In the hours after Sen. John McCain announced his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate in the last presidential race, members of an online forum called Journolist struggled to make sense of the pick. Many of them were liberal reporters, and in some cases their comments reflected a journalist’s instinct to figure out the meaning of a story.
But in many other exchanges, the Journolisters clearly had another, more partisan goal in mind: to formulate the most effective talking points in order to defeat Palin and McCain and help elect Barack Obama president. The tone was more campaign headquarters than newsroom.
The conversation began with a debate over how best to attack Sarah Palin. “Honestly, this pick reeks of desperation,” wrote Michael Cohen of the New America Foundation in the minutes after the news became public. “How can anyone logically argue that Sarah Pallin [sic], a one-term governor of Alaska, is qualified to be President of the United States? Train wreck, thy name is Sarah Pallin.”
Not a wise argument, responded Jonathan Stein, a reporter for Mother Jones. If McCain were asked about Palin’s inexperience, he could simply point to then candidate Barack Obama’s similarly thin resume. “Q: Sen. McCain, given Gov. Palin’s paltry experience, how is she qualified to be commander in chief?,” Stein asked hypothetically. “A: Well, she has much experience as the Democratic nominee.”
“What a joke,” added Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker. “I always thought that some part of McCain doesn’t want to be president, and this choice proves my point. Welcome back, Admiral Stockdale.”
Daniel Levy of the Century Foundation noted that Obama’s “non-official campaign” would need to work hard to discredit Palin. “This seems to me like an occasion when the non-official campaign has a big role to play in defining Palin, shaping the terms of the conversation and saying things that the official [Obama] campaign shouldn’t say – very hard-hitting stuff, including some of the things that people have been noting here – scare people about having this woefully inexperienced, no foreign policy/national security/right-wing christia wing-nut a heartbeat away …… bang away at McCain’s age making this unusually significant …. I think people should be replicating some of the not-so-pleasant viral email campaigns that were used against [Obama].”
Ryan Donmoyer, a reporter for Bloomberg News who was covering the campaign, sent a quick thought that Palin’s choice not to have an abortion when she unexpectedly became pregnant at age 44 would likely boost her image because it was a heartwarming story.
“Her decision to keep the Down’s baby is going to be a hugely emotional story that appeals to a vast swath of America, I think,” Donmoyer wrote.
Politico reporter Ben Adler, now an editor at Newsweek, replied, “but doesn’t leaving sad baby without its mother while she campaigns weaken that family values argument? Or will everyone be too afraid to make that point?”