Raw Journolist emails on ‘Palin’s Downs child’

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Ryan Donmoyer
Aug 30, 2008, 12:07am

I actually hesitate to bring this up…

But is anyone following this:


Adam Serwer
Aug 30, 2008, 12:18am


Dylan Matthews
Aug 30, 2008, 12:21am

Obama absolutely cannot touch this. Even if it’s true.

I think the press would justify covering it on the issue of trust, but for me it’s offensive that she would refuse to allow her daughter the choice. She has no business deciding what to make of that pregnancy. If her daughter wanted an abortion, it speaks very ill of Palin’s character to deny her the option.

Sara Mead
Aug 30, 2008, 12:24am

A note to journolisters who may not be aware of this: “Downs child” is NOT an appropriate or sensitive way to refer to Palin’s son, who has Down Syndrome. Please use “people-first” language here. I’m not at all a fan of Palin, either, but as liberals and decent human beings, we should be respectful in how we refer to people with disabilities.

Adam Serwer
Aug 30, 2008, 12:25am

that’s a bit of a stretch, even if it was her daughter’s baby, we don’t know that her daughter wanted an abortion.

The tone of the alaska newspaper article is definitely that there’s something fishy going on, it reads very bizarre. There’s something strange about an news article about how no one knew someone was pregnant–how is that a story?

Of course, Palin could just be really weird, and the reporter who wrote that story could just be particularly paranoid.

Harold Pollack
Aug 30, 2008 12:44am

Yuck on several fronts. We don’t have any evidence she did anything wrong here. If the baby was her daughter’s, what’s the problem here? Unless she actively prevented her daughter from having an abortion, we should leave this alone.

Laura Rozen
Aug 30, 2008, 12:47am

Does this from Newsweek suggest that her pregnancy at seven months was still not clear?

Palin in the Green Room
NEWSWEEK’s Karen Breslau shares a personal moment with the Alaska governor.
URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/156190
Karen Breslau
When Gov. Sarah Palin arrived backstage for our NEWSWEEK Women & Leadership Event in Los Angeles last March, John McCain had just wrapped up the GOP nomination. Palin had yet to endorse McCain—she liked Mitt Romney—and as we waited in the green room, I urged her to “feel free” to make some news on stage. She grinned broadly—looking back, I guess it was a grin of the Cheshire Cat variety—and thanked me for the offer.

Once onstage, together with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Palin talked about what women expect from women leaders; how she took charge in Alaska during a political scandal that threatened to unseat the state’s entire Republican power structure; and her feelings about Hillary Clinton. (She said she felt kind of bad she couldn’t support a
woman, but didn’t like Clinton’s “whining.”) I joked with her about being on McCain’s short list for vice president, and we had a good chuckle. We also talked about the
challenges of running a government while also raising a large and young family. At the time, I didn’t know that Palin, clad in a loose, dark dress, was seven months pregnant with her fifth child. An aide called me the next day to tell me that Palin would be announcing the pregnancy at home in Alaska and that she had wanted me to know as a courtesy. She was sorry she hadn’t mentioned it the night before.
A few weeks later, Palin’s son Trig Paxon van Palin was born prematurely. She and her husband Todd issued a statement saying they knew their fifth child would face “special challenges”—her office later confirmed that Trig had been born with Down’s Syndrome and that the family felt “blessed.”

Adam Serwer
Aug 30, 2008, 12:48am

no, definitely not.

Mark Kleiman
Aug 30, 2008, 1:03am

Absolutely don’t touch it. Even the Kossacks are voting to leave it alone. Even if it were true, it would be as much to her credit as anything, and bringing it out would be horribly cruel to the daughter and the infant. And given the statistics about Down Syndrome and age, how likely is it to be true anyway?
Yuck yuck yuck.

Hit her on bringing the cameras when she visited the wounded warriors. That’s fair game, and that will hurt with her base.


But leave the kid alone.

Adam Serwer
Aug 30, 2008, 1:26am


Adam Serwer
Aug 30, 2008, 1:28am

I also think that from that newsweek article it’s pretty clear nothing happened and that local reporter was an asshole.

Adele Stan
Aug 30, 2008, 2:49am

Leave the whole thing alone. For starters, my best friend barely looked pregnant at 7 months, and certainly wouldn’t have in a loose dress.

Second, we may not like the way her choice to carry a fetus to term despite the presence of Down Syndrome will be used by the right, but her choice does not make her a bad or dishonest person. It’s a noble choice that’s consistent with her world view. My point, if any, would be that is was her *choice* to make.

I really doubt that she was covering for her teenage daughter. She may have been trying to deal with her amnio results before announcing the pregnancy.

My difficulty with Palin is that there is as much to admire as there is to disparage about her. She really is trying to have and do it all while living within the framework of the right’s ideal of a woman. Nobody would do that unless she was a true believer. I can’t imagine what it’s like to operate in Palin’s world while carrying that burden.

Lots about her that’s fair game: climate change, intelligent design, ANWR drilling, dishonest representation of Obama’s energy plan.

Ryan Donmoyer
Aug 30, 2008, 7:52am

Fair enough, although I would remind you that Internet discourse often lends itself to expedient language that is in no way shape or form intended to offend. I should have written Palin’s “fifth” child in any case.

Back to the substance at hand, this is one hell of a whacky conspiracy theory and I too agree it’s probably best left alone. I do wonder, however, whether at least one authoritative piece ought to be done to try to put the issue to rest — not as a hit job on Palin so much as to counter something that has already rapidly and viciously spread on the Internet and will only go more viral. As long as it’s in the rumor stage it rivals the disinformation disseminated about Obama — and neither is useful for the
public discourse.

And I do think if this were true, it may creep some people out who thought the days of sending your knocked-up teenager away to live with the out-of-state-aunt ended with Roe v. Wade.

Kathleen Geier
Aug 30, 2008, 9:13am
Obviously, neither Obama nor any other Democrat should touch this story. At all.

But — and that’s a big but — if it’s true, *of course* it would be an issue. And should be! Forget the issue of whether or not she denied her daughter the choice of ending her pregnancy — that’s not the issue. The issue would be if Palin is lying to the McCain’s people, and voters, and basically the world, by trying to pass off a child as hers, if it really wasn’t. Your kids are as much a part of your basic life story as when and where you were born, who you married, and where you went to school. If she’s trying to pass off a child as her own, when that child is actually her granddaughter — that is a huge freaking deal.

Now, that said, this does sound like a pretty wacky conspiracy theory. If there’s no evidence to it other than the fact that Palin allegedly did not look pregnant, and her daughter was allegedly absent from school, that’s an extremely slim reed to hang a story on.

However, if a reporter investigated this story and came up with compelling evidence that it’s true — such as documents or eyewitness testimony from medical professionals and the like — the media should have no compunctions about running with it.

But it’s such a wild story I seriously doubt there’s much to it. On the other hand, I thought the idea that John Edwards would risk having an affair and a love child in the midst of a campaign for president was preposterous as well. So you never know . . .

Harold Pollack
Aug 30, 2008, 9:14am

This thing just makes no sense ethically, politically, substantively.
(I admit the rumor is intriguing.)

As Mark noted, and I boneheadedly overlooked, Down Syndrome is prevalent among infants born to 44-year-olds, not to teen moms. (In fact, the increasingly-delayed age distribution of births creates public health challenges. Biologically speaking, 18-year-old moms have better birth outcomes than 32-year-olds when everything else is right. After the baby is born–that’s another matter!)

Ryan Donmoyer
Aug 30, 2008, 9:20am

> Biologically speaking, 18-year-old moms have
> better birth outcomes than 32-year-olds when everything else is right.
> After the baby is born–that’s another matter!)

Look, I’m not trying to stir this pot, but this thing is gaining traction on the chat boards.

Biologically speaking, most children with Downs Syndrome are born to women under age 35 (just as most children PERIOD are born to women under 35). I have no way of knowing, but let’s not assume there’s a statistically significant difference here. Let’s not immediately conclude that of course it’s Sarah Palin’s because she’s 44 years old.

