reilly cut to the heart of the matter quickly.

O'Reilly: What's a doofus?
Rove: I'll defend the idea that this guy is overrated and wrong when it comes to foreign policy.
O'Reilly: ... What's a doofus?
Rove: Well, a doofus is someone who talks too long, talks too loud, and doesn't say much at all.
O'Reilly (Smiling): Then you were redundant. Blowhard and doofus are pretty much the same thing.
Rove: Well, I'm not saying I said blowhard.

This, my friends, is what we call a non-denial denial — pretty much the same way Rove handled questions of whether he pressured Lieberman to withdraw his name from consideration for vice president on the Republican ticket.

Of course, the doofus/blowhard divide is what we might call a non-issue issue. But they have to fill 24 hours a day over there in cable newsland, folks, and McCain can't just keep handing them gifts like the Palin nomination.

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