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Daily Howler: McCain got fooled by Palin's claim--presumably, as Palin intended
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SOLD THROUGH EBAY! McCain got fooled by Palin’s claim—presumably, as Palin intended: // link // print // previous // next //

KURTZ JUMPS INTO THE TANK: Howard Kurtz is deep in the tank as he begins today’s report. You’ll rarely see a reporter recite a political party’s line quite the way Kurtz recites the GOP line as he opens:

KURTZ (9/8/08): From the moment Sarah Palin stepped onto the national stage, she was mauled, minimized and manhandled by an openly skeptical media establishment.

That lasted six days. By Thursday morning, after a speech in which she chided the journalistic elite, the previously obscure governor of Alaska was being hailed by many of the same media gurus.

The media's tattered reputation has not fared as well, not after the frenzy over Palin's mothering skills, her baby and her pregnant teenage daughter.

Truly, that’s quite a statement—and it’s the straight Republican line. Palin was “mauled and manhandled by an openly skeptical media establishment,” Kurtz says. But go ahead! Just try to find Kurtz’s support for that remarkable statement. His effort begins in paragraph 6 (out of 20), with this remarkable presentation:

KURTZ: The descent into tabloid territory is more troubling. When the McCain campaign announced last Monday that 17-year-old Bristol Palin is pregnant, there was no reason to avoid covering it, and it is one heck of a human interest story. But the reason the campaign went public is that national reporters were calling to ask about charges by an anonymous blogger on Daily Kos that the governor faked her own pregnancy and is actually the grandmother of 4-month-old Trig.

Campaign officials were deluged with questions from reputable news outlets about the governor's amniotic fluid, the timing of her contractions and whether she would take a DNA test to establish the baby's parentage, not to mention bogus charges about her son being a drug abuser. There's an important distinction here—mainstream outlets have not given such rumors any credence—but that is lost on frustrated McCain aides who have to ask Palin about each new line of inquiry.

That is simply stunning. In this passage, Kurtz claims that mainstream outlets have been asking questions about these matters, not writing actual reports. But for unknown reasons, he seems to treat these (alleged) inquiries as a journalistic offense; in the process, he simply accepts the McCain campaign’s claims about the volume of inquiries—and about its own motives. Soon, he voices a complaint about that campaign. But Kurtz’s accurate complaint applies to his own report:

KURTZ (continuing directly): When the National Enquirer—which was, after all, right about John Edwards's extramarital fling—ran a thinly sourced report last week that Palin once had an affair, mainstream media outlets ignored it until Schmidt distributed a statement denouncing the story as a vicious lie. "The efforts of the media and tabloids to destroy this fine and accomplished public servant are a disgrace," Schmidt said. By lumping "media and tabloids" together, he seemed to suggest that all Palin stories bubble up from the same fetid swamp.

That observation is accurate, of course; the McCain campaign has been “lumping media and tabloids together,for obvious reasons of propaganda. But that’s exactly what Kurtz himself does right at the start of this piece. It isn’t until paragraph 13 (out of 20) that Kurtz offers examples of mainstream journalists (not tabloid organs) dissing the poor abused Palin—and the examples he offersw are relatively minor and tedious. Yes, there have been media dimwits. For example, here’s Keith Olbermann describing the Palin pick with the “Hail Mary” language to which Kurtz objects late in his piece:

OLBERMANN (9/29/08): The 20-month veteran, the two-term mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population 9,236, the mayor who won the award for tree care from the National Arbor Day Foundation in 2002, the governor who was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it—this Sarah Palin?

Senator McCain`s "Hail Mary" described as the biggest political gamble of our time, picking an ex-beauty queen governor on the job only 20 months, fanatically anti-abortion and pro-gun, in a desperate play for Hillary Clinton supporters.

No, you can’t get dumber than that. (In what way is Palin “fanatically pro-gun,” for example?) But did this sort of thing reach the level portrayed by Kurtz in his opening paragraphs? We would have to say, no, it did not—and Kurtz doesn’t even come close to justifying his portrait, which pimps the straight GOP line. But the GOP stamped its foot at the press last week—and many puppies will fall into line.