Biologically speaking, which is more unlikely anyway: 1) A 17-year-old having a child with Downs Syndrome or 2) A 43-year-old woman conceiving without the help of medical intervention?

For what it’s worth, here is a photo of her from the Anchorage Daily News from mid-March, when she would have been 7 or 7 1/2 months pregnant:


Lamar Robertson
Aug 30, 2008, 9:35am

my wife and the mother of my two children just looked at this picture and immediately commented, “SHE’S WEARING A BELT!” let’s just say that’s not the accessory of choice for most women in their third trimester.

Kathleen Geier
Aug 30, 2008, 9:49am

Look at these family pix here:

And here:

It looks like the daughter *could* be pregnant — especially in the first picture.

And it seems odd that Palin would wait until her 7th month to announce her pregnancy.

None of this is evidence of anything, of course — but I do relish the idea that if this were true and discovered, Palin would take the crown from Eagleton as the most disastrous veep choice ever.

I am really hoping Palin will self-immolate and bring down the ticket with her. Because if she proves to be a popular choice who doesn’t screw up too badly, she could be really, really dangerous in the years to come.

Todd Gitlin
Aug 30, 2008, 10:06am

What Addie said.

Ezra Klein
Aug 30, 2008, 10:15am

Seriously, folks? Best case scenario, what’s your outcome here: Her daughter, hounded by the tabloids, breaks down that it was her child, and her mother heroically took on the burden and welcomed the disabled boy as one of her own? Palin’s relationship with her children — however they may have come to her — strikes me as pretty far out of bounds. By all accounts she’s a wonderful mother, and devoted to her fifth son. Leave this be.

Lindsay Beyerstein
Aug 30, 2008, 10:59am

The story is far-fetched and as yet unsupported by evidence. Kathy’s right: So far, there’s not enough evidence for any responsible commentator to discuss this. Public speculation without proof is cruel and counterproductive.

However, if some reporter thinks this rumor is worth investigating further, and he or she absolutely nails this story, that would be great.

If I had the smoking gun, I’d proudly publish the evidence. (I don’t think the story is plausible enough to bother looking, but that’s a separate question.)

Anyone who decided to raise her granddaughter as her daughter is a liar and a hypocrite, not to mention an abuser of two generations of children. What kind of parent would force her family to live that kind of lie?

What warped values would give rise to such a decision? Lots of grandparents raise their grandkids. That’s admirable and commonplace. Barack Obama spoke movingly before a crowd of 84,000 about how his own grandmother helped raise him.

Why lie about the baby’s origins, except to spare Palin political embarrassment? She’s a self-professed Bible believing Christian whose mommy cred might be diminished by the revelation that she raised an unwed teen mom. That said, I imagine that she would have scored a lot of points for openly raising her daughter’s disabled child–and rightly so. A hoax would suggest extreme selfishness and blind ambition, not to mention vanity and a distinctly irrational preoccupation with keeping up appearances.

The fact that baby Trig has Down Syndrome isn’t the weakest link in the story. Yes, older mothers are at increased risk of bearing children with Down Syndrome. The majority of children with DS are born to younger mothers–because most babies are born to younger women, period.

My cousin, a pediatric nurse, mentioned a couple months ago that moms in their early teens are also at increased risk of bearing children with DS compared to women in their late teens and twenties. Does anyone know of a study to support that? The papers I’ve seen tend to put everyone under 25 in one category, instead of breaking the data down further.



Katha Pollitt
Aug 30, 2008, 11:07am

It would be quite astonishing if the gov of alaska, a person in full view of the public, could perpetrate this deception. SOMEBody delivered a baby after all — there would be medical records, hospital admissions, etc. But I agree with Addie — she doesn’t look especially pregnant to me in the photo, but then nor does the teen daughter in (supposedly) contemporaneous pictures. Maybe it’s an alien baby, like Hillary’s.

Lindsay Beyerstein
Aug 30, 2008, 11:20am

In the post-Rathergate era, journalists should be on their guard for Republican dirty tricks.

If this story gains traction, regardless of its truth or falsity, the Republicans will take steps to neutralize the meme.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the McCain campaign were to leak doctored evidence for the sole purpose of discrediting it and destroying the journalist who published it. That’s probably what the Killian memos were.

We should also be on guard for “evidence” falling into the lap of an unknown and easily discredited figure. That’s probably what Rove did to neutralize the allegations of cocaine use by George W. Bush, lo these many years ago.

If apparently well-substantiated allegations emerge, we should be alert for the story behind the story, so to speak.


Holly Yeager
Aug 30, 2008, 11:21am

I agree that it would be astonishing. But I think it’s quite possible – on this, or some other drama or two – that Palin got away with something in Alaska and so didn’t bother to mention it to the McCain gang. She has spent virtually her entire life in Alaska, and surely underestimates the scrutiny she is now under.

Lamar Robertson
Aug 30, 2008, 11:26am

totally agree w/ lindsay’s point that if this rumor proves true — which seems HIGHLY unlikely — it proves what a horrible parent Palin is. perhaps the two most important values every parent teaches their children is honesty and responsibility. palin’s pretending to be the parent of her daughter’s child would fly in the face of both. maybe people in Juneau didn’t see Juno.

Katha Pollitt
Aug 30, 2008, 11:37am

Raising a child within the family but attributed to a different mother — a grandmother, a sister, an aunt — is not so very unusual. Before legal abortion and widespread use of bc it was more common. I don’t think most americans share your views, Lindsay, that it is abusive and just terrible. Family life would not be possible without lies and hypocrisy. At some level everyone knows that. This way, a child is born, a teen gets on with her life, a grandma gets a child to raise. Everybody wins. The biological facts can be sorted out later.

If this baby story is true, palin will come out looking like a hero — she stepped in when her teen freaked out, threatened suicide, whatever. She went to extraordinary lengths, like a mother should do, to protect her daughter and solve the problem! No abortion necessary! Another pro-life fable for our times.

Lindsay Beyerstein
Aug 30, 2008, 11:39am

What’s the outcome? McCain’s running mate reset the movie “Chinatown” in small town Alaska.

Come to think of it, Chinatown effectively dramatizes what’s morally rotten about grandparents posing as parents. Imagine the anguished daughter exclaiming of Trig: “He’s my brother and my son!” Forcing your family to live a lie is unforgivably cruel, and/or catastrophically misguided.

A hoax by the governor wouldn’t make a lot of sense for an ordinary teen pregnancy. Palin’s daughter wouldn’t be the first prominent Christian teen to get knocked up. If the story were true, then the question would arise: What else were the Palins hiding? We’ve just come off a major scandal where lies were probably told to protect the
identity of a famous father of an illegitimate child. (The motive for the maternity hoax in “Chinatown” is to cover up an incestuous pregnancy.)

FTR, the hoax hypothesis is a classic flawed conspiracy theory. There are too many people with too few plausible motives and opportunities to carry out such a deception. As Katha said, this story is roughly on an epistemic par with Hillary’s alien baby.

Harold Pollack
Aug 30, 2008, 11:43am

Ezra said what I think better than I can. A few final amplifications.

1. Most infants with ds are born to women <35, but that’s because the traditional amnio testing threshold is 35. That is now changing rapidly. I’ve actually been working on decision analyses of less invasive technologies for younger women. My tables are unavailable this moment, but Wikipedia gives the basic incidence figures: At maternal age 20 to 24, the probability is 1/1562; at age 35 to 39 the probability is 1/214. Above age 45, the probability is 1/19. (Unfortunately they left out the 40-44 group, but the number is greater than 1%.)

2. As for the implausibility of an unintended pregnancy, we’re not talking about Abraham and Sarah here. Ladies with 5 kids are known to have a 6th.

3. Lindsay, Palin would not be a liar or hypocrite even if this were true. Talmud instructs lies are sometimes permissable in difficult family circumstances. I would tell a public lie to keep an important family secret for my kid that is nobody else’s business.

4. Tough campaigns mess with our minds. This is obviously way out of bounds. If Republicans were spreading some similar meme about Jill Biden or a Democratic woman, we would all be freaking out about it. We can attack McCain for his horrible judgment in selecting someone so unprepared without going into this other stuff.

