We're beginning to get into the next stage of Hurricane Sarah, where professionals in the mainstream press (and those who study them) have a chance to catch a deep breath and ask that question that must be asked: "What in the heckfire is going on here?" The Chicago Tribune ran such a piece the other day by journalism professor Don Wycliff of Loyola University, Chicago, who used to be the newspaper's public editor.
The headline was simple enough: "The GOP's beef with the media." Yes, it's about Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain and all of those people chanting, over and over, "NBC!"
Here's a crucial section of the essay. I'll get to my main question in a minute:
... (To) the extent that Palin's and the delegates' demand is that the media simply cease and desist investigating Palin's background, it will not happen and it should not. You can't present the nation with a gift horse, as McCain did in naming Palin, and demand that people not look it in the mouth -- at least until Wednesday, Nov. 5.
The media, as lucky full-time practitioners of the role of citizen that the 1st Amendment protects, have a duty to explore the life and activities and attitudes of a person in Palin's position and make the results public in responsible fashion. The question is whether they did so in this instance. In the case of the Palin daughter's pregnancy, I think they erred in several ways.
He starts with a Reuters report that allowed an anonymous McCain aide to try to tie all of those acidic baby Trig rumors to partisan Democrats -- not just to the anonymous wackos in the netroots. Does it help when campaigns are allowed to play by the same rules as out-of-control bloggers? No, you're supposed to have evidence and on-the-record sourcing.
While continuing to take shots at the GOP, wherever possible, Wycliff does make this comment:
But the larger question is whether the daughter's pregnancy was a legitimate news story at all. Should responsible, mainstream news organizations -- the free-fire zone of the blogosphere is another matter entirely -- have battened onto the story and run it?
I think not.
As Obama himself said, the pregnancy story tells the American electorate nothing substantial about Palin and her fitness for the office of vice president.
This brings me to my main point (and I'll keep reading elsewhere to see if this thesis holds up). I think some of the voices in the mainstream press are making a mistake. They are confusing the orchestrated cries of GOP spinpeople with the howls of outrage out in red zip codes from ordinary readers.
The bottom line: Press people need to sift through the noise and find out what ordinary readers and consumers are upset about (if, in fact, many of them are upset).
Don't chalk this firestorm up to the nasty GOP professionals. Some people are mad, but not about the press vetting Palin. They want to know if the press actually needed to vet the baby.
UPDATED: I mean, honestly, why would readers be angry about some of the Palin-hate websites that are out there. Like this one. Yes, I know that this is not MSM or even netroots. But, really, this ocean of baby-hate is hard to fathom.