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Daily Howler: Her colleagues began zoning out, Katty said, because the debate was so serious
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WITH FOURTEEN YOU GET BULL-ROAR! Who produced that partisan probe? The Post forgets to say: // link // print // previous // next //
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2008

WITH FOURTEEN YOU GET BULL-ROAR: Why did Alaska’s Legislative Council produce that report about Sarah Palin? On the Post’s front page, in his fifth paragraph, James Grimaldi quickly gives you the Palin/McCain position:

GRIMALDI (10/11/08): Defenders of Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, called the report's release, coming less than four weeks before Election Day, a politically motivated attempt to damage the ticket of Sen. John McCain and Palin. In a statement, McCain spokeswoman Meg Stapleton said the Palins “were completely justified in their concern regarding Trooper Wooten given his violent and rogue behavior."

Huh! The report was “a politically motivated attempt to damage the ticket of McCain and Palin!” Again, this claim appears in the fifth paragraph of Grimaldi’s front-page report. It appeared in the fourth paragraph of our hard-copy, early edition.

Of course, the claim that this was a partisan hit-job is a bit hard to sustain. If you were read today’s Los Angeles Times, you got an idea why that is. Charles Piller reported the story for the Times–and he included bone-simple, basic information about where this big report came from:

PILLER (10/11/08): Twelve members of the Legislature's 14-member Legislative Council, the interim body that meets when the Legislature is not in session, deliberated in closed session over the findings for most of the day before voting unanimously to release the 263-page document publicly. Two members voted by telephone.

The council is made up of 10 Republicans and four Democrats.

Duh. The Legislative Council, which commissioned the investigation (in July) and released the report, is an official body which conducts legislative business when the full Legislature isn’t in session. And oh yes–the fourteen-member Legislative Council is top-heavy with Republicans! Obviously, this is fairly basic info, especially when the Palin camp is calling this a partisan witch-hunt. But go ahead! Just try to find a hint of this in Grimaldi’s lengthy report.

Grimaldi’s report stretches 31 paragraphs. You get the Palin bull-roar quickly–but amazingly, you never get any real information about who was behind this probe. In 31 paragraphs, Grimaldi never says that the panel which authored this probe is more than two-to-one Republican. The pro-Palin claim is in paragraph 5. Debunking information is AWOL.

Who produced yesterday’s report? Benighted Post readers are never quite told. Here is Grimaldi’s first paragraph:

GRIMALDI: An Alaska state legislative investigator found yesterday that Gov. Sarah Palin abused executive power when she and her husband engaged in a campaign to oust her former brother-in-law from the state police force.

According to that, the report was produced by “an Alaska state legislative investigator.” His name is revealed in paragraph 3 (see below), but nothing more is offered. He could be a crank, a lone wolf or a nut; he could be working for some Dem Party caucus. Sadly, one lone word in paragraph 4 represents Grimaldi’s sole attempt to inform readers about the provenance of this report:

GRIMALDI (pghs 3-4): Investigator Stephen Branchflower found evidence that Palin actively joined her husband, Todd, in pursuing a personal vendetta against the trooper and that she used state employees to try to settle a score in a bitter family feud.

"Governor Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda, to wit: To get Trooper Michael Wooten fired," said the report released by a bipartisan legislative committee.

“Bipartisan:” That represents Grimaldi’s lone attempt to describe the make-up of the committee which authored this probe. By current journalistic convention, that could mean the committee contains thirteen Democrats–and one Republican. (Later, Grimaldi does say that the committee has fourteen members in all.) Palin’s complaint–this report was a partisan witch-hunt–gets big play in Grimaldi’s piece. But he never includes the basic information which makes the claim hard to sustain.

Luckily, Piller and his editors retain the basic sense they were born with. But if you read the Washington Post this day, that fact didn’t do you much good.

He did remember this: Pitifully, Grimaldi did include this:

GRIMALDI: Branchflower's report initially had been due at the end of the month, but state Sen. Hollis French (D), who managed the investigation, said its release was moved to yesterday so it would not come on the eve of the Nov. 4 election.

Grimaldi included the fact that French, a Democrat, managed the probe. He doesn’t say that French was selected for that task by a passel of Republicans–or that these Republicans started the probe before McCain picked Palin. Was this an attempt to harm McCain-Palin? The team didn’t even exist when the probe was commissioned.

Was this some sort of partisan probe–an attempt to harm McCain-Palin? In fairness, Alaska party politics is somewhat complex in the age of Palin the Avenger. But it’s absurd to give the “partisan” claim high billing without including those basic facts. Somehow, the L. A. Times knew that–and somehow, the Post did not.