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Opinion

Don't be swept away by hype in the Palin campaign

The media's job is to unearth facts, not repeat myths.

By Jerry Lanson / September 10, 2008



Boston

In the summer of 2002, a senior aide to President George W. Bush met with a writer whose work had annoyed him to deliver a lesson in how his administration saw its mandate.

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"The aide said that guys like me … 'believe that solutions emerge from … judicious study of discernible reality,'" Ron Suskind wrote, recalling the event two years later. "'That's not the way the world really works anymore...,' [the aide] continued. 'When we act, we create our own reality.'"

Even in the days before the Bush presidency and Karl Rove, widely believed to be the source of that quote, political campaigns of all stripes have strived to "create their own realities."

But while reporters have ridiculed Democrat Michael Dukakis for riding in a tank and belittled Barack Obama for the Greek columns at his nomination speech, Republicans have succeeded in turning the manipulation of myth into an art form.

That's been evident this week as Rove protégé and Sen. John McCain's adviser Steve Schmidt has steadied the ship of Sarah Palin's rollout. First, he bullied the news media into submission. Then the campaign pushed an unrelenting portrayal of her as a maverick.

As reporters disclosed that Ms. Palin sought earmarks for her hometown before she opposed them and supported the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it, the campaign's message only got more persistent and better packaged. On Monday, it released a new ad titled "Original Mavericks."

And while the McCain campaign hammered the media for invading Palin's privacy, it has used every opportunity to idealize her family, even flying in the boyfriend of her pregnant 17-year-old daughter Bristol and parading both on stage behind the governor after she accepted the Republican nomination for vice president. Reality television seemed to trump reality itself as the nomination took on the look of a new daytime soap. Meanwhile, the news media – pushed back by the McCain campaign, then fed this feel-good story line – converted Palin from untested and unvetted to "hockey mom," a "pit bull with lipstick" ready to bite Obama.

The turnaround has been breathtaking.

Just over a week ago reporters disclosed that Palin is being investigated for allegedly trying to intimidate state officials into firing her estranged state trooper brother-in-law. Commentators raised sharp questions about her inexperience and poor vetting. Airwaves filled with idle – and sexist – speculation over whether a mother of five could handle the vice presidency.

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