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ABC News Misleads On Palin Interview, Later Backtracks


First Posted: 10-30-08 01:27 AM   |   Updated: 11-29-08 05:12 AM

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Over the past week, the McCain campaign has been battling back against reports of tension and dissension between John McCain -- and his close circle of advisers -- and Sarah Palin. Those reports reached a new level of inflammation on Wednesday when excerpts from Palin's appearance on ABC's Good Morning America were released by ABC News as a preview.

In its article, teasing the Thursday morning sit down between Palin and Elizabeth Vargas, ABC News took specific pains to paint certain remarks by Palin as indicative of her shifting attention to her own post-2008 ambitions. However, based upon the actual interview, as well as changes made to the preview article overnight, it's clear that ABC News presented Palin's statements in a false and misleading manner.

In ABC News' preview article, penned by Russell Goldman, Palin is definitively painted as looking ahead to a future run for President in 2012, with one comment specifically contextualized to appear as if she'd given up on the McCain campaign. Originally titled "Palin Has an Eye on 2012," and given the subhed "Palin says she didn't run for 'naught' and plans to stay in national politics," the lede of the article is as follows:

Gov. Sarah Palin suggested that if the Republican ticket is defeated on Tuesday she expects to be a player in the next election four years from now, saying "I'm not doing this for naught."


In an interview with ABC News's Elizabeth Vargas, the Republican vice-presidential nominee was asked about 2012, whether she was discouraged by the daily attacks on the campaign trail, and would instead pack it in and return to her home state of Alaska.

"I think that, if I were to give up and wave a white flag of surrender against some of the political shots that we've taken, that would bring this whole & [sic] I'm not doing this for naught," Palin said.

Palin said she believed in the current GOP ticket and that she was "thinking that it's going to go our way on Tuesday, Nov. 4. I truly believe that the wisdom of the people will be revealed on that day," she said."

To read this, you'd imagine that Palin had put aside any hope of winning the 2008 election, and the "doing this for naught" was a resentful shot at a campaign that didn't live up to her ambitions or expectations. You'd also imagine that she eventually got around to offering a statement in support of the current effort to win the election.

But in fact, this is not how any of the interview transpired. Palin actually offered her opinion that the election is "going to go [their] way" right at the outset of the interview. And her "doing this for naught" statement was given in response to a question about "sexism on the campaign trail."

Here is the beginning of the Vargas/Palin interview, verbatim:

ELIZABETH VARGAS: If it doesn't go your way on Tuesday ... 2012?


GOV SARAH PALIN: I'm just ... thinkin' that it's gonna go our way on Tuesday, November 4. I truly believe that the wisdom of ... of the people will be revealed on that day. As they enter that voting booth, they will understand the stark contrast between the two tickets. ...

VARGAS: But the point being that you haven't been so bruised by some of the double standard, the sexism on the campaign trail, to say, "I've had it. I'm going back to Alaska."

PALIN: Absolutely not. I think that, if I were to give up and wave a white flag of surrender against some of the political shots that we've taken, that ... that would ... bring this whole ... I'm not doin' this for naught.

It's plainly evident that the contentions presented in ABC's original preview of the interview just aren't borne out by the interview itself. The subject of Palin's future in politics doesn't come up in the interview again.

At some point, ABC must have decided that they were being misleading, because between then and now, their preview article changed entirely. With a new headline ("Sarah Palin: 'Not Doing This For Naught') and a new subhed that reads, "John McCain's Vice Presidential Running Mate Remains Focused on Election Day Win," the new story plays it straight, presenting a Palin who's focused on the task at hand:

Down in the polls but certainly not out, Gov. Sarah Palin remains in the fight as the campaign enters its final week.


In an interview with ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas, the Republican vice-presidential nominee was asked about 2012, whether she was discouraged by the daily attacks on the campaign trail, and would instead pack it in and return to her home state of Alaska.

"I think that, if I were to give up and wave a white flag of surrender against some of the political shots that we've taken, that would bring this whole ... I'm not doing this for naught," Palin said.