Katha Pollitt
Aug 30, 2008, 11:50am

In chinatown, the “sister” was the product of incest. She really WAS both daughter and sister. the horror of that situation came from the incest. I like what you said about this possibly being a dirty trick, intended to blow up in our faces. so let’s just leave it alone. Unfortunately, palin is kind of cool. she’s not a brittle pastel- suited nut, like some of the eagle forum types. if she weren’t in politics, we would probably really like her.

Mark Schmitt
Aug 30, 2008, 11:56am

In earlier days, it was not unheard of for a daughter’s baby to be quietly raised by the mother as if it were her own. Jack Nicholson, I think, discovered as an adult that his sister was his mother and his mother his grandmother. I’ve read similar stories about other people. Jack turned out alright! Now if it turns out that John Edwards is the dad, this will be an intersting story.

Thomas Schaller
Aug 30, 2008, 12:03pm

but at least nicholson didn’t discover that his sister was actually his mother and that his father was actually also his grandfather—a la his discovery at the end of Chinatown of faye dunaway’s situation. (sorry, spoiler for any of you who have not–sinfully–seen chinatown.

Kathleen Geier
Aug 30, 2008, 12:15pm

Speaking of Chinatown — Jack Nicholson’s mother and grandmother did what this wacky rumor accuses Palin and her daughter of doing. That is, his mother became pregnant with him while she was an unmarried teenager, but that was covered up, and Jack was raised thinking the woman who was really his mother was his sister, and that his grandmother was his mother. As Katha says, this kind of thing used to be pretty common. I believe the same thing happened with the singer Bobby Darrin. I’ve read that Nicholson never learned the truth about his family until he was an adult, back in the early 70s. It reportedly shook him up pretty badly. Which gets to the point about why pulling a stunt like that is such an unconscionable thing to do. I have sympathy for any woman who found herself pregnant and unmarried back in the day (and Nicholson was born in, what? the 1940s? or maybe even the 30s?). But every person deserves to know the truth about who their parents are, and to allow a child to grow up believing a lie like that is extraordinarily cruel and abusive. I mean, imagine how learning the truth would mess with your head and destroy your sense of trust in people! You’d suddenly realize that the people you loved and trusted the most were perpetrating an enormous deception. You’d look back over your childhood and suddenly interpet everything in a completely different light. I don’t care what the Talmud says, living a lie like that is deeply wrong. As I said, I have sympathy for the women who participated in this sort of masquerade in the days before the sexual revolution. But in this day and age, when births out of wedlock are widely accepted and bear little stigma, I think that participating in such a sham is inexcusable. And if Palin did this, I’d find it hard to believe it was a purely selfless act. Sure, I’d believe she did it partly to protect her daughter. But she probably would have done it at least as much to protect her political viability and her “perfect family” image as anything else. And btw, I’d have no problem believing that young women who grow up with the kind of “family values” that Palin represents are probably more likely to have unwanted pregnancies than those who grow up in more liberal families who make sure their daughters have appropriate sex education and know about birth control options. Three of my cousins (that I know of) got pregnant in their teens, and each of them came from very strict, conservative Catholic families. Two of them had and kept the baby and one of them got an abortion.

Lamar Robertson
Aug 30, 2008, 12:17pm

speaking of edwards. there’s been plenty of speculation about whether any legit journalists should look into this. i think it’s safe to say that the national inquirer has already dispatched a team to alaska, and if there’s something there, they’ll find it.

Ezra Klein
Aug 30, 2008, 12:18pm

Jack Nicholson definitely did not turn out alright.

Laura Rozen
Aug 30, 2008, 12:23pm

check this out (and apologies if it’s already been posted) http://www.ktuu.com:80/global/story.asp?s=8194634 according to it, her water broke before she was supposed to give a speech in texas – she went ahead and gave her 30 minute speech – and then got on a plane to alaska because she wanted the child to be alaska born. how many airlines would let you do that? and esp when the baby had special needs they already knew??

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Gov. Sarah Palin gave birth to her fifth child at about 6:30 a.m. Friday morning. Trig Paxson Van Palin was born at Mat-Su Regional Hospital about one month before he was scheduled to arrive. Trig Palin weighs six pounds, two ounces. A press release from the governor’s office says Palin and her new son are both “doing well and resting comfortably.” The Palins released the following statement: “Trig is beautiful and already adored by us. We knew through early testing he would face special challenges, and we feel privileged that God would entrust us with this gift and allow us unspeakable joy as he entered our lives. We have faith that every baby is created for good purpose and has potential to make this world a better place. We are truly blessed.” Just yesterday, Palin was in Texas at a forum on energy with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and executives from four other states. Palin was asked at the forum whether or not she would accept an offer by Republican presidential candidate John McCain to share the national ticket as vice presidential nominee. She said she would accept, according to reports from a Texas newspaper. The governor’s water broke during the energy conference but she stayed and gave a 30-minute speech before boarding an Alaska Airlines plane home to deliver the baby. …..

Moira Whelan
Aug 30, 2008, 12:25pm

I agree it’s crazy and probably doesn’t do well for us to go after it, but a few things I can’t get over: 1) the pictures 2) the “mono” 3) eating shellfish??? 4) she delivered a speech after her water broke? http://www.ktuu.com/global/story.asp?s=8194634 also, as a woman over 40 she would have been under close watch by a doctor, and they probably would have known of the Downs Syndrome at 4-6 months with an amnio they’d have done because of her age. This could have resulted in them wanting to keep it quiet so they could come to terms with this as a family, but frankly also would have resulted in her resting up and taking it easy to make things run smoothly. another oddity…giving birth a month early? A woman running as fast as she does would have been under close watch of a doctor. The idea of getting on a plane at that point in a pregnancy is just a strange thing for a woman who’s done this 4 times to do. if the story were told I don’t think it would be that bad for us. I think it speaks to the idea that although this happens, most Americans don’t want to live in the past. Society can survive if teenage girls get pregnant and decide to have the child. We can be honest about that. A baby is nothing to be ashamed of. If her daughter did give birth, I think it would say a lot for her family to stand behind her. Hiding it is something completely different and…old fashioned. I agree with Addie though…the burdens she must be under to fulfill a conservative ideal of a woman are unreachable. I only hope her daughters learn from her example and realize they don’t have to be constrained to someone else’s idea of what is “right”.

Lamar Robertson
Aug 30, 2008, 12:36pm

all right. this is getting way fishy now. 1) getting onto the plane TO ALASKA after your water breaks? i’m sorry. that does not happen. i live 2 minutes from the hospital. my wife went to the hospital immediately after her water broke w/ my second child and it was almost too late to get the epidural. 2) the baby was 6 lbs, 2 oz? That’s a healthy sized baby for a preemie. it’s also incongruous w/ the notion that she — a thin person — wasn’t showing at 7 months.

Joe Klein
Aug 30, 2008, 11:52am

I’m with Katha and Harold on this one. Palin’s instinct, most likely, was to *protect* her daughter. And the brother/son situation in Chinatown was the consequence of incest…Now THAT might be something of an issue, but I don’t think this is.

Laura Rozen
Aug 30, 2008, 12:37pm

wouldn’t you be putting the health of the baby seriously in jeopardy by flying what five, six hours, after you’re already in labor? much less the health of the mom? Laura Rozen Aug 30, 2008, 12:38pm well, i don’t mean “much less” the health of the mom. “as well as” the health of the ….

Lindsay Beyerstein
Aug 30, 2008, 1:00pm

> 3. Lindsay, Palin would not be a liar or hypocrite even if this were
> true. Talmud instructs lies are sometimes permissable in difficult
> family circumstances. I would tell a public lie to keep an important
> family secret for my kid that is nobody else’s business.

I’m inclined to agree with the Talmud on the general principle, but much depends on the lie. Lying about an affair to spare your spouse the embarrassment may be morally permissible. I’d even agree that lying about an affair to save your political career is understandable, and probably permissible. Saying your daughter is doing a junior year abroad while she’s secretly putting he baby up for adoption might fall in the noble lie category, too.

