The myth of Sarah Palin’s stupidity
In only the past couple days, just as the Republican presidential field seems to be forming the type of void that almost begs her to fill it, Sarah Palin has once again been called “stupid” in two high-profile media outlets.
The first came from one of the usual suspects, Chris Matthews and MSNBC, where the host dismissed Palin as having allegedly proven herself to be “profoundly stupid.”
The second occurred when the Huffington Post repeated a secondhand quote from an anonymous “Republican” who allegedly told a New York magazine reporter that Fox News head Roger Ailes “thinks” that Palin is “stupid” (just a day after Ailes himself, on the record, had mocked Matthews for the idiocy of his Palin statement).
As a veteran of the Palin media wars, part of me thinks that such allegations ought to be treated with all the credibility of a sixth-grade boy calling the girl he has a crush on “stupid.” After all, I thought we had put this Palin myth to bed when even Matt Lauer was forced to admit live on the Today Show that it was indeed a “lie” that the Palin whom he visited in Wasilla is unintelligent.
At the time, Lauer laughably told me that it was not necessary for him to correct his friends in the media because he didn’t think “everybody in the media ran out saying ‘Sarah Palin is an idiot.’” I thought then that Lauer actually somehow mistakenly bought into such an absurdity. Unless being forced to get up so early has finally eroded his ability to think for himself, I can’t believe that he still has that kind of blind faith in the media two years later.
So even though this is an argument that should have been easily won long ago, I still feel compelled, if only for the record, to once again separate fact from fiction.
With regard to Matthews’s specific allegation, it is just the latest in a long line of baseless attacks that the liberal host has made against Palin. At times it actually seems as if Matthews is obsessed with Palin (or at least the ratings which inevitably come with bashing her).
One of my biggest issues with Matthews here is that he never provides any real evidence to support the defamatory allegation that Palin isn’t intelligent. It is just accepted on MSNBC that it has already been proven beyond any doubt, much like the “fact” that President Obama is brilliant, that this is simply not worthy of any actual debate.
The other disgraceful element of Matthews’s anti-Palin crusade is that, just like this circumstance where his two guests were also decidedly anti-Palin, he rarely if ever even pretends to have on anyone who could possibly provide an alternative view (otherwise known as the truth).
Matthews grew up in Philadelphia in the same neighborhood as many members of my extended family and I have exchanged emails with him many times over the years. Despite this, he has never had the courage or fairness to have me on, and his program remains one of the very few cable news shows where I have never appeared to discuss/defend Palin.
Has cable news television really fallen so far that a host can constantly make gratuitous attacks against someone without even being compelled to have a guest on to provide the other side? Apparently, at least at MSNBC, it has.
As for the New York magazine quote alleging Palin’s boss at Fox News thinks she is “stupid,” this is emblematic of yet another dubious and seldom-used media tactic utilized by the media to go after Palin: anonymous/secondhand “sources.”
Since when is it acceptable “journalism” to quote one (not multiple) anonymous “source” claiming what someone else (who just went on the record defending her) “thinks” about the metal capacity of someone who is currently not an officeholder or candidate? That has simply never been the standard, but as Palin herself has said, when it comes to news coverage of her, “all bets are off.”
As for how this myth of the “stupid” Sarah Palin was created in the first place, this is where the sad tale becomes particularly depressing. It appears to me (and not just because, unlike most of those who attack her, I have had actual conversations with her) that the “evidence” Palin isn’t very bright is really just a media-created narrative which literally feeds on itself.
That legend begins with Palin having attended several colleges before graduating from a non-Ivy League institution. That this is relevant is especially ironic/nonsensical given the media’s blatant lack of regard for the intelligence of the last president (Bush 43), who graduated from both Harvard and Yale, and the obvious lack of mental acuity of two recent Democratic presidential nominees with undergraduate degrees from Harvard and Yale (Al Gore and John Kerry).
As someone who graduated from an allegedly elite university (Georgetown), I can assure you that the notion that someone’s intelligence can be determined by which college they went to is, at best, absurd, and, at worst, classic class bias.
Then of course there is the bias against rural America in general and Alaska in particular, which allows the media to discount or ignore all of Palin’s many accomplishments because they are “small time.”
Finally, there was what appears to be the crux of the “case” against Palin’s intelligence: the infamous Katie Couric interview.
I have written extensively about that episode in these pages and it forms a significant portion of my documentary film on the 2008 election, “Media Malpractice.” I believe I have proven that the perception of that interview created by the media (from newscasts to SNL) is at great odds with the reality of what actually happened. Quite simply, that interview in no way comes close to being an indictment of Palin’s intelligence.
With those three pillars of Palin stupidity supposedly in place, nearly everything that has purportedly happened with Palin since then has been seen by the media through the already distorted prism they created to view her. Anything she has said that they didn’t agree with was simply presumed to be further evidence that she isn’t very smart because, after all, we already know she is an idiot. It is an “argument” so circular it makes the CBS news logo seem square.
If I had just one question (I have many) to ask those who are so fervently convinced that Palin is dumb, it would be this:
How exactly did someone who less than two years ago was mired in legal debt, had a family in crises, and was written off politically when she “suddenly” resigned as governor make millions of dollars, write two best-selling books, lead a political movement that helped take back the Congress, produce a hit documentary series, endure an unprecedented media onslaught, and maintain her presidential viability, all while seemingly having her family now in a great place, if she is remotely dumb?
I doubt we will ever get anyone in the news media to answer that question, but if all Americans were nearly as “stupid” as Sarah Palin, we wouldn’t need to worry about who our next president is, or much of anything else for that matter.
John Ziegler is a documentary filmmaker who recently released a movie on the 2008 election called, “Media Malpractice… How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted.” He has also been in radio talk show host in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Louisville and Nashville. Ziegler has written two books and has appeared live on numerous national television shows including the Today Show, The View, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC.