If you had any doubts, it has been proven that we are in an age in which the mainstream press is trying to figure out where the blogging ends and the news begins. The official voice of newsroom water coolers inside the Beltway -- that would be Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post -- has a piece up talking about how the rumors about Gov. Sarah Palin spread from the alpha site of the Democratic Party netroots, the Daily Kos, over into terrain closer and closer to the mainstream. It should be noted that this is the left media version of the role that talk radio has played on some stories affecting Democrats.
Out of all of this, the truly big scandal is the role of Andrew Sullivan in validating the rumors, but I will leave commentary on that to others. Here is a crucial piece of the wider debate, from Kurtz:
The controversy erupted as a debate was taking shape over whether some media criticism of Palin's limited government experience has been sexist. Liberal radio host Ed Schultz was telling listeners Monday that Palin was an "empty pantsuit" who had set off a "bimbo alert." Shortly afterward, the pregnancy statement was released and, without missing a beat, Schultz said her daughter's situation was relevant because the governor is a champion of moral values.
But a liberal reader posting on Salon under the name Redstocking Grandma denounced the pregnancy allegations: "This is just creepy; it feels stalkerish." What some Democratic supporters were doing, she said, is "revolting."
The most interesting facet of all of this, for me, is the way in which Palin's family has turned the working-mom wars upside down. I mean, back in the days of Promise Keepers, it was the stuff of anecdotes that some evangelical Dads made sacrifices in order to further the careers and ambitions of their wives and were even better around the house than the liberated Alan Aldas of the blue zip codes. Now, we have a test case being lived out -- flaws and all -- in front of the national press.
As the Divine Ms. MZ has stressed, a number of times, this whole idea of husbands and wives in conservative homes living complex lives is not all that surprising to people outside of mainstream newsrooms. There are evangelical dads with jobs and some with careers and the same is true of the mothers, out there.
For me, the most interesting, and in some ways infuriated, story that has surfaced in the blitz of coverage today -- there are THREE, count 'em three, stories in the New York Times wave on A1 -- was the Washington Post story with the double headline: "Gov. Mom -- The Land of the Midnight Sun's New Claim To Fame: Being Led by a 24-Hour Mother."
Yes, the big investigative story right now: Is Palin still breastfeeding her baby, Trig? Did Sen. John McCain's crew vet her on this policy question?
Clearly, the Post is getting feedback on its coverage from readers. Meanwhile, how are the working moms in all of these big newsrooms feeling about this coverage? Any folks there having children in their '40s? Anyone there with complex family dynamics? How are all of the small-town, big-family evangelical moms and dads in those newsrooms holding up? No need to answer that one.
Back to that Post report. Here is a big chunk of that, with many crucial details:
Palin has carefully portrayed herself throughout her career as someone committed to both family and profession -- and tough enough to handle both. She made a show of dismissing the chef at the governor's mansion saying she wanted to do her own cooking, and that the kids were old enough to make their own sandwiches. And no one can recall her ever having a full-time babysitter.
"You walk into her office and Piper is sitting there, the baby is in the crib -- that's just the way it is. This is how she lives her life. Someone who was in a meeting with her recently said she was discreetly nursing Trig," said Palin's biographer Kaylene Johnson.
From interviews with those closest to Palin emerges a description of a hectic lifestyle, but one in which the hominess and rural community of Alaska have enabled her to have her kids around her while she works and have offered a deep bench of family and friends for child-care support. She has shown up to meetings and news conferences carrying Trig in a baby pouch.
She and her husband kept their family house in the small town of Wasilla, where her parents, three siblings and closest friends live. Most of the year, she is able to commute back and forth from Anchorage daily, except when the legislature is in session in Juneau. Todd Palin is currently on leave from his job as an oil field worker, making it possible for him to be a full-time dad, said two friends.
And on that life-and-death journalistic question of the day:
The McCain campaign said it could not confirm that Palin was still breastfeeding Trig, but the governor said as much in a interview with People magazine on Friday. "What I've had to do ... is, in the middle of the night, put down the BlackBerrys and pick up the breast pump," she worked into an answer to a question about whether she was a morning person.
Now, does all of this make Palin more or less attractive to feminist women in newsrooms? How about working moms and/or big-family moms in ordinary church pews?
As strange as it sounds, both of those questions are relevant at the moment.
Clearly this woman is no wallflower. Then again, I know lots and lots of very traditional female believers in a variety of religious settings who are not wallflowers either.
So here is what needs to happen next. I hope reporters go take a long look in the mirror, then go back to their computers and call up the search engines. It's time for some humble, low-key visits to listen to some women and men in some evangelical church fellowship halls. Look for the folks who have a bunch of kids and are getting along just fine, thank you very much.
What a world we live in.