Thursday, April 14, 2011
The Born Insecurity
There's a minor amount of controversy suddenly inching its way toward the front burner of the media's consciousness again following the release of a research paper penned by a journalism professor at Northern Kentucky University. The topic: the conspiracy theory surrounding the birth of Sarah Palin's son, Trig.
For the uninitiated, back in 2008, not long after she was thrust into the spotlight by a desperate and cynically opportunistic John McCain, rumors began circulating that Trig wasn't actually Palin's son and was, instead, her grandson -- with Palin's unwed teenage daughter Bristol being the real mother and Palin stepping in to clandestinely cover for her. The story got a little traction, but it didn't take much time for just about everyone with a reputation worth protecting, including then presidential candidate Barack Obama, to declare the rumor beneath them.
And that's what Dr. Bradford W. Scharlott is now asking questions about.
Scharlott's paper doesn't focus on whether Palin perpetrated a hoax on the American public as much as it tries to understand why the media made the collective decision not to pursue the story, despite, he claims, there being enough discrepancies in the official version to at least make it worth a couple of phone calls. In other words, Scharlott wants to know why the press considered the Palin conspiracy theory off-limits while it continues to indulge those who cling to the thoroughly debunked myth that the President of the United States wasn't actually born in the United States.
Admittedly, the details of Trig Palin's birth -- the time leading up to and immediately following it and Sarah Palin's behavior and appearance during the whole thing -- are a bit curious. Is there anything in there that constitutes proof that Palin and her clan engineered, as Andrew Sullivan once wrote, "one of the biggest frauds in American political history?" No, there isn't. As with all conspiracy theories -- from the birther nonsense to the absurd claims of the 9/11 truthers -- a strange coincidence or two here and an appearance of impropriety there doesn't equal actual evidence. But is Scharlott right in claiming that the media dropped the ball when it summarily dismissed the story as being without merit? Yes, he is.
There are likely several reasons why the Palin-Trig "cover-up" didn't dominate news cycle after news cycle the way, say, the Obama birther garbage continues to.
First of all, at the time the rumor first began circulating, Palin was nowhere near the cultural force of nature she would eventually become; despite the fact that she was running for the second highest office in the land, she was still considered an anomaly and therefore hadn't racked up the long line of political and societal enemies willing to push hard to see her brought down by scandal. Compare that with President Obama, who, since he first secured the nomination, has been the target of a seemingly endless parade of shit-scared, white middle-American Christian xenophobes for whom his ascendancy represents nothing less than the loss of their country. These people keep the myth of an illegitimate Obama alive and well and refuse to take no for an answer -- and they're lent both deference and a bullhorn by media outlets like Fox News and talk radio, and by otherwise reasonable lawmakers willing to pander to them in the name of votes.
Also working against any investigation of the alleged hoax: the press's own fear of being tagged with the dreaded "liberal bias" label and the desire of liberals themselves to not be seen as willing to attack a child, or a candidate's family. Mainstream liberals often value their intellects and supposed compassion to a fault, which means that they'd rather be viewed as being above the pursuit of a petty scandal than be known as the ones who jumped neck deep into the mud just to get a scalp. While some on the right are so desperate to derail Obama that they'll go to any length, believe any negative implication, perpetuate any unfounded rumor, most on the left are still in possession of a modicum of shame and good sense and understand the enormous risk involved in going too far out on a limb in trying to ruin a political figure -- and let's face it, a false accusation of this particular magnitude could constitute an Extinction Level Event for anyone who makes it.
But don't think for a second that Sarah Palin isn't aware of every one of these little loopholes and hasn't exploited them when trying to dodge this would-be scandal and a host of others.
So is she Trig's mother or grandmother? Well, unless somebody has concrete proof to the contrary, it's the former -- and that's the end of the debate. But in the same way that the press was forced to verify Obama's birth history (which it did) just to appease the most conspiracy minded (which it didn't), maybe it should have been willing to give Sarah Palin the same consideration, or lack thereof.
Ironic how all she'd have to do to put this "controversy" to rest is -- produce the birth certificate.