by Eric Boehlert
Like frustrated welterweight Roberto Duran, who stunned the sporting world by walking away, mid-bout, from his 1980 prize fight against Sugar Ray Leonard with the memorable, muttered Spanish phrase for “no more,” Sarah Palin’s decision last week to walk away, mid-term, from her governorship stunned Beltway spectators and left bewildered Alaskans scratching their heads in amazement.
Palin’s “no más” moment initiated lots of intriguing storylines, but, for me, the most fascinating one has been the visible split within the conservative movement over who’s to blame for her early exit from the national stage. And specifically, how much culpability do the hated mainstream media deserve for the way Palin has been covered? For the way she’s been smeared and attacked?
Seems to me 99 out of 100 times, conservatives would find common cause on an unfolding story like this and agree that the media, to a huge degree, are guilty of some kind of unimaginable double standard, that the press had stacked the deck against the Republican and treated that pol unfairly. That’s been the go-to playbook for more than four decades now.
Palin herself led the utterly predictable anti-press charge over the weekend, claiming on her Facebook page that “[t]he response in the main stream media has been most predictable, ironic, and as always, detached from the lives of ordinary Americans who are sick of the ‘politics of personal destruction.’ ” Meanwhile, Palin’s attorney, employing a unique reading of the First Amendment, lobbed red meat to the far-right base after he fired off a peculiar four-page letter warning reporters and pundits that they’d face legal action if they reported inaccurate facts about Palin, a prominent public figure.
Frothing right-wing bloggers cheered the legal threats and robotically stoked the anti-media fires. “The Palin-haters at MSNBC better watch it,” warned Gateway Pundit. Conservative blog readers also lashed out at liberals and journalists for targeting Palin. At Power Line, a reader wrote: “[S]he seems to be saying that she can’t serve Alaska effectively as governor any longer because she has become such a lighting rod for attacks from the Left.” Another beseeched her to leave politics because “[t]he media has already rehearsed the destruction of your campaign. … A run for President will not only be a torment for you and your family, it will be a torment for all of us watching.”
At National Review Online’s The Corner, Jonah Goldberg insisted that The New York Times, among others, has “gone after Palin and her family in ways that I think are particularly egregious.” (Goldberg didn’t bother to cite any evidence of egregious Times behavior to support his media critique.)
Meanwhile, unveiling an unlikely coalition, The Weekly Standard‘s Bill Kristol announced that the liberal media were in cahoots with the “GOP establishment” to bring Palin down. (I kid you not.)
And just days before Palin announced her exit, The National Review‘s Jim Geraghty and conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt huddled to discuss why liberals hate Palin so much; what is it about her that drives them to distraction? (It’s because Palin’s so pretty, Geraghty posited.)
So the familiar outlines were all in place and the pity party hummed in high gear: the unhinged liberal media had it in for Palin and wanted to drive her off the national stage. Liberals were smearing her.
But then a funny thing happened — scores of conservative commentators broke ranks with the “liberal media” brigade and decided Palin’s political problems were of her own making.
In other words, the beloved liberal media meme completely fractured under the weight of the Palin story. The front-line, knee-jerk troops were ready and eager to lob the ever-ready accusations, but it turned out that lots of Noise Machine generals weren’t buying it, and instead of blaming the liberal media for Palin’s disastrous weekend showing, they blamed … Palin.
Shocking, I know. But the maneuver left the right-wing foot soldiers completely exposed. For instance, Brent Bozell’s NewsBusters whined that biased reporters on ABC, CBS, and NBC had called Palin’s Friday press conference “bizarre.” But as Media Matters‘ Jamison Foser asked, what other adjective could journalists have possibly used? “Bizarre” perfectly captured the jaw-dropping media event staged on the banks of Alaska’s Lake Lucille in Wasilla.
And sure enough, “bizarre” was the exact word conservative Times columnist Ross Douthat used to describe Palin’s presser:
But last Friday’s bizarre, rambling resignation speech should take her off the political map for the duration of the Obama era.
For some reason though, NewsBusters didn’t write up Douthat for a liberal media bias infraction. In fact, the website was forced to give a pass to conservative Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer for calling Palin’s move “erratic” and “delusional,” and to Karl Rove for admitting to being “perplexed” by Palin’s unorthodox “no más” move. And that wasn’t the half of it from the conservative chorus:
- “Giving up on an executive job a year and a half early isn’t the best way to persuade voters you’re ready for the more demanding rigors and scrutiny of the White House. … Some Alaskans, including many of her admirers, can be forgiven if they conclude she bugged out when the going got rough.” [editorial, The Wall Street Journal; 07/07/2009]
- “If this is geared for her run for the presidency in 2012, it is one of the most politically tone deaf decisions that we’ve seen.” [GOP consultant Stuart Roy, ABCNews.com; 07/05/2009]
- “She dashed her chances of winning the 2012 nomination. … Forget about Sarah Palin as the Republican presidential candidate in 2012 and probably ever.” [Fred Barnes column, The Weekly Standard; 07/05/2009]
See the glaring contradiction here? How can it be the so-called liberal media’s fault that Palin gets bad press when conservatives were out front giving Palin bad press? How can right-wingers argue that liberals are obsessed with taking Palin down, when it’s conservatives who are elbowing each other to reach the front of the get-Palin crowd? In other words, shouldn’t the question be: Why do conservatives hate Sarah Palin so much? (And, is it because she’s so pretty?)
Of course, the right has been propping up this media straw man on Palin’s behalf for months now. Back during the campaign, The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger penned an angry column titled, “Hatin’ Palin,” in which he bemoaned the “stoning” the former VP candidate has had to withstand from “the media.” “The abuse being heaped on Sarah Palin is such a cheap shot,” he lamented.
Of course, Henninger wouldn’t say so, but it was GOP pundits who seemed to be unfurling the most “abuse” at Palin: conservative commentators such as Peggy Noonan, George Will, David Brooks, David Frum, and Kathleen Parker — who all came clean about Palin’s glaring deficiencies as a candidate. In fact, Brooks went so far as to call her a “cancer” on the GOP, while Noonan claimed Palin’s candidacy symbolized a “new vulgarism in American politics.” Yet Henninger played dumb and pretended “the media” were guilty of taking pot shots at Palin.
And so it is today: Right-wing media activists are trying to whip up righteous indignation at how nasty and unfair the liberal media are being toward Palin and her decision to step down as governor. Truth is, conservative commentators are the ones unfurling the harshest critiques.
In other words, when it comes to fighting the GOP’s bruising Palin civil war, leave the press, and liberals, out of it.