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Palin Pallin' Around with Scientologists: Todd & Sarah & John & Greta

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There is something absolutely bizarre and troubling going on in the political netherworld of Sarah and Todd Palin, Greta Van Susteren and her wannabe-queen-maker hubby, John Coale.

At best, it's a clear case of journalistic conflict-of-interest on behalf of Van Susteren; at worst, it's a sleazy, national power play by a couple of practitioners of Scientology--the controversial cult that Time magazine described as "a hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner."

Let's start with the easy stuff: Van Susteren is a flat-out hypocrite and a con artist. Quote me. Ever since Palin was first selected as John McCain's running mate last August, Van Susteren--she of the rather severe face lift and right-wing tilt--has been utterly infatuated with the Palins (especially with Todd) and has enjoyed unequaled access to the Last Frontier's first couple and their family.

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There's been the interviews in the kitchen with Sarah, the fawning (if not embarrassing) tête-à-tête with the "First Dude" overlooking Lake Lucille, the softball conversation with Sarah after the GOP's defeat in November, and, most recently, the controversial interview with 18-year-old Bristol Palin and her infant son, Tripp.

While there's something ironic about Alaska's most famous evangelical Christians pallin' around with a couple who believes that 75 million years ago an entity named Xenu brought billions of people to Earth in spacecraft resembling DC-8 airliners, it's all been good for Van Susteren's ratings. It's also expanded her television profile from the narrow confines of legal journalism to broader national political commentary. She's ridden Palin's conservative steed into an entirely new level of public exposure.

Van Susteren first used her Fox blog to protect Palin after CNN--with whom Van Susteren had a less-than-friendly break-up in 2002--named her to its year-end list of "politicians who fell from grace in 2008." That particular all-star team included Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards and Rod Blagojevich. Van Susteren protested, and CNN quietly (and gutlessly) removed Palin from the list.

"Why didn't CNN PUBLICLY apologize for this one?" Van Susteren blogged. "They sure unfairly trashed her publicly on that list."

Unfairly? Palin's vicious and duplicitous attacks against Obama on the campaign trail alone reserved her a spot on that roster, not to mention all the lies and half-truths she spewed along the way, nor her moose-in-the-headlights moments with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric.

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Two days ago, Van Susteren ripped into comedian David Letterman for his riff on Bristol Palin, Levi Johnston and the governor:

Letterman: You remember that Sarah, one of the deals was one of her children, daughters, a very young girl, was pregnant and was going to get married to the young man that knocked her up. And her name was Bristol, and the kid's name was Levi Johnston. You remember these kids? Well, they have broken up. Yes. So if you were going to send them a gift...[Laughter]

Okay. Let me say from the outset that I also found the jabs at Bristol and Levi insensitive--but then a lot of the humor on late-night talk shows tends toward the insensitive (that's why we laugh). It wasn't out of line by typical late-night standards.

But Van Susteren threw a hissy fit about it. She brought on as a guest, Jane Swift, the former governor of Massachusetts, to tag-team Letterman and excoriate him for his joke:

Van Susteren: He took it 15 steps further and picks on the kid. We left the Bush children alone. We left Chelsea Clinton alone. That was always something that people were respectful towards the children, recognizing it was different....Do you really have to go that far to make a buck, to make a laugh?

First of all, it's an outright lie that the Bush and Clinton kids were left alone. They took plenty of heat. It goes with the terrain.

But more importantly, the reason that Bristol Palin has now been elevated to late-night talk show fodder is precisely because Van Susteren brought the 18-year-old Bristol on her show and conducted an in-depth interview with her, one that led to chastisement from across the political spectrum, including the conservative right.

It was Van Susteren who made Bristol Palin a public figure, who pulled her out of her privacy with her child, and who played the ratings game with Bristol's private life. Not once did Van Susteren acknowledge that fact, reflect on it, nor express any regret for doing so. Not once. So much for insight and compassion. Bristol Palin has Van Susteren to thank for her being the butt of late-night jokes. Because Van Susteren went that far to make a buck.