In his opening grafs today, Kurtz recites the GOP line, dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s. He even promotes an astounding new line: Mainstream news organs will now be savaged if they dare to ask.

SOLD THROUGH EBAY: Last Tuesday night, Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN) appeared on Larry King Live to pimp the wonders of Sarah Palin. (In the past year, Bachman has become one of the GOP’s most frequent TV spokesmen.) King asked a standard question—and he got a standard reply:

KING (9/1/08): The question is, is it—in your opinion, this is the most qualified Republican he could have selected?

BACHMAN: I think the answer, again, is this is the one that John McCain selected and she is qualified. Let's face it, she is a qualified candidate for vice president.

She has come up. She's become governor. And let's take a look what she did. The former governor of Alaska, she took his plane, sold it on eBay. She said no to the Bridge to Nowhere. This is a woman with a lot of guts who knows to root, who knows to root out a lot of corruption and evil.

Instantly, Bachman claimed two achievements for Palin as governor. Palin “said no to the Bridge to Nowhere.” And Palin took the former governor’s plane and “sold it on eBay.”

Bachman’s claim about the bridge was pure nonsense; the way Palin states it, it’s just a lie. But the claim about the ex-governor’s plane was largely bogus too—and, by the end of last week, McCain was baldly misstating those facts. Here’s what the famous straight-talker said in a rally last Friday:

MCCAIN (9/5/08): We're going to start working for the people of this country, and that—and that is the record of this great governor of the state of Alaska. I'm sure you saw her speech. How many saw her speech a couple of nights ago? Wasn't it fabulous?

You know what I enjoyed the most? She took the luxury jet that was acquired by her predecessor and sold it on Ebay—

(cheers, applause)

—and made a profit!


For the record, the “luxury jet” was 23 years old—and it doesn’t seem to have been all that luxurious (more below). But no: Palin didn’t “sell” the jet on eBay—and she didn’t make a profit. Indeed, she lost money for the state of Alaska when she tried to sell the jet on eBay—a procedure that had long been the norm when the state sold its assets.

In short, the eBay story is basically bogus, like the tale of the Bridge to Nowhere. But these stories exist for an obvious reason; they exist to define Palin as “a woman with a lot of guts”—with a ton of hockey-mom savvy. These stories are effective politics—but then too, they’re basically lies.

That brings us back to our basic question: Why can Republicans tell such tales? For two solid years during Campaign 2000, the press corps invented such embellished tales, then pretended that Gore had said them. They then savaged Gore for his vast dishonesty. How can Palin herself pimp such tales, with barely a peep from the “press?”

Background on the jet: Quick background on the jet plane story:

The jet was purchased by unpopular Republican governor Frank Murkowski; it had become a major issue in Alaska politics years before Palin’s ran for governor in 2006. (The jet was already an active issue in the 2004 state campaign.) During her gubernatorial campaign, Palin did pledge to sell the plane—but so did the other major candidates, in both major parties. (Murkowski finished a distant third in the 2006 GOP primary, behind Palin and John Binkley. Binkley had also pledged to sell the plane. In the general election, Palin’s Democratic opponent, Tony Knowles, had pledged he would sell the plane too.) Meanwhile, trying to sell the plane on eBay wasn’t a hockey mom’s savvy idea; it was standard practice in Alaska. According to Nexis, the first mention of eBay in this context came after the campaign was over, when Palin formally put the jet up for sale. This was part of Kyle Hopkins’ report in the Anchorage Daily News:

HOPKINS (12/13/06): The state's chief procurement officer, Vern Jones, said it's not unusual for Alaska to sell big-ticket items on eBay because the site is cheap and has a big audience.

It cost the state a few hundred dollars to sell an old state ferry, The Bartlett, for $389,500 in 2003, he said. "They got more for that then they expected."

Tuesday night, the state was auctioning 38 items on the site, including three aircraft—two Super Cubs and a Cessna. Two of the planes have already reached the minimum bids set by the state, meaning Jones expects them to sell for sure.