Palin said she believed in the current GOP ticket and that she was "thinking that it's going to go our way on Tuesday, Nov. 4. I truly believe that the wisdom of the people will be revealed on that day," she said.

This new preview presents Palin's statements in a truer context. However, the problem is that everyone who reported out Palin's remarks operated from the first, misleading article, and perpetuated the idea that Palin had gone on GMA and thrown the 2008 election campaign under the bus to save herself for a 2012 run.

Overnight, Palin adviser Tucker Eskew spoke at length to the traveling press corps about the ABC piece:

ABC News made a mistake. They've admitted that mistake, but unfortunately, they have compounded that and so have other news organizations. Tonight, I would like to discuss that series of mistakes and what I think it says as we go into the final stretch of this campaign. For those of you who have reported on it you know that earlier today ABC reported on an interview the Governor had with Elizabeth Vargas. In that interview Gov. Palin was asked, right at the very end, about her intentions for 2012. She deflected those intentions and answered the question that she was planning to win.


Deflecting isn't probably the right word. She rejected that contention. She was asked in a follow up question whether she was discouraged-and I'm paraphrasing- discouraged by the attacks on her whether she wanted to just go back to Alaska. At which point she said I'm not going to wave the white flag of surrender and I'm not doing this for naught. She had talked extensively in this interview about what her reasons what motivated her in this campaign as a governor, a candidate, a mother and a woman.

ABCNews.com proceeded to write a terrifically misleading headline that confused-it's a much better word that conflated-her answers to those two separate questions. Some of you have written about that. Some of you have written in grave error about that. Some of you I will grant may not know the extent of ABC News' mistake. That mistake was then compounded. I think it was compounded by some of the other coverage and if you will bear with me I'll get to that in a minute. But unfortunately ABC News ran an 'update'--they called it--to this initial story, which didn't correct the error. They ran another update that actually compounded their already compounded error. And I am told tonight, they are finally running a fourth version of this story with the line 'corrected version' to your news organizations. Some of you may have seen that. I have not yet seen that fourth version. I've seen the other three and looked very carefully at them.

If I may take a moment and talk about that--that initial article. It went on at great length to discuss the favorite narrative of a rogue candidate. In each of its so-called updated or corrected versions, paragraph after paragraph remains in this story outlining her rogue behavior. So that remains in the story even at this point. So there's a mistake--a mistake apologized for, I will grant, very professionally apologized for, and yet, which has been compounded repeatedly tonight. And then compounded by some of your reporting and by other news organizations' reporting, or yet let's say, not yet reported corrections. In the case of CNN, jumped on it immediately, many of you probably saw it, right there on your screens in front of you. They then took what we said to them directly as a correction of an error, in fact a statement of fact, and held a roundtable discussing our pushback against the original story, having a long debate about what Palin really meant about her intentions for 2012. I cite this as just an example in this fast-moving environment. And it's going to get just faster moving as we hurdle toward the finish line together--you and I and my colleagues.

And I think it bares a moment's reflection, more than a little criticism, and some correcting of the record. So among the news organizations tonight which have written about Palin's 2012 plans are Reuters, the Associated Press, CBS News, the Associated Press I may have mentioned, the Boston Globe, Phoon Rei (sp?), a number of reporters not with us, the L.A. Times, did I mention the Washington Post?

Eskew went on to laud ABC for their "professionalism" in seeking to "apologize" to the campaign and their desire to "make right." By all indications, Eskew was just as angry, if not moreso, at all of the organizations that ran with ABC's story than at ABC itself.

Nonetheless, as evidenced in the actual Palin interview, and demonstrated by the wholesale changes made to their preview article after its first iteration blasted across the world, ABC is perfectly cognizant of their error. Like Eskew, I'm similarly inclined to not ascribe any motives, here. At worst, ABC was probably just working to extend the Sarah Palin Goin' Rogue narrative that has been reported out correctly and well. But if you're looking for an occasion where the McCain campaign is correct to complain about their treatment in the press, this is a bona fide example.

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