However, I can’t see how the Talmud could condone a outlandish hoax by a public figure to spare her family a relatively minor embarrassment.

I know these types of arrangements used to be more common. People used to think life in the closet was an acceptable solution to homosexuality, too.

What has changed then and now? The stigma of unwed motherhood isn’t what it used to be, for the woman or her family. This isn’t Afghanistan, or Main Street USA in 1940. There was a time when admitting an out-of-wedlock birth could threaten a family’s housing, the mother’s education and livelihood, her future marriage prospects, and even her personal safety. Such dire circumstances would justify some pretty serious deceptions. In the age of Jamie Lynn Spears, lying merely to avoid a few days of embarrassing headlines doesn’t meet that standard.

If a “family values” politician went to extreme lengths to hide her daughter’s pregnancy, I’d suspect that the mother was acting more out of self-interest than compassion. I’d also call hypocrisy on any politician who champions traditional values and proceeds to go to elaborate lengths to hide their family’s dirty laundry. Maybe there are noble hypocrisies in the Talmudic sense, but lying about your family in order to seem to practice what you preach doesn’t cut it. Surely, it’s sometimes justified to act hypocritical in the service of a lie that’s noble for some other reason, but the hypocrisy is a moral demerit.

If a mother claims her minor daughter’s child, I’d also wonder whether the daughter had a free choice about whether to go along with the ruse. (Let’s assume she freely chose to carry her baby to term.) Once the baby was born, do you think a 16-year-old would suggest that her mother pretend to have borne her child? If the parents broached the subject, they’d be putting unforgivable pressure on their very vulnerable daughter who is depending on them for support. If it was the daughter’s idea, the fact that the parents went along with such a cockeyed scheme raises serious questions about their judgment.

The fact that the governor is a public figure cuts both ways, ethically. On the one hand, it’s more embarrassing to have your unplanned pregnancy make headlines in the Alaska papers. But the alternative seems far worse. By sparing her daughter the short-lived embarrassment of a scandal, the governor would be committing her to a
lifetime of complicity in a high stakes deception that, if revealed, could destroy her mother’s career and possibly much more besides. The stress of living that lie would be almost unthinkable–given how fragile any conspiracy of silence would have to be. Private citizens can abandon fictions when they are no longer necessary, or break the
silence to the people closest to them. Whereas, a public family would commit itself to lying to everyone indefinitely. Imagine the damage this could do to relationships. Suppose the daughter comes to regret giving up her child. She can’t tell the truth now without destroying her mother’s career.

Claiming your daughter’s baby as your own isn’t just a one-off verbal denial at a press conference. A maternity hoax would require various kinds of fraud which would probably include suborning medical misconduct, falsification of medical and legal records, etc. Teen pregnancy, however awkward, just isn’t a good enough excuse in this day and age.

Maggie Mahar
Aug 30, 2008, 1:25pm

Water breaking doesn’t mean you’re about to deliver.

You can go a couple of days after your water breaks before going into labor.–though at some point, they’ll induce the labor because they’re worried about infection.

Of course an airline would let her on the plane. The airline would have no way of knowing–unless she told them.

As a woman who has had 4 children, she wouldn’t be in a panic, and would have some sense of how close she was to going into labor.

As for raising her daughter’s child (if it was her daughter’s child) this is, as someone else said, a time-honored solution to teen pregnancy when the teen isn’t ready to be a mother and the family as a whole doesn’t want to give up the baby. (This doesn’t
mean they’re anti-abortion; they just can’t bear the idea of losing or giving up “their” grandhild,/child. Everyone feels better keeping hte baby and at the same time the teen can go on with her life.

There is nothing sordid about this unless the teen’s father is the father of the baby . . Otherwise, it’s an understandable solution, –but rather complicated to explain to a 4-year-old.

Eventually you explain it, and if done in a guilt-free fashion, presumably it’s no more traumatic than finding out you’re adopted. Except you don’t have to hunt for your mother or wonder what she’s like.

Maggie Mahar
Aug 30, 2008, 1:28pm


The fact that her water broke does Not mean that she was in labor.

Maggie Mahar
Aug 30, 2008, 1:31pm


What happened with your wife in one instance doesn’t really tell us anything. My step-daughter recently waited 3 days to go into labor after her water broke. I waited about one day after my water broke.

When I finally decided to go to the hospital, I stopped for an ice-cream cone. (No doubt, endangering the life of the baby.)

None of this tells us what was going on with Palin. Nor is it any of our business.

Laura Rozen
Aug 30, 2008, 1:44pm

But I mean would you have gotten on a six hour flight or however many hours it is?
Why do they tell people not to fly late in their term? Or is that just an urban myth?

John Blevins
Aug 30, 2008, 1:54pm

I’ll obviously defer to mothers but as father of 2, the doctors told us that second babies come quicker. Not to mention fifth. Plus infection sets in at 24 hrs .

Now I’m not going to push the story but this is the sketchiest part if true. And I don’t think it would upset Americans – they would just think she’s weird

Mark Schmitt
Aug 30, 2008, 2:04pm

It is of course possible, even common, not to go into labor for a day or more after the water breaks, in a routine pregnancy. But you _might_ go into labor sooner, so of course you should not get on a six-hour flight where they have no facilities to help you if you do. And this was not a routine pregnancy: It was a 44-year-old mother, with an already-complicated pregnancy, a baby who was definitely going to need medical attention, giving birth eight weeks premature. Anyone who would get on a plane instead of to the nearest hospital in such a situation does not have the judgment we need in Juneau, much less in the White House. That is, if the official story is true.

Look, this has nothing to do with “us” or how “we” or Democrats play this story. There’s a closed room somewhere right now where the poor governor is sitting in the middle of a circle of Charlie Black, Steve Schmidt and a bunch of other white men who are grilling the hell out of her: “Is any of this true? How do you explain getting on a plane? Give us the name and number of your Ob-Gyn. What else don’t we know about you?”

I’ll make some modest bets — $5 — that the name “Palin” does not actually appear on your ballot in November.

Maggie Mahar
Aug 30, 2008, 2:05pm


Airlines tell people not to fly becuse they”re covering their ass (concerned about
liability if, say a stewardess tries to help a woman delivering and something goes wrong.)

If you think about it, going into labor on a plane is not the worst thing–much preferable, say, to going into labor in a subway (too dirty) or a cab (only one person too help you.) or a car (with your husband in a total panic.)

Seriously, on a plane you stand an excellent chance that one or more woman who have had several children can be a big help–not to mention the
possibility of a doctor or a midwife.

And if you’re not yet in labor, a six-hour flight is just not that long. You’d probably
have plenty of time. (And if she had actually been in labor at that point, she would not have been able to give a speech.)

I can certainly imagine getting on a plane rather than going to a strange hospital, alone.

Would I get on a plane in my 7th or even 8th month? Absolultely.
Would I get on a plane if my water had broken?

Depends on how badly I wanted to get where I was going, and whether I was actually in labor..

Finally, as far as I know (and I’m not an authority on Downs) a Downs baby is not in special danger during the delivery.

Harold Pollack
Aug 30, 2008, 2:09pm

I admit–the flight story is weird at best.I’ll take your $5 bet.

Maggie Mahar
Aug 30, 2008, 2:26pm

“so of course you should not got on a six-hour flight . .”

Come ‘on Mark. “Of course . . .should not”???

No one has right to tell a woman what she “should” or “shouldn’t” do in this situation..

Why so judgmental?

If she downed a quart of Scotch while going into labor, you might have something to say.

Since you’ve never given birth you just aren’t in a position to realize that a woman who is in tune with her body has a pretty good sense of what’s going on , how much time she has, etc. It’s the father that is always in a panic–we have to get to the hosptial .!!! . Especially after you’ve had one child, you’re really not in a rush to get to a hospital.

And I would feel much, much safer on a plane that in a hospital I don’t know, alone, without a patient advocate. (Hospitals are dangerous places.) \ See my response to Laurne.

Finally, Downs Babies generally do not need special (pediatric ICU) care after delivery. . .