Selling assets on eBay was standard practice for the state; it wasn’t the hockey mom’s kitchen-table-in-a-small-town idea. And uh-oh! In this case, the eBay gambit turned out to be a bad idea for the state. No suitable bid came in for the jet, and Palin changed course in April 2007, putting the plane up for sale through a conventional airplane broker. The plane was finally unloaded in August 2007—at a substantial loss. (Murkowski had purchased the plane for $2.6 million. McCain’s latest howler to the side, it sold for $2.1 million.) Meanwhile, the state had continued to pay a $62,500 quarterly note on the plane during the months when Palin’s eBay gambit failed. Using eBay had sometimes worked in the past, but it failed when the hockey mom tried it for this major asset; the “pitbull in lipstick” forgets to say that when she pimps her brilliant maneuver. And McCain misstated the basic facts when he pimped Palin’s brilliance last week. No, she didn’t sell it on eBay. And no, it wasn’t sold at a profit.

Just for the record: It isn’t clear that the “luxury jet” was really all that luxurious. The plane was already more than twenty years old when the unpopular Murkowski bought it. Indeed, in Hopkins’ report, the former governor offered a bit of a warning—a warning which proved somewhat prescient:

HOPKINS (12/13/06): One warning to the jet's potential buyers: Murkowski said in the interview before he left office that despite all the fuss, it's actually not that comfortable.

"You can't stand up in it," he said, and the bathroom is basically a port-a-potty. "You dare not use it.”

For the record, the Daily News had editorialized against selling the jet, saying a state as big as Alaska needed a jet for official purposes. The paper suggested the sale of the jet was an act of silly political symbolism. Maybe the state should just hold an “exorcism” to rid the plane of Murkowski’s “cooties,” Paul Jenkins even proposed in a column. “Let's face facts,” Jenkins wrote, “we could arrange a knock-down, drag-out exorcism for the hundreds of thousands of dollars we are going to lose if we dump the Westwind as an act of political lunacy.” Jenkins turned out to be a prophet; the state did lose a sack of dough during Palin’s eBay gambit.

To state the obvious, none of this was worth discussing last week—until this episode was disingenuously used to define Palin’s hockey-mom savvy, to help define her as “a woman with a lot of guts who knows to root out corruption and evil.” But that’s how this nonsense was used last week, as soon as Palin was picked by McCain. One week later, McCain was baldly misstating the facts of this pointless case—misstating to “(cheers, applause).”

Fund speaks: Did McCain know his statements were bogus? We don’t have the slightest idea. But this silly story was being pimped as soon as Palin was picked by McCain, for those obvious reasons. One day after Palin’s selection, John Fund explained the whole thing to Paul Gigot on Fox News Channel’s Journal Report. Fund, a major conservative pundit, explained why the largely pointless eBay story was being widely pimped:

FUND (8/30/08): Let me tell you, in Alaska, she has mastered the art of the political symbol. When she became governor, Paul, the first thing she did was fire the official state chef for the governor's mansion saying, I can make sandwiches for my own kids. And she sold the state jet on eBay. You cannot beat political symbolism like that.

GIGOT: John, thanks.

You can’t beat political symbolism like that, Fund said—thus explaining why you keep hearing this silly story. Almost everyone had favored selling the plane—and eBay had long been the way the state sold its assets. But so what? This would now be packaged as the brilliant ploy of a “pit bull in lipstick.” Indeed: By the end of Palin’s first week in the national spotlight, the king of straight-talkers was out on the trail, misstating the basic facts of the case.

By the way: Even as he made this obvious statement about the reason for pimping this story, Fund misstated elementary facts concerning another symbolic matter. In fact, Palin “fired” the “official state chef for the governor’s mansion” in late June 2007, almost eight months after taking office—and only for that part of the year when the state legislature wasn’t in session, when Palin doesn’t live in Juneau. (The Anchorage papers said Plain had made a “decision to downsize chef time.”) Letting the chef go may have made good sense, but the “making sandwiches” bull-roar was largely BS. But so what? Even as Fund explained one bit of silly symbolism, he misstated the facts of another.

Do you mind if we repeat a basic point? Gore was savaged, for two solid years, for allegedly misstating facts in this way. In that case, of course, the press kept inventing the bogus claims, then pretending that Gore had made them.

Hacks like Cokie: John Fund, of course, is a movement conservative. But members of the “mainstream” press were already peddling this eBay BS before he got his chance to speak. Palin was named on Friday, August 29. In the 11 AM hour, as the choice was being announced, NPR’s endlessly hapless Steve Inskeep decided to tell the world about Palin. To do so, he played tape of a two-year-old broadcast by Elizabeth Arnold—a broadcast which had been weirdly misleading at the time Arnold originally aired it. Through Arnold, Inskeep pimped the eBay blather—and bungled the Bridge to Nowhere tale. Inskeep replayed Arnold’s 2006 broadcast last Friday. NPR victims heard this:

ARNOLD (12/27/06; replayed 8/29/08): In her first few days in office, Sarah Palin put the former governor's personal jet on eBay. She stopped construction of a multimillion-dollar road to nowhere from the state capital, and some are expecting she'll even give back the federal money for the infamous Bridges to Nowhere. Alaska's newest governor ran as an outsider, a maverick, the candidate of change. And she's apparently living up to her slogans.

PALIN: You know, so far, so good!

With hapless ninnies like Arnold about, Palin knew whereof she spoke! The canceled road (an 11-mile “pioneer road” out of Juneau) had nothing to do with the Bridge to Nowhere, and no one had called it a “road to nowhere” until Arnold blundered into town on a jet from dimwitsburgh. One or two local voices had recommended that Palin return the congressional money for the Bridges to Nowhere—but we can find no sign that anyone “expected” her to, and much of the money had already been spent. And of course, she never did so. But so what? Two years later, Inskeep simply replayed this puzzling old tape, pimping the silly eBay story and the Bridges to Nowhere nonsense.

Of course, these defining tales of Palin’s savvy were destined to be widely pimped. No one is dumber than Cokie Roberts; here she was, on that evening’s Nightline, sharing “the main thing” about Palin. As you can see, the media’s vicious “liberal bias” was once again showing through:

ROBERTS (8/29/08): The main thing about Sarah Palin is that she's down to earth. Sold the state jet on eBay. She drives herself. She got rid of the household staff in the governor's mansion and told the children that they were not going to get anything other than their usual macaroni and cheese.

That’s spectacularly stupid, of course. But then, Roberts has been like this forever; here she is in 1999, pimping a different set of defining “personality tales.” In this part of her nationally syndicated column, she is talking about two rumored presidential candidates—Donald Trump and Jesse Ventura. She compares them favorably—with Gore:

ROBERTS (10/15/99): [L]et's be honest: These guys do represent a refreshing change from most of our professional politicians, who are so cautious and careful that they pre-test every word of every speech and never say anything spontaneous or genuine.

Look at Al Gore, after almost 23 years in public life, suddenly searching for his "authentic" self and then finding it in cowboy boots and open-necked shirts.

Is this the same Al Gore who grew up in a fancy hotel in Washington, went to Harvard and now lives in the vice president's mansion, a short walk from the elite prep school he attended? Somehow, we doubt that cowboy boots and polo shirts were part of the dress code at St. Albans.

It’s almost impossible to be stupider than that—or to show the “evil of banality” more clearly. Roberts repeated such swill for two years, putting George W. Bush where he is. Just for the record, Gore had worn cowboy shirts and open-necked polo shirts throughout his political career; Roberts was reciting a set of scripts, not responding to facts. (Beyond that: As a native Washingtonian, she of course understood that the Fairfax Apartment Hotel had not been a “fancy hotel.”) But in this way, killers like Roberts punished Gore, the disgraceful Bill Clinton’s disgraceful vice president. Two Fridays ago, she repeated equally inane personality tales. This time, though, the silly tales came from Sarah Palin herself—and cast her in a favorable light.

It would be hard to list all the media lightweights who pimped the eBay/Bridge to Nowhere tales. But clearly, someone was selling these tales to the media, even before Palin herself mentioned the eBay blather. Palin began misstating about the Bridge to Nowhere in her initial August 29 speech—but she didn’t mention the eBay foolishness until Wednesday night’s convention speech. But somehow, pundits already knew how to pimp it. Here was the gruesome Glen Beck on CNN, an hour after Palin’s unveiling:

BECK (8/29/08): Her experience, first of all, is executive experience of running the state. But the first thing she did when she got into office was sell the jet that the former governor, a Republican, had purchased. And she said, "We don't need it. Somebody go outside and take a picture of it and put it on eBay." She sold it at a profit. She—she's the one who took the Bridge to Nowhere, which was money brought home by a Republican, and she called up the federal government and said, "You know what? Alaska doesn't need your money. If we want to build a bridge, we'll build a bridge. We don't need all that money."

