Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Press Releases: Palin around

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Sarah Palin's trip to Bangor drew a lot of positive attention from Maine's TV stations, who mostly left the criticism to bloggers. Whether that was in deference to her telegenic presence or an attempt at objectivity, Maine's broadcasters treated a partisan political show as if it were a “feelgood” event — the protestors barely rated a mention — and missed a chance to bring truth and insight to viewers. Good thing the bloggers filled the void.

WGME-13 (Portland’s CBS affiliate) aired footage of a grinning Palin and a cheering crowd, with anchor Kiley Bennett delivering a credulous voice-over: “Palin came armed with her conversational style, but also came touting her ticket’s record of experience, promising a future of education reform, help for special-needs children, and the development of new energy sources.”

WABI-5 (the Bangor CBS affiliate) even went so far as to say Palin “resonated with Mainers,” though the station’s news crew talked only to people who attended her political rally. Nor did WABI examine what Palin said, airing a segment of her speech in which Palin said John McCain “knows how to win a war,” but then failing to ask for details in an exclusive post-rally one-on-one interview. (Instead, reporter Amy Erickson asked a softball question about LIHEAP, though she backed it up with a pointed observation that the program, which helps low-income and elderly residents pay their heating bills in winter, is “one form of government assistance [Palin] strongly supports.”)

WGME also noted that Palin was “welcomed by Maine Senator Olympia Snowe,” without observing — as did blogger Eric Olson at MaineOwl — the conspicuous absence of Maine’s other leading Republican, Susan Collins, who is in the midst of a re-election bid but is studiously avoiding almost every other GOPer, and even avoiding using the word “Republican” in her campaign ads.

Over at MainePolitics, blogger Mike Tipping took aim at Palin for repeating at the rally a line about America being a “shining city on a hill,” which she attributes to Ronald Reagan. Tipping notes, correctly, that it was uttered first by Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop in 1630, and expresses doubt that “she knows the historical and philosophical background of that quote,” which was delivered in a sermon declaring the colony’s founders were chosen by God to create a holy community in the wilderness of North America.

And TurnMaineBlue blogger Gerald Weinand conducted a real-time fact-check, noting both the failure to properly attribute the John Winthrop quote, and Palin’s misleadingly incomplete statement about eliminating property taxes when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (she did, but with the help of federal funding earmarked for projects in town, and by creating a local sales tax). But while Weinand disputed Palin’s ability to say Bangor was “beautiful” because she’d only seen the inside of an airplane hangar, he failed to note that she had flown in on a plane with windows.

Another bright spot: WLBZ-2, the Bangor NBC station, stood up to Palin’s handlers demand that the candidate pick the reporter who would interview her, thereby turning down the chance for a face-to-face; no doubt the demand was blowback from anchor Rob Caldwell’s interview of McCain back in September, in which the first question was why Palin hadn’t taken any serious questions from reporters.

And a low spot: the pre-rally interview aired by Portland ABC station WMTW-8 was filmed in New Hampshire, with an unidentified reporter (from WMUR in Manchester), but voiced-over by local anchor Tory Ryden. Making matters worse, the two clips selected were among the least interesting of the full interview. WMTW allowed Palin to make accusations of political gamesmanship against unnamed Alaskan opponents, but did not air her allegation that her family persecuted an Alaska state trooper “at the behest of [other Alaska] state troopers,” a startling — and new — development in the case.