Laura Rozen
Aug 30, 2008, 2:28pm

seriously, if her water broke and the baby was what two months premature, it doesn’t seem normal to have not gone straight to the nearest hospital.

again, if the official story is true.

but that just doesn’t make any sense.

Mark Kleiman
Aug 30, 2008, 2:29pm

Assume for the moment that the switching story is true and that it reflects bad behavior on Palin’s part. On those assumptions, let’s talk about the act of revealing the deception.

* It might hurt Palin politically, which, on the assumption, she deserves.
* It would certainly hurt the actual mother, and the child. Neither of them deserves to be hurt.

Therefore, I claim, it would be wrong to reveal the deception even if the evidence were in hand.

Politically, this smells like a red herring and a trap, and I think that the revelation that someone was sniffing around about it would outrage large numbers of voters. Palin’s public life presents a target-rich environment for investigation.

So this story desperately needs a good leaving-alone.

Brad DeLong
Aug 30, 2008, 2:32pm

It’s a three-hour flight to Seattle. Two hours on the ground in the Seattle Airport. And then another three-hour flight to Anchorage. It’s your fifth baby. You know what happens after your water breaks, and you can be pretty sure that things won’t move so fast that you give birth in the plane over Idaho. And you can reevaluate the situation in Seattle.

Mind you, not telling the airline was a pretty dirty trick…

Maggie Mahar
Aug 30, 2008, 2:45pm

Yes, I agree with Mark.

Ghough I don’t even think “switching” represents bad behavior, if that was what her
daughter wanted to do. If I were a teen-ager, I wouldn’t want to give up my baby for adoption . And I would hate the idea of terminating. I’d love it if my Mom was willing to take care of it. Who could I trust more with my baby?

Also I really wouldn’t want to deal with the gossip about the fact I had a baby–particuarly and the kids at school. High school kids are such gossips–and can be so judgemental. (Has anyone read the book by Glenn Greenwald’, “Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics.”? I’ve read only the Salon excerpt, but it’s about how the Karl Rove/Chris Matthews petty focus on personality unleashes the dynamics of
high school . . .

Mark Schmitt
Aug 30, 2008, 3:11pm

It’s not a matter of being judgmental — it’s that to believe the official story requires believing that she would do something extremely unlikely, probably irresponsible (one could give birth in an airplane or at SEA-TAC, but shouldn’t create a situation where there’s a good chance of that happening) and that would contradict most medical advice.

I don’t think there’s any reason to think that women have a perfect sense of just when labor will begin or how long it will last. Otherwise, no babies would ever be born in taxis. And even if you’ve given birth four times, and know your body’s routine, a very premature birth at 44, seven years after your last previous pregnancy, just might take a very different course.

This may be more than anyone needs to know, but when Holly’s water broke at 2:00 a.m. on the due date, we both went back to sleep because she had a regular appointment with her mellow nurse-midwives at 9:00 the next morning. (I was not a panicky dad.) When we got there, the midwife said we needed to get to St. Vincent’s ASAP and that the baby had to be out in 24 hours. She also didn’t let Holly fly for I think the last two months.

Maybe the official story is all true and her answer, like yours, is that she felt safer on a plane than in a hospital. Perhaps we should just turn health care over to the airlines.

Mark Kleiman
Aug 30, 2008, 3:16pm

The press release said something about wanting the kid to be “Alaska born.” Is that a legal status having to do with the right to collect a share of the oil royalties? If so, the present value of $3000 a year for life for the kid, in a family that’s apparently not wealthy, might have been a significant consideration.

Michael Cohen
Aug 30, 2008, 3:18pm

I invite everyone to watch this video and tell me that Sarah Palin is 5 1/2 months pregnant:


In particular stop the frame at 06:21

Mark Schmitt
Aug 30, 2008, 3:22pm

This is a private list, on which it is fascinating as gossip. If it’s true that they switched, it will come out, and she will be off the ticket — whether we think the switch and deception is wrong or not. It is a fascinating political story about McCain’s panicked choice of an un-vetted candidate.

Same with Eagleton — the fact that he had been in therapy for depression, including electro-shock therapy — is not something that I would have thought should be disqualifying (neither did McGovern, by the way, according to the recent book about him — he was very sympathetic because of his daughter’s depression and alcoholism), but the fact that they didn’t know about it and weren’t prepared to deal with it — together with retrograde attitudes about mental health — made it a nomination-killer.

“We” don’t have to do any digging. There’s enough reason for suspicion that the entire GOP research team is probably off the Obama-Biden job for the weekend to figure out what they don’t know, but should have, about Sarah Palin.

Bob Mackey
Aug 30, 2008, 3:50pm

No anyone with 1 year residence and the intent to stay in alaska qualifies.

Bob Mackey
Aug 30, 2008, 3:51pm

Over to the airlines? Then the hospitals would charge for every little thing.

Oh, wait….

Ryan Donmoyer
Aug 30, 2008, 3:58pm

Well, if it’s true and McCain is rethinking the pick, this would be a convenient excuse to drop her. Although I do think they’re happy with her for now.

One other question: Does it up the stakes here if records were falsified? I.e., the birth certificate, etc. Goes to a pattern, perhaps, of using higher office for personal purposes if the trooper thing is true.

Again, statistically speaking, I believe it is highly more likely that a teen mother would have a child with Downs than it is for a 44-year-old woman to conceive without fertility help.

As far as I can tell, the following is the circumstantial evidence, and not all of it is vetted:

1) Sarah Palin doesn’t look even remotely pregnant in photographs that are supposed to be her third trimester.

2) The state of Alaska yesterday removed official photographs of her the months that coincide with her third trimester.

3) Her staff was surprised to find out she was pregnant when she announced at 7 months.

4) Her teenage daughter disappeared from school for months, claiming mono during the time that coincided with her third trimester.

5) She opted to take a long flight after her water broke which probably isn’t consistent with anything any doctor would recommend. (But her daughter might have needed her).

6) She returned to work 3 days after the baby was born.

7) In undated photos, the daughter looks like she definitely could be pregnant. People who saw the daughter yesterday tell me that she def looks like she could be post-partum.

8 ) It’s far more likely for a teenager to have a child with Downs Syndrome than it is for a 43-year-old woman to conceive naturally.

9) Supposedly, the baby’s grandparents refused to issue any kind of statement when the baby was born, for whatever little that’s worth.

Why this all may matter:

1) It goes to her personal story. If she’s a grandmother raising her daughter’s child, why not be upfront about it?

2) Given her views on reproductive rights, it harkens back to what was common before Roe

3) It may have implications for abstenance-only teachings in schools.

I’m not sure this will get left alone.

Paul Waldman
Aug 30, 2008, 4:04pm

If the date on this photo from the Anchorage Daily News web site is correct, she is absolutely, positively, not seven months pregnant. Some of the pictures are doubtful, but this could barely be clearer:


Michael Cohen
Aug 30, 2008, 4:07pm

I think this picture is from Super Tuesday but it would be 5 or 5 1/2 months pregnant. It seems impossible to imagine there being no bulge at all at that point.

Brad DeLong
Aug 30, 2008, 4:39pm

Well, let me say that I see little or nothing wrong with claiming your grandchild as your child if you think that is the best way to handle a teen pregnancy…


Brad DeLong

Avi Zenilman
Aug 30, 2008, 4:43pm

Am I the only person who spotted a bulge in that Alaska HDTV video?

Maggie Mahar
Aug 30, 2008, 4:47pm

Thank you Brad.

Rich Byrne
Aug 30, 2008, 4:52pm

I’m a bit skeptical of this whole rumor because it would be the audacity of dope. But c’mon, the falsification of public records, the reflection (warranted or no) on parenting skillsm, the sustained and public falsehood…. If it’s true, it would make her candidacy

Eve Fairbanks
Aug 30, 2008, 4:54pm

I thought there was a bulge, too, Avi. Don’t underestimate how complex this cover-up would have been to pursue — someone would have to go to quite the lengths to convince those around her she was pregnant when she wasn’t, even if she wasn’t a public figure under reporters’ scrutiny! There’s weight gain in the face and breasts as well as the abdomen — how could she have managed that? And what about the birth? What about the hospital? There would have had to be massive fraud and cover-up on the part of a lot of hospital staff. By now, or soon, some of these people covering up would crack, for money or under some other pressure. If the rumor is true, she can’t sit on it forever, and even if Brad, or we as a group, or conservatives, or whoever, don’t think it’s in and of itself disqualifying, it’s quite strange and would be such a distraction that she’d be ruined for bringing down McCain with the lie. It would be like the Edwards explosion, in a way. She would be blamed for irresponsibility toward her party.

