Fairness Doctrine

Scott Fybush scott@fybush.com
Thu Nov 6 17:52:40 EST 2008

Don A wrote:

>>> Considering the number of people who contributed to the
>>> Republican campaign, it stands to reason that they might want to
>>> know what was done with that money (and in case you didn't
>>> already know this, the story was not her wardrobe, but how it was
>>> paid for..
> This was paid for by people who willingly gave money to the campain
> to get McCain elected.  A wardrobe for Palin is part of that task.
> I have yet to see a campain contributor that was complaining about
> the wardrobe budget.
> Only lefties, who didn't give any money and would never vote for them
>  anyway.  Just looking for another thing to be "appalled" by.

Don, I'd like you to meet Saul Anuzis, the Republican Party chairman for
the state of Michigan. I don't think I'd call him a "lefty," but I think
I would call him appalled:

> One top party fundraiser told NEWSWEEK that, ever since the story
> broke on Politico.com, he was bombarded with calls from Republican
> donors who were "furious" that their contributions were used for such
> purposes. "This has damaged everybody's credibility," griped the
> fundraiser (who asked not to be identified talking about party
> business). Among those upset was Saul Anuzis, the Michigan Republican
> Party chairman, still smarting over McCain's decision to pull out of
> his state. "I have no idea how you spend $150,000 on clothes," he
> says. Lobbyist Andrea McWilliams, a GOP fundraiser in Texas, said the
> flap undercut the party's message. Palin's "transformation from low
> couture to haute couture isn't the kind of change that voters had in
> mind," she said.

(source: http://www.newsweek.com/id/165666)

And I'd note that there's a campaign-finance law that explicitly bars 
the use of campaign contributions to buy clothing for the candidate. The 
law? A little something called "McCain-Feingold." I know Feingold is a 
Wisconsin senator. Who's that "McCain" guy, again?

This may explain why the story got so much play.

Also, you betcha, I don't think you can ignore the fact that Palin was 
picked - and heavily promoted by the McCain campaign itself - with the 
explicit intention to make big headlines. It was certainly no 
coincidence that her selection was announced just hours after the 
Democratic convention had ended, and I didn't see any complaints from 
the right about the fawning coverage she received in the wake of her 
"coming-out" speech in St. Paul. I don't think anyone can dispute that 
that was the signature moment of the convention, just as the McCain camp 
had intended.

But I'd also contend that the McCain camp had no reason not to expect 
the media treatment it received afterward. It's traditional, in our 
media-driven campaigns, for the candidates - ESPECIALLY lesser-known 
ones like a Sarah Palin - to quickly be made available for interviews.

That, as we know, didn't happen, and that was effectively a red cloth 
being waved in front of the media to charge forward and ask, "why not?"

We're learning today (from none other than Fox News' Carl Cameron, no 
"lefty," he) that journalists were right to pick up on the questions 
surrounding the Palin pick as being possible evidence of disharmony and 
disorganization inside the McCain campaign.

If you accept that the choice of a vice-presidential candidate is one of 
the first significant clues the voting public receives about the 
decision-making skills and leadership ability of the presidential 
candidate, then there's no question - at least in my journalistic 
judgment - that the media were right to pursue the Palin story with the 
vigor with which they did.

> Now, don't you think it's a ligitimate news story for people to know
>  that Sen. Obama's aunt (who is in his book), lives in their own 
> backyard, lives in subsidized housing, and is an illegal immigrant?
> Not to mention the fact that Obama "didn't know"?
> If nothing else, it's a human interest story.

Let me ask you a couple of questions (just as I would if a story like 
this came up in a morning news meeting) -

What, if anything, does this story tell us about Barack Obama himself 
and his qualifications to serve as president?

And if it's a legitimate news story to know that a distant relative 
(whom Obama says he hadn't even talked to in several years) had 
overstayed a visa and is living in Boston, is it then also a legitimate 
news story to report on family members of Republican candidates?

For what it's worth, my assessment of the situation doesn't diverge far 
from Don's - "it's a human interest story." (with a footnote, below)

But I'd put it about on a par with another story that broke around the 
same time - those profanity-laced 911 calls that John McCain's brother, 
Joe, made to complain about heavy traffic on the DC beltway.

That story got about the same amount of inside-the-paper play that the 
Obama aunt story did, and I'd say that's about right.

And I'm happy to live in a world where those who really, really wanted 
to see the Joe McCain story get heavier play could go to sources like 
Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and the Huffington Post to learn more, while 
those wanting to know more about Obama's aunt have NewsMax and Free 
Republic and most of talk radio.

I'd not want to see either side of that spectrum silenced by government 
action...and I suspect we're running rather far afield of the mission of 
this particular private forum, whose proprietor has every right to 
redirect it back on track as he sees fit!


(The footnote to the Obama-aunt story: I agree with Donna and others who 
have pointed out that it's more than a little interesting to question 
why the supposedly confidential information about her immigration status 
suddenly broke into the news just a few days before the election. That, 
to my mind, is a more interesting story than John McCain's phone calls, 
Bristol Palin's pregnancy, or the Obama aunt herself.)

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