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Moreover, this was the second time in recent weeks that Van Susteren had used her bully pulpit to come to Palin's defense in respect to issues surrounding Bristol. She did it again with hack-man Bill O'Reilly against "the far left" who was "making fun of Bristol."

Van Susteren: But I mean, they live with themselves. They live with themselves. I'm just -- I am appalled because this is an 18-year-old kid.

Neither Van Susteren nor O'Reilly had the integrity to note that the far right was going after Bristol, too. So they skewed the news to do a hatchet job on the left. What else is new?

Even more troubling, however, was this exchange between O'Reilly and Van Susteren:

O'Reilly: Joining us from Washington, FOX News anchor Greta Van Susteren, host of "On the Record," who knows the Palin family well.

Van Susteren: Well, you know, you say that I, just as an aside, that I know them very well. The only way that I've met them is by interviewing them. So, you know, I don't socialize or spend a lot of time with them. But I do have a little bit of a sense having interviewed them multiple times.

What she didn't acknowledge then or any time before--and only acknowledged after being busted by the Washington Post--was that her husband, Coale, has been "helping" Palin's presidential campaign. He's not helping her run the State of Alaska--which is her current job and for which she is being paid $125,000 annually, plus, of course, per diem--he's helping her with her exploratory campaign for the 2012 Republican nomination for President.

Coale apparently has some sort of fixation on powerful women, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. It's more about their position than it is about their ideology. (I'll leave it to Letterman to compose a crack about that.) But when Van Susteren failed to disclose her husband's relationship to Palin, whether he was paid or not, and claimed only a professional relationship with the Palins, she was engaging in out-and-out duplicity and covering up a blatant professional conflict of interest.

There are rumors that Coale, a powerful attorney in Washington, D.C., guided the formation of SarahPAC and that he even helped raise money--or put up some himself--to form Palin's political action committee (one that looks a whole lot like Hillary's) in Arlington, Virginia.

How weird is it? The Baltimore Sun reported that Coale admits to being "enamored" with Palin and that he refers to her as "his girlfriend." The Washington Times quoted Coale as saying in January, just before the Obama Inauguration, that "I am getting as far from D.C. as I can. I may go to Alaska and see Sarah."

Well, travel to the Last Frontier he did, apparently to hang out with Sarah at that ever so exciting sports event, the Iron Dog, during which the governor's husband was conveniently ensconced on a snow machine.

I was sent a photo--which also ran in Andrew Halcro's fine blog on the subject--in which Coale (at left) can be seen fixated on Palin at the Iron Dog, with Palin's daughter Piper in the foreground. If ever a picture said a thousand words, this is it:

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Of course, Van Susteren put a feminist spin on it all:

He has fun doing it. He happens to enjoy helping them with advice. He likes to see women succeed...

As The Gawker wryly observed, "The elite Scientologist just likes helping the ladies." (The web site also pointed out that Coale has reached Scientology's second-highest level, OT-VII.)

Coale, 62, is a real piece of work. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Coale himself admitted in an interview: "I did a lot of drugs back in college." In another interview he characterized himself as a "pirate." He's also been described as an "ambulance chaser" and has been disciplined, along with Van Susteren, for illegally soliciting clients. In 1996, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia ruled that Coale and his wife were both guilty of professional misconduct:

"Accordingly, we find that respondents Allen, Coale, and Van Susteren engaged in professional misconduct by inducing others to initiate the improper telephone solicitations which we found violative of Rules 7.3(a) and 7.3(b)(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct."

Coale has also played a central role in several major class action lawsuits, including those involving tobacco and Ritalin, as well as a suit against the FBI for its role in the Waco massacre. And during her divorce from Michael Jackson, Lisa Marie Presley, yet another prominent damsel in distress, chose Coale as her attorney.

Van Susteren also acknowledged that Coale met Palin through her in Van Susteren's professional capacity as a journalist--which he then turned into a personal and political relationship. There's another journalistic boundary that's been crossed. Well, maybe. As the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan acerbically declared, that would imply that Van Susteren "is actually a journalist."

Maybe Tom Cruise will play Todd in the movie.•