That was pure, unadulterated, Palin bullsh*t. It was offered in the 1 PM hour on the day the hockey mom was unveiled—before Palin herself had said a word (in public) about selling that jet plane on eBay.

Someone was pimping these hero tales hard—and dimwits like Roberts would quickly repeat them.

Why are you hearing about that jet plane? As Fund said, it’s “political symbolism.” And Bachman explained what the symbol is supposed to mean: Palin’s “a woman with a lot of guts who knows to root out a lot of corruption and evil.” Less crazily, the eBay parable is supposed to show that Palin’s a savvy hockey mom with small-town, kitchen-table instincts. The actual story is much more bland—and McCain is misstating the facts.

Bottom lines? She didn’t sell the plane at a profit. All the candidates had vowed to swell it, not just the bold hockey mom. And it wasn’t her idea to sell it on eBay; this was SOP in Alaska. And she lost money for the state when she tried to extend the eBay gambit to the point of selling a jet. Time and money were lost by the state as her gambit failed.

Selling McCain: None of this is actually worth discussing; it’s all pure/perfect BS. But understand: Palin has baldly misstated her role in the Bridge to Nowhere matter. Last Friday, McCain baldly misstated the facts about her eBay gambit. Presumably, he was misled by Palin’s carefully constructed statement about this pointless matter. Palin herself was very careful in what she said about that jet at the GOP Convention. Here was her spunky, self-glorying statement—a statement intended to mislead the public without misstating the facts:

PALIN (9/3/08): I came to office promising major ethics reform to end the culture of self-dealing. And today, that ethics reform is a law.

While I was at it, I got rid of a few things in the governor's office that I didn't believe our citizens should have to pay for. That luxury jet was over-the-top.


I put it on eBay.


The audience roared at the hockey mom’s savvy. Two days later, McCain falsely claimed that she sold the plane on eBay—falsely saying it sold at a profit. But then, that’s almost surely what voters were intended to think when they heard the hockey mom’s parsed statement. Palin had carefully measured her words. Two days later, McCain blurted out what most people thought she had said.

Al Gore was savaged for (alleged) crap like this—for tedious “errors” the press corps tortured out of extemporaneous comments. Today, Palin deliberately tells bogus tales—and crickets sing all through the press.

Hacks get played: Nothing is simpler than selling this piffle to your “mainstream press corps.” Just watch three hacks get played. First, the Post’s Amy Goldstein:

GOLDSTEIN (8/30/08): "She's conservative in ideology, but she's very practical," said lobbyist Paul Fuhs, who battled Palin over the gas line and eventually reached a compromise. "What you see is what you get. She's very upfront."

One of Palin's first official acts as governor was to sell on eBay a gubernatorial jet that Murkowski had bought.

That helped show that Palin was “very upfront!” How about Newsday’s inept Sophia Chang, listing Plain’s “career highs?”

CHANG (8/30/08):

Her career highs

She has introduced ethics reform legislation, sold off the former governor's private jet on eBay, and killed the infamous "bridge to nowhere" pork-barrel spending project.

Pitiful. Back at the Times, the hapless Tim Egan seemed to want to out-bungle the others:

EGAN (8/31/08): Ms. Palin, who has more than a passing resemblance to Tina Fey, took on the kleptocracy of Alaska's Republican politics and won.

First, she ousted the hated incumbent, Frank Murkowski, in a primary two years ago, and then promptly cleaned up his mess in Juneau, even selling his private jet on eBay. Second, she rejected the ''bridge to nowhere,'' the famous earmark for a span from Ketchikan to an island of 50 people—further angering the politicians-for-life who have run Alaska for half as long as it's been in the union.

Pure garbage, sold to hapless hacks. And even as this nonsense ran, the GOP prepared its great cry: Liberal bias! Much more tomorrow.