Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Humanity of Andrew Sullivan

British blogger Andrew Sullivan was one of the first conservative commentators to go "Whoa!" about Sarah Palin. He has also linked to Alaska bloggers' stories on Palin several times over the past three years, especially to the work of Jesse Griffin and Jeanne Devon. He even linked to Progressive Alaska once, if I remember correctly.

Sullivan was lumped in with the TriG Truthers in some of the shotgun blasts from all over the place this past week regarding the articles emanating from Prof. Scharlott's look into how the media handled questions about TriG's origins. Sullivan has been remarkably calm through all this, but his Saturday column, Trig Wars, shows his genuine humanity. I'll risk posting it in its entirety, as his views on this and mine are quite close:

I'm going to respond to Justin Elliott's alleged "definitive debunking" of the questions surrounding Sarah Palin's maternity of Trig in due course. It deserves more than an instant reaction - and adds two new sources to the dozens that have now emerged to shed partial light on the story. In the end, there are two stories here: the actual story and the meta-media-story. I'm interested in both equally. And the visceral contempt and dimissal for me personally is sadly a part of the latter.

One aspect of the meta-media-story is media intimidation - from within and without. MSM reporters tackling anything to do with the Palin pregnancy have to overcome what they know will be the spin from the Palinite right: that they are just liberal maniacs bent on destroying this real and talented hope for conservatism, precisely because she is such a hope for conservatism. This dynamic is one MSM reporters have internalized, making what would be routine questions and investigations of a public figure in, say, reality TV or national politics into exceptional and career-risking gambles.

Imagine a huge media backlash and internal restraint about, say, Lindsey Lohan's drug use or Britney Spears' romantic and pharmaceutical forays. No, I can't imagine it. But when politics and tabloid truth combine - think of the John Edwards story - the MSM can suddenly find itself mute. Part of this is genuine: the desire not to pour salt onto the wounds of Elizabeth Edwards or to make the life of a new-born kid with Down Syndrome any more challenging than it might already be. Part of it is simply discomfort. Wouldn't it be less fraught to cover the budget negotiations? Part of it is about status: all of this is beneath me, and hurts my reputation as a Serious Journalist, respected by my peers.

But then there's this. What Wonkette published about a completely innocent little boy was, as I said as soon as I absorbed it, despicable. Whatever may be the truth behind all the Palin pregnancy stories, even if the zaniest theory is true, Sarah Palin is taking care of a child with Down Syndrome who deserves respect and privacy even if his own mother refuses to give them to him. To mock him, the most defenseless figure in this whole saga, is just foul. I've made my position on this question very very clear from the beginning. The only person who truly deserves protection from this media mayhem is Trig himself. I'll go further and repeat what I have written from the very start. I deeply admire and respect Palin for doing what she has done in giving this child a home and a life. It is more of a sacrifice than I will ever know. And more of a joy than I will ever know. We can be journalists but we can also be humane toward children and see the good that someone has done as well as the bad.

But the blowback has not just been rhetorical. It has been to bring the entire site to its knees. The buycott of Wonkette's advertizers has led to almost all of them fleeing immediately:

Starting with Papa John’s Pizza, the companies began to run. It grew from there. As of Friday afternoon, the list was 30-some strong, and includes brands like Huggies, Vanguard Group, Nordstrom, Bob Evans, and StarKist Charlie—the tuna mascot. [See the list of Wonkette’s remaining advertisers.]

I feel as queasy about this flexing of Palinite muscle as I do about the original, disgusting, asinine story. In some ways, I see a legitimate come-uppance for a tacky site that published a simply inexcusable piece of mean-spirited dreck using a child who cannot defend himself, treating him as if he were subhuman, which he most definitely isn't. But I also recoil from mob action like this, for the impact it has on fearless free speech and the chilling effect it will have on an already cowed and defensive MSM when covering the truly tough stuff about Palin.

Sullivan will be a guest on Sunday's Chris Matthews Show on MSNBC, obstensibly to talk about recent events in the UK. I suspect this will come up, though.

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