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FREE LUNCH, NO STANDARDS! Sarah Palin has a problem–a problem the press will avoid: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2008

FREE LUNCH, NO STANDARDS: On last night’s Hardball, the Washington Post’s James Grimaldi clarified his bungled work about Sarah Palin’s per diem diet; the governor has been taking “approximately $60 a night” from the state of Alaska for every night she sleeps at home, the tough-talking scribe told Chris Matthews. (As we noted yesterday, Grimaldi’s front-page Post report omitted this elementary fact.) For the record: Since Matthews was hosting—and he never knows anything—Grimaldi wasn’t asked to explain his report’s plain contradiction about that sixty bucks. In his opening paragraph, he’d seemed to say that the swag was for “meals,” later, he seemed to say that it wasn’t. But this is the way the Washington Post handles its major, front-page reporting. You live at a time when your biggest, most important political newspaper can’t even get the basic facts right in its key, front-page reports.

In this morning’s New York Times, Michael Luo provides blessed clarity. “The $60-a-day allowance is available for state employees when traveling on official state business to cover meals and other sundry expenses,” he writes, remembering to include the basic facts and failing to self-contradict. Bottom line: In her first seventeen months in office, Palin banked $17,059 in such swag, sixty dollars at a time. (She took the per diem for over 300 nights.) The hockey mom took this swag from the state—for her meals, while living at home.

There’s no free lunch, many wags have said. If we may borrow from President Kennedy: Let them come to Wasilla!

At any rate, Luo seems to establish the basic facts. But we were struck by this account of Democratic reaction:

LUO (9/10/08): Democrats immediately seized on the revelation on Tuesday to challenge the image of fiscal discipline that Ms. Palin, the Republican running mate of Senator John McCain, has sought to convey as part of her message of bringing change to Washington.

According to Luo, Democrats thought the free lunch money contradicted Palin’s “image of fiscal discipline.” It’s a sign of the times that Luo doesn’t say this: Democrats said the revelations display Palin’s problem with the truth.

Yes, Palin’s free lunch plan has cost Alaska’s tax-payers some dough. But news of her lunch plan struck us differently; it heightened our interest in the tortured character tales she has continued to spout. Has any pol ever arrived on the scene pimping such a trio of groaners? In the last twelve days, Palin has defined her outstanding character with three pleasing tales:

I told the Congress to take their bridge and shove it!
I sold (“put”) King Frank’s jet on eBay!
I got rid of the governor’s chef! Boy, do my kids ever miss her!

These pleasing stories have been used to define Palin’s wonderful character. But the “bridge to nowhere” tale is laughably bogus, essentially a lie—and the jet plane tale is so slickly misleading that she even fooled Saint John McCain into saying the plan was sold on eBay, at a profit! And she didn’t exactly “fire” the chef—although the actual facts of the matter still seem to be unknown. This much is clear: Palin reassigned the chef in late June 2007, when the legislative session was over and Palin’s family was leaving Juneau for the summer. Did the chef return to the governor’s mansion to cook for Palin’s kids that fall? As of last Sunday, even the Anchorage Daily News didn’t know the answer to that. This item appeared in Sheila Toomey’s “Alaska Ear” column:

TOOMEY (9/7/08): Erica Marcus, a food writer at Newsday in New York, e-mailed the following request for information to a Daily News reporter: Did Sarah hire back a chef at the governor's mansion when the legislative session began [in the fall of 2007], as she said she would when she canned the chef after becoming governor? (Ear doesn't know the answer).

Note: Even Toomey misstates the facts a tad. Palin didn’t can the chef “after becoming governor;” she canned the chef in late June 2007, after the chef had cooked for her kids for her first seven months in office. She canned the chef when her kids were leaving the mansion for the summer. Even Toomey doesn’t know if the chef returned in the fall.

At any rate, Palin’s self-glorying character tales have been extremely shaky. Now we learn that, for all her bluster, she was taking free lunch money in the summer of 2007 after heroically dumping (reassigning) that chef. Frankly, Palin’s stories get more and more phony the more we learn the facts which surround them. More and more, they resemble the kinds of tales which have gotten certain other pols massacred in the recent past.

So how about it? Does Palin have a problem with the truth? According to Luo, even Dems didn’t ask that question in the wake of this latest revelation. This brings us around to the point dday made in a post at Digby’s shack, a post we strongly recommend:

DDAY (9/9/08): We're finally getting around in the larger blogosphere to something I was flogging a few weeks ago—how the media is failing to apply the same standard to John McCain that they did to Al Gore in 2000.

