Sarah Palin Is Right

The media has a double standard for covering female candidates.

NEAR JUNIPER CREEK, ALASKA, SEPTEMBER 04 2010: Sarah Palin hunts caribou near Juniper Creek, in the toundra north of the Arctic Circle (photo Gilles Mingasson).
National Journal
Emma Roller
Add to Briefcase
Emma Roller
May 20, 2014, 10:18 a.m.

In 2008, a con­spir­acy the­ory about Sarah Pal­in — then a can­did­ate for vice pres­id­ent — was born. The the­ory: Pal­in was not in fact the moth­er of her then-in­fant son, Trig — her daugh­ter Bris­tol was. The blog­ger An­drew Sul­li­van fed in­to the the­ory, and it was re­sur­rec­ted in an aca­dem­ic pa­per by a Ken­tucky journ­al­ism pro­fess­or in 2011. (Salon has since thor­oughly de­bunked the Trig Pal­in con­spir­acy the­ory.)

Now, Hil­lary Clin­ton is on the re­ceiv­ing end of her own health-re­lated cov­er-up con­spir­acy the­ory — and Pal­in is us­ing the story to skew­er the me­dia and il­lus­trate what she sees as a double stand­ard for how Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an fe­male can­did­ates get covered.

Some back­ground: In Decem­ber 2012, Clin­ton was treated for a blood clot on her brain after suf­fer­ing a con­cus­sion. Clin­ton re­covered and was giv­en a clean bill of health, but Karl Rove re­mained skep­tic­al.

“Thirty days in the hos­pit­al? And when she re­appears, she’s wear­ing glasses that are only for people who have trau­mat­ic brain in­jury? We need to know what’s up with that,” Rove al­legedly said at a con­fer­ence in Los Angeles.

After cries of “Sex­ism!” from me­dia out­lets, Rove walked back his state­ment, but he was not alone in his think­ing. Re­ince Priebus, the chair­man of the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee, de­fen­ded Rove’s com­ments and said the health ques­tion is “fair game.”

Like it or not, Clin­ton will have to deal with these kinds of ques­tions for the next two years, at a min­im­um. And judging by Pal­in’s re­sponse, the pain doesn’t fade over time. In a highly sar­cast­ic Face­book post Monday night, Pal­in poin­ted out me­dia hy­po­crisy for de­fend­ing Clin­ton against Rove’s com­ments.

“Demo­crats are right — scour­ing re­cords of a fe­male can­did­ate is just polit­ics of per­son­al de­struc­tion, and for the me­dia to en­gage in it would be un­fair, un­eth­ic­al, and ab­so­lutely UN­PRE­CED­EN­TED. You can’t probe a wo­man like that be­cause, well, it’s a war on wo­men!” Pal­in wrote.

“Amer­ica, you de­serve fair and con­sist­ent cov­er­age of rel­ev­ant is­sues be­fore de­cid­ing a Pres­id­en­tial/Vice Pres­id­en­tial tick­et, so have faith the agenda-less me­dia will re­fuse to push whis­pers and wildly in­ac­cur­ate in­form­a­tion about a par­tis­an politi­cian’s body part,” she con­tin­ued.

It’s less likely that Pal­in is de­fend­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton against per­ceived sex­ist com­ments, and much more likely that she’s just tak­ing an­oth­er pot­shot at the Lamestream Me­dia. Of course, some polit­ic­al journ­al­ists did re­buke the Trig the­ory — namely BuzzFeed Ed­it­or-in-Chief Ben Smith, who was at Politico at the time, along with Salon‘s Justin El­li­ott.

But un­like with the Trig The­ory, nearly every re­port­er cov­er­ing the 2008 cam­paign bought in­to an­oth­er nar­rat­ive — one about Pal­in’s men­tal fac­ulties. Pal­in was por­trayed, from Katie Cour­ic to Sat­urday Night Live,  as a clue­less bimbo, and that im­age lives on in Ju­li­anne Moore’s (ex­cel­lent) por­tray­al of Pal­in in HBO’s Game Change. 

Was it fair to por­tray Pal­in as in­ex­per­i­enced and un­fit for of­fice? Yes. But that’s far dif­fer­ent from the im­age the me­dia cul­tiv­ated. Cov­er­ing Pal­in as a bimbo was an un­ques­tioned giv­en. One is a val­id point, the oth­er is a ca­ri­ca­ture.

Of course, Hil­lary Clin­ton has suffered her fair share of sex­ist cov­er­age. After Bill Clin­ton’s af­fair with Mon­ica Lew­in­sky came to light, pun­dits spec­u­lated that Hil­lary — that fri­gid harpy! — had driv­en her hus­band to in­fi­del­ity. More re­cently, the idea that Chelsea Clin­ton be­came preg­nant to boost her moth­er’s fa­vor­ab­il­ity was al­most laugh­ably sex­ist. Pal­in and Clin­ton can sym­path­ize on that point.

The ques­tion Rove raised was a seem­ingly in­no­cent one — does Hil­lary have the men­tal stam­ina to be pres­id­ent? Mean­while, Sul­li­van’s the­ory about Trig Pal­in’s true par­ent­age was more of a sug­ges­tion that Pal­in was will­ing to go to despic­able lengths to main­tain her pub­lic im­age as a whole­some folk lead­er. Rove was con­cern trolling; Sul­li­van was just plain trolling.

Now, in a dar­ing feat of Nar­rat­ive Re­appro­pri­ation, Pal­in is call­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton dumb while ad­mon­ish­ing the me­dia for do­ing the same thing to her in 2008. “Ap­par­ently, Demo­crats de­mand their next chosen one’s brain must be ab­sent,” she wrote in her Face­book post.

It’s the type of quick-change polit­ic­al man­euv­er­ing that takes a healthy sense of irony to un­der­stand.

What We're Following See More »
Republican Polling Shows Close Race
Roundup: National Polling Remains Inconsistent
10 hours ago

The national polls, once again, tell very different stories: Clinton leads by just one point in the IBD, Rasmussen, and LA Times tracking polls, while she shows a commanding 12 point lead in the ABC news poll and a smaller but sizable five point lead in the CNN poll. The Republican Remington Research Group released a slew of polls showing Trump up in Ohio, Nevada, and North Carolina, a tie in Florida, and Clinton leads in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia. However, an independent Siena poll shows Clinton up 7 in North Carolina, while a Monmouth poll shows Trump up one in Arizona

Colin Powell to Vote for Clinton
12 hours ago
Clinton Reaching Out to GOP Senators
18 hours ago

If you need a marker for how confident Hillary Clinton is at this point of the race, here's one: CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports "she's been talking to Republican senators, old allies and new, saying that she is willing to work with them and govern."

Trump Admits He’s Behind
18 hours ago
Ron Klain in Line to Be Clinton’s Chief of Staff?
18 hours ago

Sources tell CNN that longtime Democratic operative Ron Klain, who has been Vice President Biden's chief of staff, is "high on the list of prospects" to be chief of staff in a Clinton White House. "John Podesta, the campaign chairman, has signaled his interest in joining the Cabinet, perhaps as Energy secretary."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.