But count me skeptical it could have been kept completely under wraps until now.

Kathleen Geier
Aug 30, 2008, 5:20pm

When I first heard this story, I thought it was preposterous. (And btw, a scenario similar to this lurid tale occurred last season on Desperate Housewives). And maybe I really am losing it, driven over the edge at last by my hatred of all things Republican, but at this point I’m starting to believe it.

There are a lot of things about the official story that just don’t add up. There’s a good summary in this recent Daily Kos post:

Everything from the pictures of both mother and daughter, to the daughter allegedly being out of school for anywhere from 5 to 8 months because she had “mono” (really?), to the fishy story about Palin’s water breaking, but her then going on to give aspeech, and then taking an 8-hour flight to Alaska, and *then* not heading immediately to a hospital near the airport, but driving for 45 minutes and going to the small hospital in the remote village where she was mayor and supposedly giving birth there, to pictures being scrubbed yesterday from Palin’s website — well, I don’t know about you, but lots of things about this story don’t sound right to me.

Give the Daily Kos post a read. And if you think I’m heading deep into tin foil hat territory, give me a good hard slap across the face, and a Cher-in-Moonstruck-like “Snap out of it!” please.

Lindsay Beyerstein
Aug 30, 2008, 5:23pm

If a grandmother wants to legally adopt her daughter’s child, that’s wonderful. However, the adoption should be legal and above-board. Falsifying parental records is wrong. If we believe in choice, we should condemn arrangements that strip vulnerable people of rights without legal safeguards.

Adoptions within a family aren’t fundamentally different from adoptions between strangers. If one person is giving up their parental rights and someone else is taking them on, that’s a very serious matter. The implications are huge. Parental status affects everything from medical decision-making to custody rights to inheritance.

By ceding her legal status as a parent, the daughter may be giving her mother even more power over her life. Pregnancy and parenthood legally emancipate a minor in ways that might be important to her life prospects. For example, pregnant and parenting youth are may be eligible for social services that they wouldn’t otherwise be entitled to. If the hoax goes according to plan, the teenager is rendered doubly dependent upon her parents because she’s not eligible for the social supports that are provided for parents. If she walks away, she stands to lose access to her child.

Having a grandmother pretend to be the mother might work out well. However, what happens if the daughter changes her mind? Without transparency and a paper trail, how can we be sure the girl freely consented in the first place? I wouldn’t just assume that a pregnant teen from a religious family is in a good position to say “no” if her
parents suggest that she conceal her pregnancy and sign her rights away to her own mother. It’s not uncommon for parents to threaten their unwed pregnant daughters with all kinds of dire consequences for getting pregnant.

Let’s not forget that this baby has a father whose parental rights would also be nullified by a maternity hoax–possibly without his knowledge or consent.

Adam Serwer
Aug 30, 2008, 5:23pm

I gotta say, if this is much ado about nothing, the McCain campaign may be very happy to air these rumors in public. It gives them their first big opportunity to say that she’s being attacked unfairly, and because Democrats are sexist.

I know they can hardly wait, that’s all I’m saying. And I read that Dailykos diary. Bristol does not look pregnant. She looks like she’s had a few too many mooseburgers, but then again so do I, and I’m not carrying a kid.

Mark Kleiman
Aug 30, 2008, 5:31pm

I see no upside for our side here. There’s plenty of other stuff to work on that won’t get her any sympathy at all and won’t risk damage to her innocent children/grandchild.

Michael Cohen
Aug 30, 2008, 5:34pm

The upside is that if this is true she is done and so is McCain. It will be like McGovern in 72. The GOP won’t be able to survive this.

Adam Serwer
Aug 30, 2008, 5:37pm

I doubt it’s true. Palin’s child does not look pregnant in those pictures.

Mark Thoma
Aug 30, 2008, 5:42pm

Eric Rauchway has a post suggesting she tends to be controlling:


What sort of executive is Sarah Palin?

The newly elected mayor of Wasilla has asked all the city’s top managers to resign in order to test their loyalty to her administration…. She’s also been criticized by the local semiweekly newspaper for a new policy requiring department heads to get the mayor’s approval before talking to reporters. An editorial in The Frontiersman labeled it a ‘gag order.’”

“Wasilla’s new mayor asks officials to quit,” Daily Sitka Sentinel, 10/28/96, p. 3.

Does that sound like a management style familiar to you? (What was that phrase? “Mayberry Machiavellis”?)

Kathleen Geier
Aug 30, 2008, 5:50pm

> I doubt it’s true. Palin’s child does not look pregnant in those pictures.

Well, she didn’t look like she was in her ninth month or anything — but then again she was allegedly not that far along at the time. But to me she looked like she could have been pregnant.

Moira Whelan
Aug 30, 2008, 5:57pm

if it is true, fine: she raised the kid. The conservatives will try to give her a medal. I still think, however, that most of America would find this just plain weird. If I were the mccain campaign, I would confront Palin now, have her make a statement about how she was protecting her daughter, and let it fall into the context of a campaign. afterall, if she decided she didn’t want to put her daughter through the public scrutiny, anyone could understand that. The woman is from the sticks and didn’t even go to Juneau–let alone anywhere else–until she was in high school. Having lived in the sticks, I can attest to the fact that people make wacky decisions like this.

in the meantime, if this were my issue, I’d collect every piece of information I could find on what she’s said about unwed mothers.

I still consede, it may not be true, but I like others am waiting for the thing that makes me think that it’s BS. I’d like to think it’s bs. I’d rather not talk about this crap in an election, but I am suspiscious.

I did think it was odd at the announcement that the daughter was holding the baby and thought that it was hers…I just thought it would be the father holding the child…These are the first pictures I’ve seen of her holding the baby…and most of them are of Willow.

and I’m noticing CNN starting to run b-roll of her with the baby…a lot.

But can I also just say, the names Piper, Willow, Bristol and Trig are a bit…odd.

Adam Serwer
Aug 30, 2008, 5:59pm

A family member points out that it would be very unusual for a teenager to give birth to a kid with down syndrome.

Brad DeLong
Aug 30, 2008, 8:12pm

Which is why I think the balance of probabilities is that it is her kid–unless Trig has not Down but fetal alcohol syndrome, in which the balance shifts back the other way.


Brad DeLong

On Aug 30, 2008, at 2:59 PM, Adam wrote:

> A family member points out that it would be very unusual for a > teenager to give birth to a kid with down syndrome.

Remembaer: if Trig is Sarah Palin’s grandchild she is just doing what mothers have always Donne: protecting her daughter. In a culture of slut shaming, it is much better to have a long bout of mono and a sister young enough to be your daughter than to be a teenage slut with a baby to be shamed.

Attack McCain for picking an unvetted running mate. Attack the system of slut-shaming. Attack McCain for seeking electoral advantage by courting the slut-sjamers. But say only that the story, if true, shows credit to Sarah Palin, a strong woman embedded in a slut-shaming culture doing her best to protect her family.

Brad DeLong
Aug 30, 2008, 8:15pm

On Aug 30, 2008, at 2:57 PM, “Moira Whelan” wrote:

> if it is true, fine: she raised the kid. The conservatives will try > to give her a medal. I still think, however, that most of America > would find this just plain weird. If I were the mccain campaign, I > would confront Palin now, have her make a statement about how she > was protecting her daughter, and let it fall into the context of a > campaign. afterall, if she decided she didn’t want to put her > daughter through the public scrutiny, anyone could understand that. > The woman is from the sticks and didn’t even go to Juneau–let alone > anywhere else–until she was in high school. Having lived in the > sticks, I can attest to the fact that people make wacky decisions > like this.