In our view, dday slightly misstates the problem. We strongly recommend this post—with one key emendation:

No “standard” was applied to Gore in 1999 and 2000. (Why do we liberals instinctively start by cutting the length of the offense in half? It seems to be hard-wired in us.) No “standard” was applied to Gore; instead, a “narrative” was applied, in which Gore—like Clinton and Clinton’s vile wife—was said to have a deeply troubling “problem with the truth.” Starting in March 1999, the press corps started inventing “examples” of this deeply troubling problem. By the middle of March 1999 (not in 2000!), they had assembled their three basic building-blocks:

Al Gore said he invented the Internet!
Al Gore said he inspired Love Story!
Al Gore said he grew up doing chores on a farm, when he really grew up here in Washington!

Except Gore didn’t say he invented the Internet—and the other two “examples” were even more bogus. The farm chores complaint was such a hoax that the press corps eventually dropped it, something these life-forms never do (after savaging Gore with it for months, of course). They replaced it with another bogus claim: Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal! That claim was so bogus that it took a misquotation, by the Post and the Times, to get the story started. The misquotation was corrected on the very first day. “Journalists” kept repeating it, for months.

Let’s be clear. No “standard” was being applied in these matters; instead, the press was applying a narrative. And yes, they were willing to lie to impose their narrative—and the E. J. Dionnes and the Josh Marshalls were willing to stare into space while this happened. (Along with the Michael Kinsleys and the Joe Kleins, and so many others. The Lawrence O’Donnells played a shockingly active role in the lying.) They lied about this for two solid years, thus putting George Bush where he is.

Today, Sarah Palin parades about, repeating three shaky heroine tales. The bridge to nowhere claim is pure nonsense; it’s as close as major pols ever come to a flat-out lie. But her other tales aren’t much better. How comical does her heroine tale about the chef seem, when we learn the background info: When we learn Palin was pocketing lunch money in Wasilla as the chef was on leave down in Juneau?

This is clownish, comical stuff. If Gore had ever told stories like these, he would have been hung from the nearest tree. Because he didn’t tell such tales, the press corps made tales up.

Does Palin have a problem with the truth? We can’t think of any pol who ever arrived on the national scene with three stories quite this bogus. But try to grasp the irrationality which now shapes your public discourse: In the world of the modern press, only Dems have “a problem with the truth!” The press will invent the lies Dems tell. With Republicans, they’ll sidestep the problem.

Key point: No Democrat could ever tell three stories as bogus as Palin’s. The RNC would keen and wail, refusing to let such nonsense stand. The press corps would swing into action, applying a much-cherished narrative. But Howard Dean heads the DNC—and he doesn’t watch that much cable. And under the narratives ruling your press, this “problem with the truth” cannot stand.

Others seem to have the same problem: Others seem to have “problems with the truth” too. On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow keep making claims about that state chef—and failing to back their assertions. Examples:

OLBERMANN (9/8/08): The chef she fired? She didn’t fire her, she kept cooking for her.

MADDOW (9/9/08): Actually, the personal chef just sort of got reassigned.

OLBERMANN (9/9/08): The governor didn’t fire that chef. She simply reassigned her to a different job title while she continued to cook for the governor’s kids.

These dramatic, pleasing claims occurred at the top of these programs, with little subsequent attempt to explain or support them. This is the best attempt we can find, from KeithO, on Monday night:

OLBERMANN (9/8/08): Remember her heart-warming story about how her kids were disappointed, but she had to fire that chef at the governor’s mansion? Not true. That chef, Stephanie Marnon, was first reassigned as a constituent relations assistant in the governor’s office, and later to the state museum and legislative lounge, still cooking all the time.

Assuming all that is true, how does that mean that Marnon “kept cooking for her?” How does it mean that Marnon “continued to cook for the governor’s kids?” While we’re at it, a note to our latest brilliant Rhodes Scholar: If the chef “gets reassigned” (to the legislative lounge, for example), then duh! That would mean that she was no longer the governor’s personal chef.

We’ve seen a lot of lying in the past ten years; we’ve seen a lot of grimy people who get a kick out of running us rubes. We’ve really come to dislike such people. We hate this stuff most when it comes from creeps on the pseudo-progressive side.

By the way, Lawrence O’Donnell guested with Maddow last night. O’Donnell kept “mistakenly” trashing Candidate Gore, right through October 2000. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/3/05. The truth hurts: Creepy crawlers like O’Donnell put George Bush where he is.

DIDN’T ASK, DIDN’T GET TOLD: Do you want to understand how incompetent your mainstream journalists are? Just consider the Wall Street Journal’s news report on Sarah Palin and the Bridge to Nowhere. It’s a jumbled, confusing report—but it’s being praised all over the web. This bungled work now stands as the “report of record” concerning this major topic.

