What if John Edwards were Sarah Palin? Edwards was a Democratic candidate for vice president of the United States in 2004, and ran for president in 2008. He was brought down by a sex scandal. Can you imagine how the media would have covered the scandal had it not been Edwards, but Sarah Palin?
ABC News has helpfully provided a timeline for the Edwards scandal, and I thought it would be interesting to adapt it to Sarah Palin. I changed the names and the years to fit Palin’s life; that is to say, Edwards was the VP nominee in 2004, and Palin in 2008, so I simply moved the time frame forward four years as I replaced the names.
I’ve also added some speculation about how the media would react.
Nov. 3, 2008: Sarah Palin’s husband Todd is diagnosed with cancer. His cancer later goes into remission.
2010: Sarah Palin meets Rob Hunter, a self-described filmmaker, at a bar in New York City.
Aug. 2, 2010: “Plain Truth,” the first of a series of Web documentaries, or “webisodes,” chronicling Palin’s course on the campaign trail — produced by the newly hired Hunter and commissioned by Palin’s political action committee — is taped.
Aug. 4, 2010: The second webisode, “Golden Rule,” is taped.
Late September to early October 2010: “Drill Baby Drill” episode taped in Anchorage, Alaska.
Nov. 14, 2010: The fourth webisode, “Sarah 2008,” is taped in New York City and airs on Fox.
Dec. 28, 2010: Palin announces that she will run for president in 2012.
Early 2011: The webisodes are removed from Palin’s Web site. The Daily Kos, ABC’s “The Note,” Politico and The New York Times begin to investigate why the videos were removed. Rachel Maddow dedicates a segment of her show to the “mystery,” with guests Ana Marie Cox and Jonathan Capehart.
March 22, 2011: Todd Palin announces during a news conference in Wasilla, Alaska that his cancer has returned and, while it is treatable, it is incurable.
June 12, 2011: Palin announces that she is pregnant. It dominates the news cycle for four days.
Oct. 10, 2011: The National Enquirer reports that Palin had an affair with a former campaign staffer. The publication doesn’t mention Rob Hunter by name or its source for the information. Immediately, the Inquirer reporter who broke the story is booked on every major news show. The Washington Post and New York Times each send a platoon of researchers and private investigators to find Palin’s lover. MSNBC launches “The Palin Affair,” with every show dedicated to the breaking scandal. CNN debuts a new show, “The Sarah Chronicles,” which is dedicated to covering the Palins. It is hosted by Keith Olbermann. Bill Maher calls Palin “a skanky hypocrite” on “Real Time.”
Oct. 11, 2011: Palin denies having an affair to reporters in Anchorage. “The story is false,” Palin says, according to The Associated Press. “It’s completely untrue, ridiculous. … I’ve been in love with the same man for 30-plus years, and as anybody who’s been around us knows, he’s an extraordinary human being; warm, loving, beautiful, sexy and as good a person as I have ever known.”
Dec. 19, 2011: The National Enquirer publishes a photograph of Rob Hunter that shows him buying diapers.
Jan. 30, 2012: Palin announces that she is suspending her campaign. The news dominates the new cycle for a week. Frank Rich begins work on a book about the Palins.
Feb. 27, 2012: Palin’s daughter, Frances Ratt Palin, is born in Santa Barbara, Calif. The name of the child’s father is left off the birth certificate. On his blog, Andrew Sullivan writes, “The conservative movement had just committed suicide. The party of Reagan and Buckley has hitched its wagon to a sick, demented, disturbed and psychotic person who belongs in a hospital. I mean, this was done while her spouse was being treated for cancer.” Maureen Dowd writes a column, “The Vainglorious Vamp.”
July 21, 2012: The National Enquirer reports that Palin visited Hunter at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel. A theme begins to emerge in the media: if Palin did indeed have this affair, it could end the Republican Party. “In a moment of desperation,” Chris Matthews wails, “The Republican Party drafted a cheerleader, a pretty face with nothing behind it. I gotta tell you, if this thing is going where people think it is, the right wing may never recover.” On “Morning Joe,” Arianna Huffington announces, “The conservative movement and the Republican Party has just rendered itself an unserious political entity.”
Aug. 8, 2012: Palin admits to ABC News’ Bob Woodruff that she had an extramarital affair but says Hunter is not the father of her baby. She adds that she told her family about her relationship with Hunter in 2010 and made a point of telling Woodruff that her husband’s cancer was in remission when she began the affair with Hunter. Symposia are held at major universities and the Annenberg School. The Washington Post’s “Outlook” section asks, “Is Palin the End of Conservatism?” Palin becomes a running gag on every late-night talk show. HBO begins production on a miniseries. The Republican candidates for president cannot escape questions about the former governor. ‘This is not some small thing,” Katie Couric says to Mitt Romney. “This is a person who was almost the vice president of this country. This is a person who until very recently was running for president. With all due respect, sir, what does it say about the modern Republican Party that they were so careless about this choice? I mean, were they just looking for a pretty face?”
May 7, 2013: Todd Palin appears on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to talk about his book, “Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities.” In the interview, he addresses his wife’s affair but doesn’t use Rob Hunter’s name. Palin says she doesn’t know whether her husband is the father of the baby. “I’ve seen a picture of the baby,” Palin says. “I have no idea. It doesn’t look like my children, but I don’t have any idea.”
Aug. 6, 2013: Rob Hunter testifies in a federal courthouse in Anchorage, before a grand jury investigating Palin’s campaign finances. Palin’s political action committee wrote a check for more than $100,000 to Hunter’s filmmaking company, campaign finance records show. The New York Times declares, “This is the end of conservatism.” “Palingate: How the Right Wing Destroyed Itself,” a book by Frank Rich, becomes a bestseller. Mitt Romney cannot escape questions about the issue and its larger meaning for conservatives. Ed Schultz calls for disbanding the tea party. Planned Parenthood sends out blast emails calling for Palin to reject the pro-life position: “Her rabid far-right stance on this issue wound up killing her political career.”
Jan. 21, 2014: Palin admits that Hunter is the father of her daughter. “It was wrong for me ever to deny she was my daughter, and, hopefully, one day, when she understands, she will forgive me,” her statement says. It is on the front page of every newspaper in the world. The National Press Club hosts an all-day symposium on “The Palin Problem.” Three Hollywood movies about the scandal go into production.
Jun. 3, 2014: Palin is indicted in connection with the massive amounts she spent trying to outrun the story and keep the father of her child in hiding. The case of USA v. Sarah Palin contains six counts, including one count of conspiracy, four counts of making illegal campaign contributions and one count of making false statements. The New York Times editorializes that “it will take the Republican Party decades to repair what has happened here. This troubled person, Sarah Palin, could have been the president. But this is also bigger than party politics. This is a tragedy for America.”
Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.