I have relatives who have lived on places like Madison, Berkeley, and Boston who have made whacky decisions like that…

Brad DeLong
Aug 30, 2008, 10:13pm

Falsifying parental records is wrong. Letting your teenage daughter be shamed as a slut with a baby in a culture where slut-shaming is the norm is also wrong, when you can fix it by giving her an extended case of mono and having a near-menopause child yourself.

Yes, I think Sarah Palin should fight rather than embrace the culture. But given the culture what I see–if Trig is indeed her grandchild–is a strong woman trying to protect her family.

I grant that she also has a duty to become a strident feminist fighting the culture of slut-shaming. But what I see is wrong is her evasion of her duty to be a strident feminist advocate, rather than any falsification of parental records…

Brad DeLong

Brad DeLong
Aug 30, 2008, 10:18pm

Remember: in 1688 the Protestant Grandees of the British Parliament convinced themselves that (a) the pregnancy of the Queen had been faked, (b) an infant had been smuggled into the delivery room in a warming-pan and then falsely presented to the public as the newborn James Prince of Wales, and so (c) they had a duty to overthrow their government by force and violence and replace their King James II with
Princess Mary and William of Orange.

We *are* getting into that territory here. That Trig has trisomy 21 is powerful statistical evidence that his mother was old.

Now if it turns out that Trig really has something like fetal alcohol syndrome the balance of probabilities would be the other way, but I have no reason to suspect that…

Brad DeLong

Katha Pollitt
Aug 30, 2008, 11:22pm

One thing I don’t get: if she wasn’t pregnant, her water didn’t break, there was no risk in flying etc. Yet the water breaking and all the rest of her supposed risk taking is part of the narrative. where did it come from?

Dylan Matthews
Aug 30, 2008, 11:42pm

That’s exactly it, Katha. Her conduct on the plane – leaving a city, Dallas, with some of the best natal care anywhere for Wasilla, flying after her water breaks, staying in labor for an eight hour flight when her delivery, by virtue of her age and the baby’s Down’s, will be incredibly dangerous and need intensive care – is so grossly
irresponsible that it suggests that the baby couldn’t possibly be hers.

I understand the impulse to dismiss this as non-news. But assuming the baby is Sarah Palin’s, her conduct was the equivalent of punching herself in the stomach. It’s gross, gross negligence. I still remember when a family friend delivered her baby, knowing from the amnio that it had Down’s, and the surgeries went on for days. The baby was declared dead, revived, etc., etc. It’s a horrendous process. It was hard enough for her at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the best hospital in NE north of Boston, but doing that in Wasilla? Doing it in Wasilla when she very well could have stayed in Dallas? That offends me. That sort of thing warrants a social services call.

So I’m inclined to believe that the girl’s the daughter’s, because Palin is an absolutely wretched parent otherwise. Believing it’s the daughter is probably the most flattering possible angle here.

Avi Zenilman
Aug 30, 2008, 11:46pm

Or she could’ve just lied about the water breaking.

Rick Perlstein
Aug 30, 2008, 11:53pm

I’m new to the thread.

Remember how Eagleton went down: a reporter got a tip from someone who actually turned out (believe it or not, Nixon had nothing to do with it) to be a McGovern supporter worried he’d drag down the ticket. The reporter went to the hospital where Eagleton had allegedly been treated and said he was there to discuss Eagleton’s treatment, and an indiscreet hospital employee said something like s/he thought someone would find out about Eagleton’s mental problems (check this out; I’m
working from memory).

It’s not like an enterprising reporter couldn’t try the same thing today.

Adele Stan
Aug 30, 2008, 11:54pm

I think Schmitt has it right. If the baby is indeed Palin’s daughter’s, the truth will likely come out. However, I”m really uncomfortable with the notion that someone is a “horrible parent” because of choices — even ill-considered ones — she makes in how to handle the child’s birth. As far as I’m concerned, she’s not the parent of this child until the child is born.

As for the water breaking story, Palin had four children by the time this one was conceived, and it’s possible that this delivery went differently than the previous four, on which she likely based her decisions.

I’m not saying it’s not possible that the baby is her daughter’s child. I just think that, regardless how fishy the story is, there are all manner of explanations that could be true.

I’m intrigued, however, by Schmitt’s speculation about the oil revenues check and being Alaska-born.

Mark Thoma
Aug 31, 2008, 12:01am

Here is the table most of the estimates floating around out there are derived from (I think – this traces from Wikipedia which matches the numbers I’m seeing cited in various places).

There is a weird blip in the data at younger ages, but I not sure what to make of it…the unsmoothed rate at age 15 is the same as a 30 year old, but how the data are processed matters. See page 483, the next page has more estimates).



But this graph shows the clear association with higher ages (the white circle is the estimate referenced above that is equal to a 30 year old). Also note the vertical scaling:

Kathleen Geier
Aug 31, 2008, 1:08am

But the way to look at this is *not* to calculate the probability that a newborn has Down Syndrome, given that the mother gave birth at age 44 (or 17).

What we want to know is, of all Down Syndrome kids born in a given period, how many of them were born to 17-year old mothers, and how many were born to 44 year old mothers. A much higher *percentage* of Down Syndrome kids are born to older mothers, but so few women that old give birth that it may be the case that, in sheer numbers, there are more DS kids born to younger women (although they make up a
smaller percentage of the total births from that age group). So what we’re interested in is, in the population of DS births, how many of the births were to 17-year olds, and how many were to 44-year olds.

In the paper Mark linked to, Table 1 shows that, between 1970 and 1989 among whites, there were 9 DS kids born to 17-year old mothers in the Ohio sample, and 10 DS kids born to 44-year old mothers in that same sample. In Atlanta, there were 6 DS kids born to 17-year olds, and 4 born to 44-year olds.

Table 2 shows that, during that same period among nonwhite mothers, there were 4 DS kids born to 17-year old mothers in the Ohio sample, and 2 born to 44-year olds in that same sample. In Atlanta, there were 6 DS kids born to 17-year olds, and 1 born to 44-year olds.

The authors look at the number of DS various other ways — correcting for aborted fetuses, for example — but the bottom line is, in sheer numbers, there were more DS kids born to 17-year olds than to 44-year olds.

This proves precisely nothing about Palin. But it says if we have a baby with DS and we don’t know who the mother is, the mom is somewhat more likely to be a 17-year old than a 44-year old. At least, that’s what the figures in this paper suggest.

Brad DeLong
Aug 31, 2008, 1:29am

Touche. Nice catch…

Kathleen Geier
Aug 31, 2008, 1:37am

I don’t know if the media will actually end up investigating this story (though I read somewhere that the National Enquirer is supposed to be on the case). But whatever happens, the more I think about Palin, the more of a bad feeling I get. It seems clear she wasn’t fully vetted, and there’s a good chance that some bad stuff is going to come out about her.

Similar to what Mark Schmitt said earlier, I’d lay odds that, come November, her name will not be on the ballot. McCain is going to be wishing he’d chosen Michael Palin instead of Sarah Palin!

Mark Thoma
Aug 31, 2008, 1:39am

Yes – even with the difference in the number of births in each group, a priori I would have guessed the probability would be higher for older mothers, not that it would be about the same.

Mark Kleiman
Aug 31, 2008, 3:18am

But surely that can’t be the right statistical analysis.

Here we have one forty-four-year-old and one sixteen-year-old, one of whom (let’s assume) is the mother of a child with Down Syndrome. So it doesn’t matter how many sixteen-year-olds or 44-year-olds in the general population get pregnant. What we need to know is the probability of pregnancy for each of the two women, given whatever else we know about them, and the two conditional probabilities (trisomy given mother’s age 44 and trisomy given mother’s age 16).

Now it seems to me that the probability of pregnancy for a married woman who already has four children (and may well regard contraception as immoral) has to be at least comparable to the probability of pregnancy for an unwed sixteen-year-old in an intact middle-class family. (Even though the probability for the 16-year-old is increased in this case by the difficulty the child might experience in getting good access to contraception.)

If the probabilities of pregnancy for the two are equal, then the odds ratio for trisomy is the odds ratio for which one gave birth.


