Laura McGann, an enterprising reporter for the online Washington Independent, was doing a basic check on John McCain's VP choice, Sarah Palin, and called up Kristie Smithers, the Wasilla City Clerk where Palin was Mayor. Ever courteous, McGann thanked Smithers, noting that she must have fielded request after request from the McCain campaign and Republican vetters.
"She chuckled," McGann wrote. "Then she told me that I'm the first person who has asked her office for anything."
The incident reflects the apparently superficial examination of Palin's past and present by the McCain campaign - a lapse that has produced a seemingly unrelenting series of negative news stories, many stemming from the new media, many catching Republican operatives off guard and many demonstrates the lightening fast response of both the blogosphere and the mainstream media.
Palin has turned into a media goldmine, not least for that pioneer of the Web, The Huffington Post.
On Tuesday morning, HuffPost staffers Nico Pitney and Sam Stein, after burrowing through online material from Palin's church, the Wasilla Assembly of God, disclosed that the prospective Vice President tends to see God's hand in -- indeed God's endorsement of -- controversial national policies.
In a talk to the church congregation on the Iraq War, for example, Palin said "[Pray] for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God....That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."
On an entirely different front, also disclosed by HuffPost, Palin, in supporting a $30 billion Alaskan national gas pipeline project, said: "I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that."
Faced with an onslaught of critical stories, the McCain campaign has adopted a strategy of knocking down some incomplete or imperfectly substantiated stories and blaming them on the Obama campaign.
In a recent email to the press, McCain spokesman Brian Rogers wrote: "All: I know that the Obama campaign is pushing around many false attacks on Governor Palin, and wanted to make sure you had the facts. The allegations that Gov. Palin was a member of Alaska Independence Party are false. She's never been a member of the Alaska Independence Party. Gov. Palin has been a registered Republican ever since 1982, as the records attached show. It would be nice if the media outlets covering this garbage actually did their due diligence in reporting, and didn't just push Obama campaign/Daily Kos smears."
In fact, Palin's continued membership in the Republican Party, records of which Rogers attached, do not preclude her participation in an Alaska secession movement and there have been a number of members of the Alaska Independence Party who have told reporters that Palin attended the 1994 AIP convention. As ABC correspondent Jake Tapper blogged, "while McCain's motto -- as seen in a new TV ad -- is 'Country First,' the AIP's motto is the exact opposite - 'Alaska First -- Alaska Always'."
In some respects, coverage of Palin has become something like a professional wrestling tag team contest, with one outlet breaking a piece of a story, and another following up and expanding coverage.
The Washington Post, for example, wrote that Palin hired as a lobbyist for Wasilla Steven Silver, former chief of staff to now indicted Senator Ted Stevens. Soon after that, Kate Klonick and Zachary Roth of Talking Points Memo added some spice to the story:
According to Senate lobbying disclosure reports...from 2002 to 2004 Silver listed as a client Jack Abramoff's lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig. On Greenberg's behalf, Silver lobbied the federal government on 'issues relating to Indian/Native American policy,' 'exploration for oil and gas' and 'legislation relating to gaming issues' -- the very issues that Abramoff headed up for Greenberg at the time. In other words, Silver appears to have been a part of Team Abramoff" -- the controversial lobbyist widely viewed as McCain's nemesis.
The mainstream media has been no slouch in tracking Palin. Matthew Mosk of the Washington Post, for example, broke the story that Palin had been a director of a "527" independent expenditure organization working in behalf of Senator Stevens' re-election. McCain has been an adamant critic of such organizations.
Even the McCain campaign's defensive strategy in dealing with the Palin controversies is being vetted by the blogosphere. Marc Ambinder posted the campaign's internal email telling delegates and others to counter inquiries by saying the Palin family's privacy should be respected.
While stiff-arming inquiring reporters may work to help a delegate who otherwise would not know what to say, the McCain's failure to fully vet Palin is blood in the water for the press -- something like an aphrodisiac for Don Juan: There is no stopping the media, new and old, in the hunt for Palin stories.
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