Sarah Palin and Mark Halperin's Complaints of 'Liberal Media'

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Sarah Palin and Mark Halperin's Complaints of 'Liberal Media'

In 2006, Mark Halperin -- then of ABC News, now of Time Magazine -- published a book with Politico's Editor-in-Chief John Harris, and Halperin's primary strategy for selling books was to appear on right-wing talk radio and television and rail against "the liberal media," sychophantically spouting right-wing attacks on his profession. Halperin told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he agreed with Hewitt's complaint that the "liberal media has destroyed the necessity of the left having to debate, having to reach a message across, because you guys have always papered over the weakness of their arguments," and then debased himself before Bill O'Reilly by vowing "to prove to conservatives that we understand their grievances. We're going to try to do better."

Halperin continues to play this self-flagellating role in order to please the Right. Today he published a chart arguing that part of what was driving the scrutiny of Sarah Palin is "anti-Republican liberal media bias," and he then went on Joe Scarborough's MSNBC show this morning to make the same claim:

There are three bad reasons [for the "frenzy" against Palin]. One is the liberal press. I think the McCain campaign is right that people are going after her harder than they would go after a Democratic Vice Presidential nominee.

The very notion of the "Liberal Media" is one of the most inane myths in American politics -- something spat out and repeated in the lowest right-wing sewers for so long that it has become conventional wisdom -- but Halperin's frequent vouching for that myth, in his role of "journalist," illustrates all one needs to know about him. The media's contempt for both John Kerry and Al Gore was matched only by their reverence for George Bush's swagger. The first several months of media coverage this year was dominated by Jerimiah Wright, lapel pins, bowling scores, Bittergate and elitism. And it is highly unlikely that there has even been a time in American history when the media was as subservient to Government as they were during the Bush era. It's literally hard to imagine a claim that ought to be more discredited in general than the notion of the "liberal media" and its "anti-Republican bias."

But specifically to attribute the media scrutiny of Sarah Palin to this mythical "anti-Republican bias" is absurd beyond description. Palin is undoubtedly the most mysterious and unknown individual to be inserted into our national political scene in decades, if not longer. The first time her name ever appears in any news accounts, at least according to Nexis, was an April 3, 1996 article in The Anchorage Daily News that reported this:

Alaskans Line Up For a Whiff of Ivana

Sarah Palin, a commercial fisherman from Wasilla, told her husband on Tuesday she was driving to Anchorage to shop at Costco. Instead, she headed straight for Ivana.

And there, at J.C. Penney's cosmetic department, was Ivana, the former Mrs. Donald Trump, sitting at a table next to a photograph of herself. She wore a light-colored pantsuit and pink fingernail polish. Her blonde hair was coiffed in a bouffant French twist.

"We want to see Ivana," said Palin, who admittedly smells like salmon for a large part of the summer, "because we are so desperate in Alaska for any semblance of glamour and culture."

Ivana Trump, the former Czechoslovakian Olympic skier who found fame and wealth as the wife of the New York tycoon, came to Anchorage Tuesday to push her line of perfume.

More than 500 people waited as long as half an hour in J.C. Penney to chat with her and receive an autographed photo.

That was 1996. It was that same year -- in October -- when Palin was elected Mayor of Wasilla. According to The Anchorage Daily News article reporting her victory, "the final tally was 617-413." There are High School Student Council elections with more votes than that. She ran her campaign, and won, based on the precise GOP wedge strategies that John McCain, to this day, pretends to decry. As a Wasilla councilman put it at the time:

Palin offers no management qualifications, basing her campaign on the buzzword planks and the political might of the far-right Republicans. She obtained endorsement by the NRA. Why is the Republican Party so interested in local elections? Why is the NRA involved in such a contest? The three council seats up this year also saw challengers running on the basis of the Republican Party platform, using the same tactics.

 I would never suggest that an individual or organization refrain from participating in any election, but I had hoped this valley and Wasilla could avoid the nationwide tendency that sees such elections become more and more partisan. Bad enough that state decisions are made more often on the basis of party politics and in party caucuses. We don't need that at the local level.

Time today reported the same thing: "While Palin often describes that race as having been a fight against the old boys' club, [then-incumbent Mayor] Stein says she made sure the campaign hinged on issues like gun owners' rights and her opposition to abortion (Stein is pro-choice)."

The first thing Palin did after being elected was fire six department heads in the City, including the Police Commissioner and the librarian. As The Anchorage Daily News put it: "the newly elected mayor of Wasilla has asked all of the city's top managers to resign in order to test their loyalty to her administration." It added:

She's also been criticized by the local semiweekly newspaper for a new policy requiring department heads to get the mayor's approval before talking to reporters. An editorial in The Frontiersman labeled it a "gag order."

In January of 1997, Palin seemed actually to lie about what she did, as the same paper reported:

Palin said she planned to meet with [Police Chief Irl] Stambaugh and [librarian Mary Ellen] Emmons this afternoon. She also disputed whether they had actually been fired. "There's been no meeting, no actual terminations," she said.

 Stambaugh's response was to read part of the letter given to him.

"Although I appreciate your service as police chief, I've decided it's time for a change. I do not feel I have your full support in my efforts to govern the city of Wasilla. Therefore I intend to terminate your employment. . . . "

"If that's not a letter of termination, I don't know what is," he said.