All this is independent of my view that chasing this story, even if it’s true, is morally dubious and politically misguided.

Rick Perlstein
Aug 31, 2008, 5:13am

Another Eagleton point: the part that killed Eagleton was not so much the selection of Eagleton, or even the obvious hastiness of the selection, but the bunker mentality with the press immediately after the revelation, coming from someone (McGovern) who was supposed to be a straight shooter and a candidate of openness. It undercut his core narrative. This is in NIXONLAND: Time called the McGovern campaign “mafia-like.” (The McGOVERN campaign was mafia-like!… why oh why… apologies to DeLong…)

Anyway, this could may well be the angle that most damages McCain, especially coming off his recent shutting out of the press.

Adam Serwer
Aug 31, 2008, 5:24am

but they’re not “shutting out the press” the WaPo has a front page articleregurgitating
everything McCain aides wanted to say about the pick. “Palin impressed McCain from the start”…this is mccain here, the press is happy to reprint press releases no matter what their lying eyes say.

Rick Perlstein
Aug 31, 2008, 6:18am

Re: “protecting her daughter” angle–

Obviously the Palin pick is partly to motivate the Christian door knockers, but I’d also bet that the Republicans have been looking long and hard at the stats from people like Celinda Lake about the low turnout rates and liberal issue- orientation of downscale single women, and are thinking long term about both how to block our appeal to them and to craft a Republican appeal to them. The “see how the liberals love to attack a strong woman” (or, alternately, for those for whom she DOESN’T come off as strong, “see how the liberals love to attack a vulnerable woman”) narrative around Palin would serve this purpose admirably, so again–careful when taking the bait.

Todd Gitlin
Aug 31, 2008, 11:02am

On the Stephanopoulos show, Matthew Dowd said the big test for Palin is how she reacts when a “torpedo” comes at her–an unexpected event. I take this to mean that he’s heard about the mother-daughter story. The question is going to come out.

Bob Mackey
Aug 31, 2008, 11:02am

I had a close friend in high school, who found out that his “mother” was actually his grandmother and that his real mom was his “sister”–all at the age of 25. Talk about dislocation….

Bob Mackey
Aug 31, 2008, 11:05am

I think the big issue is whether Palin used her position, authority and the tools of government to cover up a personal “shame.” When tied to the ongoing debate about the firing of the state police head when he wouldn’t fire her ex-brother in law, then we have a pattern of governmental abuse for personal gain. And I think that is the only reason that it should be discussed in a negative manner.


Bob Mackey
Aug 31, 2008, 11:16am

As I noted in another thread, the issue shouldn’t be covering up for her daughter’s “shame”–it should be 1) did she use her position and authority for personal gain/use (much like the discussed issue of the state police) and 2) did she do it less for her daughter’s protection than her protecting her own “family values” agenda and political career? These are the questions that should be asked.

Look, if McCain was 50 and in great shape, I could give a crap about who he named as VP choice. But we have an old man, whose health has been damaged by 5 years in a POW camp, who has had multiple skin cancer surgeries, and so on. From a non-partisan US citizen view, I want somebody who could walk in and ensure that the country is safe is anything happened. Hell, Libermann would have been a better choice from that perspective. At least he has experience and can find Eastern Market for Sunday brunch.

The world is a pretty messed up place right now, thanks to the last 8 years of stellar leadership. Al Qaeda is still out there, Pakistan is falling apart, Iran and Russia are getting very cozy right now, and the economy is in the toilet. A lot of women could have handled the job (from HRC on our side, to Kay Bailey and Liz Dole on the other) a hell of a lot better than the 1 term governor from a state on the periphery (and one that prides itself in being nothing like “the lower 48”) who may have a whole bevy of
ethical issues.


Michael Tomasky
Aug 31, 2008, 5:32pm

There’s an old old country song that you learn if you grow up in West Virginia called “I’m My Own Grandpa.”


Rodger Payne
Aug 31, 2008, 11:50pm

I think she could be 5.5 months pregnant in that video.


Shannon Brownlee
Sept 1, 2008, 7:58am

I’m with Ezra on this — there’s no good outcome to going after this story, and all of the conjecture about why Palin waited until her 7th month to announce (at 44 I might have done the same) and the photos of the daughter (she doesn’t look pregnant either) and who’s more likely to have a Down’s Syndrome child is a distraction from what really matters: This woman has almost no experience and extremist views on many fronts. Americans should be afraid of a McCain-Palin White House and the possibility of her having to step in as president. So we should be sowing fear.

Shannon Brownlee
Sept 1, 2008, 8:08am

Katha’s point is that while some might find it reprehensible to raise a grandchild as your own, many if not most American’s don’t share that view. If the point of investigating this is to discredit Palin and show her up as an unfit mother and therefore unfit VP, the story may backfire. She comes out looking like a heroine not a villain.

Shannon Brownlee
Sept 1, 2008, 8:29am

No kidding, none of our business. If we don’t want conservatives telling women what do their pregnancies, how come it’s OK for the press to go digging into the very personal question of when Sarah Palin decides to announce a pregnancy and whether she was a bad mommy for eating king crab? I find it hard to see how acting like the
pregnancy police will serve the cause of keeping this woman out of the White House.

John Blevins
Sept 1, 2008, 8:35am

I don’t think anyone here is talking about running with it. We’re privately airing out curiosities.

I think Mark S wrote it earlier — it matters b/c if this is true, she’s off the ticket and the election is probably over. That’s not b/c people will be outraged, but b/c (1) it discredits McCain and his vetting; (2) it makes her look like a weirdo; (3) it will become an object of national ridicule (e.g., Letterman, Leno, SNL, etc.).

Maybe this is all unjustified normatively, but this will be an enormous story if true — it’s just the type of tabloidy story that the public will eat up, low-information voters especially.

Moira Whelan
Sept 1, 2008, 8:49am

I dont think anyone from this list is running with it, but as I see it, the task is to set the frame that the Palin pick showed bad judgment on McCain’s part. That way when/if it does pop, it gets into that meme without people having to express outrage.

Shannon Brownlee
Sept 1, 2008, 8:50am


I don’t know if I would want to win or lose such a bet. On the one hand I see her as a liability to McCain’s campaign. On the other hand, the thought of them winning in November and then him dying in office is very scary. On yet another hand (OK, I’ve run out of hands), maybe he looks even worse if she’s bumped off the ticket — he can’t even run a campaign and choose a decent VP. So I’ll take your bet, but I have no idea if I hope to win or lose.

Shannon Brownlee
Sept 1, 2008, 11:30am

You don’t ahve to be Alaska-born to recieve your permanent fund check — you just hav eto show your primary residence is AK and you live there a certain number of weeks a year.

Shannon Brownlee
Sept 1, 2008, 11:32am

I don’t know, there might be a tiny “baby bump” there . . .

Shannon Brownlee
Sept 1, 2008, 11:33am

“audacity of dope” gets my vote for best line in the thread!

Spencer Ackerman
Sept 1, 2008, 11:34am


Shannon Brownlee
Sept 1, 2008, 11:37am

can your water break and not have it be a big gush?

Shannon Brownlee
Sept 1, 2008, 11:40am

Just because it is less likely for a 16-year-old t give birth to a baby with DS doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

Maggie Mahar
Sept 1 2008, 11:50am


Her age and the fact that the baby has Downs does not mean that the birth will be “incredibly dangerous” or the the baby will need intensive care.

Downs babies rarely need ICU. And women in their early 40s have babies all of the time.

Brad DeLong
Sept 1, 2008, 11:57am

Yes–if the baby is head-down near the bottom of the uterus…


Brad DeLong

Katha Pollitt
Sept 1, 2008, 12:02pm

I think people are making very narrow harsh judgments about behavior and decisions while pregnant that are not all that unusual. A lot of things look worse on paper than they do in real life. Sarah Palin had been pregnant and delivered four times before Trig. What looks to some j-listers like wild irresponsibility bordering on criminal insanity may have just been her belief that she knew how her body worked and how much time she had before going into full delivery mode. And, if it was her baby, she was right! she didn’t give birth on the plane etc.