Watching both MSNBC and CNBC today, I have been surprised how quickly the press has moved from "Who is Sarah Palin?" — or even "Is Sarah Palin a good choice?" — to "How exactly did John McCain screw up by picking Sarah Palin?"
To say that the press is doing the Democrats' work for them would be an understatement.
I have absolutely no personal knowledge of the vetting process, but the McCain campaign's response has perhaps best been made by Byron York at NRO:
Team McCain Hits Back on Palin, Vetting
Had a long talk this morning with a senior strategist in the McCain campaign. I think it's fair to say Team McCain is seriously unhappy with a New York Times story, "Palin Disclosures Raise Questions On Vetting," which came out this morning and is driving much of the coverage of the issue. The story begins:The story, my campaign source told me, is "materially false." Gov. Palin, the strategist said, was subjected to a "complete vet." "That included her filling out a 70-question questionnaire that was highly intrusive and personal. She was then interviewed for more than three hours by A.B. Culvahouse. There were multiple follow-up interviews." (I asked precisely how many follow-ups there were, but my source stuck with "multiple.") "There was a thorough interview process," the strategist continued. "There was a public records search and political vet. There was a private life and financial vet. Everything that has come out was known by the campaign through the vetting process."
A series of disclosures about Gov. Sarah Palin, Senator John McCain's choice as running mate, called into question on Monday how thoroughly Mr. McCain had examined her background before putting her on the Republican presidential ticket.
On Monday morning, Ms. Palin and her husband, Todd, issued a statement saying that their 17-year-old unmarried daughter, Bristol, was five months pregnant and that she intended to marry the father.
Among other less attention-grabbing news of the day: it was learned that Ms. Palin now has a private lawyer in a legislative ethics investigation in Alaska into whether she abused her power in dismissing the state's public safety commissioner; that she was a member for two years in the 1990s of the Alaska Independence Party, which has at times sought a vote on whether the state should secede; and that Mr. Palin was arrested 22 years ago on a drunken-driving charge.
Okay. What about particulars? The strategist started at the bottom and moved up.
"Todd's DUI — we judged that to be immaterial to the selection process. The ticket for fishing without a license — we judged that to be immaterial to the selection process." On the charge that Palin was a member of the Alaska Independence Party, the strategist said, flatly, "She was never a member of the independence party, because she has been a registered Republican." (Later, the McCain camp put out a statement saying it had provided reporters with "ALL voter registration documentation" showing that Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982 and "has never been a member of the AIP.") And on the issue of Palin's daughter Bristol being pregnant: "John McCain made a decision that did not affect his decision-making in terms of her qualifications." (As far as the allegation that Gov. Palin faked a pregnancy to cover up for her daughter is concerned, it appears the McCain campaign knew about it and looked into it, but never very deeply because it had been proven false to the satisfaction of pretty much anyone outside The Atlantic or the DailyKos.)
From our conversation, it was clear that the McCain campaign paid a lot of attention to the so-called "Troopergate" issue. After all, unlike the "fake baby" story that has preoccupied the press, it is a real issue involving allegations that Palin abused her power. Last night, the McCain campaign distributed a "background guidance" memo to reporters on the issue. In our conversation, the strategist recounted much of the substance of that memo.
"Of course this issue came up in the vetting, and this is what we discovered," the source said. "The man who was fired has said on the record that he was never pressured by the governor or the governor's husband on the issue of firing Trooper Wooten. The governor had a vision for how she wanted that department to be run. The commissioner had a different vision."
"The reason that members of the Palin family were having discussions with the head of the state police about this state trooper, who was her ex-brother-in-law, was because he had made threats against the family. He threatened to kill the governor's daughter, her father, and her sister. He tasered her 11-year-old stepson. And that is why the Palin family was concerned about this trooper."
I brought up accusations that the McCain team has performed a "legal vet" on Palin but did not perform a "political vet." In addition to the accusation that Palin had been a member of the Alaska Independence Party, there were issues like her change in position on the "bridge to nowhere" and her support for raising sales taxes in Wasilla, Alaska. "Change on the 'bridge to nowhere?'" my source asked. "Are you saying there's somebody out there who believes that should disqualify her to be vice president?" Barack Obama has changed his mind on a few things, the strategist added. As for sales taxes in Wasilla, the source said, "Every aspect of her political record is known to us. These people [McCain's opponents] are desperate."
As for what materials the campaign examined in the vetting, the source told me they checked out (almost) everything. "The only thing the campaign did not look at was the microfilm of the local newspaper, because it was impossible to look at the microfilm without revealing the search process," the strategist said. "We made a calculation that we would be able to get all the information from the Anchorage newspaper, that it was unlikely that there would be items in the local papers that were problematic that didn't make it to the Anchorage paper."
I don't get it. Are the New York Times reporters just printing what the Obama people are telling them (as Byron York is explicitly doing for the other side)? Or is one side or the other simply lying? Or both?
I guess we should be happy that there are now alternative sources of information, or too often most of us would hear only one side of the story.
UPDATE: Well, we have a likely answer to one question: it appears that Sarah Palin was never a member of the American Independence Party. The Times had a reason for writing what they did, but they went with the story before checking it out or looking at available state records. In essence, they acted more like a blogger than a newspaper. Let's see if they respond as quickly as bloggers usually do in correcting their errors.