Perhaps the most disturbing revelation about Palin yet appeared in the Time article linked above -- that one of the very first things she did after being elected Mayor was pressure the librarian to ban books which she found offensive in some way:

Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.

Indeed, while reading through the early accounts of Palin's tenure as mayor, the most mystifying aspect was that she not only immediately fired people like the Police Chief and Finance Director -- one could argue that a new Mayor would want loyalists in those positions to carry out her new agenda -- but also the City Librarian. From the January 31, 1997 edition of Anchorage Daily News:

Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin fired the city's police chief and the library director without warning Thursday, accusing them of not fully supporting her efforts to govern. Irl Stambaugh and Mary Ellen Emmons said letters signed by Palin were dropped on their desks Thursday afternoon telling them their jobs were over as of Feb. 13 and that they no longer needed to report to work.

Emmons has been the city's library director for seven years. Stambaugh has headed the police department since it was created in 1993. Before that, he served 22 years with the Anchorage Police Department rising to the rank of captain before retiring.

Other than banning books which Palin disliked, what possible agenda could a librarian be expected to serve upon pain of firing? Community anger over Palin's attempt to fire the librarian was apparently intense, forcing Palin to reverse her decision. From the The Anchorage Daily News on February 1, 1997:

City librarian Mary Ellen Emmons will stay, but Police Chief Irl Stambaugh is on his own, Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin announced Friday.

The decision came one day after letters signed by Palin were dropped on Stambaugh's and Emmon's desks, telling them their jobs were over as of Feb. 13.

The mayor told them she appreciated their service but felt it was time for a change. "I do not feel I have your full support in my efforts to govern the city of Wasilla. Therefore I intend to terminate your employment ..." the letter said.

Palin said Friday she now feels Emmons supports her but does not feel the same about Stambaugh.

As to what prompted the change, Palin said she now has Emmons' assurance that she is behind her. She refused to give details about how Stambaugh has not supported her, saying only that "You know in your heart when someone is supportive of you."

Thereafter, Palin fired the City Attorney, who was replaced by Ken Jacobus, the counsel for the Alaskan state Republican Party. Between this behavior almost immediately upon becoming Mayor and her subsequent firing of the State Police Commissioner while Governor, Palin has a rather clear pattern of trying to use her power to advance personal grievances and fill government positions with political hacks, cronies, and those who are loyal to her politically -- exactly what has infected so much of the Federal Government over the last eight years. Far worse, shockingly little is known about what she actually thinks and believes, and what little is known suggests some rather extremist and even bizarre leanings, beginning with an attempt to ban books from her local library, even firing the head librarian for refusing to comply.

And yet here is Mark Halperin, claiming that it is "anti-Republican liberal media bias" (along with "sexism") that explains why, in his words, "Sarah Palin is Being So Very Scrutinized" (even while acknowledging that there are "good reasons" for doing so). Has there ever been an individual on a major party presidential ticket about whom less was known than Sarah Palin? Infinitely more scrutiny is required before it can be said that the media has fulfilled its obligations here, let alone that it has done so excessively due to "anti-Republican" media bias that exists only in Mark Halperin's head.

UPDATE: Speaking of the merger of right-wing talking points and media narratives, the AP's Tom Raum last night "reported" -- falsely -- that "many liberals are belittling the choice, suggesting that as a mother of five children -- including an infant with Down syndrome - she has neither the time nor the experience to become vice president." National Review's Kathleen Parker echoes that claim almost verbtaim today: "Some also have questioned whether Palin, whose son Trig has Down syndrome, can be both a mother and a vice president? These questions aren't coming from the Right -- so often accused of wanting to keep women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen -- but from the Left."

Which "liberals" -- who "on the Left" -- have done any such thing? Neither AP nor Parker bother to identify a single person who has. Here, however, is right-wing icon Dr. Laura Schlesinger:

I am extremely disappointed in the choice of Sarah Palin as the Vice Presidential candidate of the Republican Party. . . . I'm stunned -- couldn't the Republican Party find one competent female with adult children to run for Vice President with McCain? I realize his advisors probably didn't want a "mature" woman, as the Democrats keep harping on his age. But really, what kind of role model is a woman whose fifth child was recently born with a serious issue, Down Syndrome, and then goes back to the job of Governor within days of the birth?

When Mom and Dad both work full-time (no matter how many folks get involved with the children), it becomes a somewhat chaotic situation. Certainly, if a child becomes ill and is rushed to the hospital, and you're on the hotline with both Israel and Iran as nuclear tempers are flaring, where's your attention going to be? Where should your attention be? Well, once you put your hand on the Bible and make that oath, your attention has to be with the government of the United States of America. . . .

Any full-time working wife and mother knows that the family takes the short end of the stick. Marriages and the welfare of children suffer when a stressed-out mother doesn't have time to be a woman, a wife, and a hands-on Mommy.

Here, you can email NRO Editor Kathryn Jean Lopez (who repeated and promoted Parker's false claim) and ask Lopez if they intend to correct Parker's erroneous claim. The Right and many of their media allies are simply inventing attacks on Palin, dishonestly attributing them to "liberals," and then gallantly defending her from them.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth and latest book is, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. Prior to his collaboration with Pierre Omidyar, Glenn’s column was featured at Guardian US and Salon.  His previous books include: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the PowerfulGreat American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, a George Polk Award, and was on The Guardian team that won the Pulitzer Prize for public interest journalism in 2014.

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