How hapless are high-level mainstream journalists? In her report, Elizabeth Holmes quickly offers a basic chronology:

HOLMES (9/9/08): Despite significant evidence to the contrary, the McCain campaign continues to assert that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told the federal government "thanks but no thanks" to the now-famous bridge to an island in her home state.

[...]

Gov. Palin, who John McCain named as his running mate less than two weeks ago, quickly adopted a stump line bragging about her opposition to the pork-barrel project Sen. McCain routinely decries.

But Gov. Palin's claim comes with a serious caveat. She endorsed the multimillion dollar project during her gubernatorial race in 2006. And while she did take part in stopping the project after it became a national scandal, she did not return the federal money. She just allocated it elsewhere.

From that highlighted chronology, a reader would surely think the bridge “became a national scandal” at some point after Palin’s gubernatorial race. In fact, the bridge became a national scandal in the fall of 2005, the year before Palin’s campaign. Congress rescinded its earmark at that time, letting Alaska keep the federal money that had been designated for bridge construction. By the way: It was at that time, before Palin became governor, that the “federal money” began being “allocated elsewhere.”

A bit later, Holmes creates more confusion:

HOLMES: Senior adviser Mark Salter pointed to [Palin’s] role in killing the project while in office and allocating the money elsewhere. When pressed further that it was actually Congress that stopped the earmark, Mr. Salter said: "She stopped it, too. She did her part." Mr. Salter added that he welcomed a fight over earmarks with the Obama campaign.

In that passage, Holmes suddenly refers to Congress “stopp[ing] the earmark,” an action that is never referred to (or explained) anywhere else in her piece. She seems to suggest that Congress killed the project when it stopped the earmark, but the earmark and the project itself were two separate critters. (As noted, Congress dropped the earmark in November 2005; as governor, Palin was still contemplating the project two years later, in the fall of 2007.) Simply put, Holmes’ piece is a jumbled mess; a reader who is unclear on the facts will be unclear after reading this piece. Holmes’ exposition is quite inept—like almost all the exposition that has been done on this topic.

What is wrong with Palin’s claims? She claims she said “thanks but no thanks” to the Congress—but it’s hard to see when she did that. A McCain ad claims that she’s a maverick because she “stopped the bridge to nowhere”—but the project was a minor state matter by the time this minor event occurred.

When did Palin say “thanks but no thanks?” When did she stand up to the Congress? Wouldn’t you know it? Holmes interviewed Salter, McCain’s top guy—but there’s no sign that she ever asked.

Tomorrow: Salter explains to the Post.

The wages of snark: We liberals are extremely good at accepting half loaves in these matters. And that’s what we’re doing when we parade about, offering this snarky formulation: Sarah Palin was for the bridge before she was against it.

For us, the snark feels very good—but many voters won’t get the reference. Beyond that, there’s an obvious problem with this formulation, one we explained last week. And sure enough! Last Friday morning, the Morning Joe gang went right where we had prophesied.

Bill Adair was on the show with his famous truth-o-meter. He said that Palin deserves a “half truth” for her claim that she “told Congress thanks but no thanks on the bridge.” As he tried to explain, Adair, was soon reciting that snark. But uh-oh! It was just as we’d warned! Look where Scarborough took it:

ADAIR (9/5/08): I mean we all remember when he it got named the “bridge to nowhere” and there was all this public opposition to it. And Congress actually withdrew the specific earmark for it. And then it got to her and it was at the point when Alaska had to decide, are we going to spend any money on it. And she said, no, we’re going to kill it. She had even supported it when she was running for governor. So she really exaggerates her role. It was more like she performed the last rites than killed it all.

SCARBOROUGH: OK. But, so she supported it on the campaign trail. But once she became governor, she opposed it—

ADAIR: And killed it.

SCARBOROUGH: —and at the end killed it.

ADAIR: She was for it before she was against it. Yes.

BRZEZINSKI: Oh, right. I’ve heard that!

SCARBOROUGH: But when she was in office, she killed it.

ADAIR: She killed it. Correct.

Do you see the problem with the snarky formulation, “She was for it before she was against it?” That construction allows many voters to say: Well, if she got it right in the end, what are we really complaining about? To our ear, Scarborough seemed to be saying this: Palin may have campaigned for the bridge, but she did the right thing once she got into office. To many voters, that will sound like a pretty good deal. The wages of snark can be quite bad in this case. There’s no substitution for clarity.

What does clarity look like here? In our view, it looks like this:

No, Palin didn’t “tell the Congress” to take their bridge and shove it. Indeed, when she killed it, she specifically said she was doing so because Congress wouldn’t give the state more money for the project. And though she did put the project out of its misery, it was a minor state matter by that point; her decision hardly made her a “maverick,” as McCain is foolishly claiming. Palin’s initial claim was laughably bogus—essentially a lie. McCain’s claim is a laughable stretch.