Prime Time Focus on Palin's Deficiencies, Couric: She's a 'Turnoff'

Sarah Palin's presumed lack of qualifications and the assumed failure of the McCain campaign to adequately vet her consumed much of the ABC, CBS and NBC prime time hour Tuesday on the Republican convention. CBS's Katie Couric was the most aggressive. A flustered Couric demanded to know from McCain adviser Steve Schmidt how anyone could possibly “compare” Palin's public service with the more experienced Obama: “How can you compare those two?”

When Tim Pawlenty later made the same assertion, Couric shot back: “Well, that’s according to Republican talking points.” She also contended questions about Palin “call into question the vetting process” as she complained: “Why are these kind of things coming out in kind of a drip, drip, drip fashion?” With Pawlenty, Couric, who last week never wondered if the liberal ticket would dissuade anyone, portrayed Palin as some sort of alien creature:

She is against abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. She wants creationism taught in schools. Do you worry that her selection might be a turnoff to some wavering Democrats and independents who might consider supporting John McCain?
ABC devoted an entire segment to its panel of Diane Sawyer, Charles Gibson, George Stephanopoulos, Matthew Dowd and Tori Clarke speculating about bad vetting and Palin undermining a McCain theme. Gibson proposed: “There were signs all over Denver, put up by Republicans, saying 'Not Ready '08.' Have they totally throw that argument away? And do they regret losing it, do you think?” Dowd confirmed: “I think they've totally thrown it away...”

NBC reporters pressed interviewees to say whether they really saw Palin as the “best pick.” Sitting with First Lady Laura Bush, Brian Williams wondered: “Do you think she's the best pick for Senator McCain, as they say, to be a heartbeat away from the presidency?” Williams also raised Palin's family issue, citing: “People who might react negatively to some of the news coming out, her daughter is about to become a teenage mother.”

“There are a lot of empty seats all around,” Ann Curry felt compelled to highlight at the very end of NBC's hour:
Just judging from the din we're hearing on the floor with the speech by Joe Lieberman coming after the speech by Fred Thompson this convention, despite being delayed by Hurricane Gustav, is now brought to life. We do want to point out that if you look around the arena there are a lot of empty seats all around, but we don't expect that to be the case tomorrow night when the Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin is scheduled to speak, Brian.
Back to Couric, she pressed McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt:
She hired someone, when she was mayor of Wasilla, to get a lot of money for her town -- I think $27 million, the Washington Post reported. So how does that square with John McCain's philosophy and sort of persona as this maverick reformer?
Just as last week with the Democrats, ABC, CBS and NBC on Tuesday night showed highlights from pre-10 PM EDT and then most of the speech time from the 10 PM hour. All three networks began their 10 PM EDT/9 PM CDT hours with a re-play of President Bush's speech from the White House, or a delayed broadcast of it. Noteworthy coverage differences:
- NBC's version of Bush featured awkward pauses as he waited for the applause to end, but NBC aired no applause sound. Afterward, Brian Williams blamed technical problems from merging arena video and sound, but ABC and CBS managed to run Bush with arena reaction audio.

- All three cut in and out of Fred Thompson (both live and delayed video) to go to panel discussions and interviews.

- Only ABC did not carry all of Joe Lieberman as ABC carried much of Thompson on delay (more of Thompson than CBS or NBC viewers got), which did not end until two minutes after Lieberman had begun. But then ABC went to an ad break before joining Lieberman in progress. And instead of staying with Lieberman until almost exactly 11 PM EDT when he finished as did CBS and NBC, ABC cut out five minutes early to go to analysis and to show protesters getting tear-gassed outside the building.
From NBC's 10 PM EDT prime time hour:

Williams to Laura Bush:
- People who might react negatively to some of the news coming out, her daughter is about to become a teenage mother. Your view on what you've learned about her in the last few days.

- The other side is also coming after her on the merits countering the executive experience point by pointing out she was the mayor of a very, very small town and Alaska's relative population.

- Do you think she's the best pick for Senator McCain, as they say, to be a heartbeat away from the presidency?
Ron Allen, on the floor, to Senator Olympia Snowe:
A lot of people look at her background and experience and they see a Governor in her first term, they see a Mayor of a small town in Alaska and they wonder was she really the best choice? Is she really prepared? What do you say to those people who have those concerns?
Highlights from CBS's September 2 hour, as collated by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:

Segment with Senator Lindsey Graham and McCain adviser Steve Schmidt:
KATIE COURIC, REACTING TO SCHMIDT'S ASSERTION PALIN HAS MORE EXPERIENCE THAN OBAMA: So you don't think that Barack Obama's experience as a state senator for eight years and then a U.S. Senator for four years -- how can you compare those two?

STEVE SCHMIDT: Barack Obama was in the United States Senate for one year before he took off -- and Senator Graham will talk about that -- to run for President full time. When he was a state senator, he had no executive decisions. And 130 times, tough votes, he took a pass and voted present. Leaders have to make decisions. Governor Palin makes decisions.

COURIC: So do you think, Senator Graham, governors are better leaders than senators?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think governors, [LAUGHS], having been in the Senate, probably. Governor Palin, I think, really compliments what John wants to do. John has looked at Washington as broken, and it’s not something new to him. I was one of 14 senators who voted against the “Bridge to Nowhere.” I was scared because I knew what was going to come my way. The governor of Alaska said no to the project.

COURIC: But didn't she initially say yes to the project?

GRAHAM: Yeah.

COURIC: So doesn't that kind of drive a hole into that argument?

GRAHAM: I think, I have earmarked, I confess on national TV. This has been a journey for Alaska and the country. She’s seen what’s happened in Alaska. John’s seen what is happening in Washington. If you wanted to pick somebody that had a record of change, and would tell their own party things they didn’t want to hear, she’s the best pick John could have made. She’s a lot like John.

COURIC: But she did have a change of heart on that “Bridge to Nowhere,” correct? I mean, let’s just set the record straight.

SCHMIDT: She did. And let's be clear, she killed it at the end of the day. It’s okay-

COURIC: After initially supporting it, that's all, I think we should set the record straight on that.

SCHMIDT: There’s no question that that’s the case, but she killed that bridge, a $230 million bridge to an island with 50 people, one of the great taxpayer ripoffs of all time, and the American people have Governor Palin to thank for killing it.

GRAHAM: If I could say, Katie, Alaska is in turmoil politically. This has caught up with the people of Alaska. They’ve got a lot of political problems on their hands, and America has caught up with the Congress, and people are frustrated. They’re ready to do something different. And Senator Obama hasn't done a whole lot different since I’ve been around.

COURIC: Let me ask you guys, you mentioned, Steve, all the allegations and some are scurrilous, some, though, questioned her readiness and some of the things that she has done politically which seem to me to be fair game.

SCHMIDT: Sure.

COURIC: I mean, aren't those legitimate criticisms, and don't they call into question the vetting process, which obviously you were a very important part of? But some people wonder, why are these kind of things coming out in kind of a drip, drip, drip fashion?

SCHMIDT: Well, let's talk about what’s coming out. The fact that her husband had a DWI 24 years ago when he was 22 years old. Senator McCain thinks that’s nonsense, that’s not a disqualifier for a Vice President of the United States. We knew that her daughter was going to have a child. Senator McCain offered his love and support for their family. That doesn't disqualify this exceptional leader, and the American people, I think, will angrily reject it. Today, Katie, I’ve been asked questions that are outrageous by the national media. I’ve been asked questions about when her amniotic fluid started to leak with regard to her last birth. I was asked whether we would make the genetic tests available because she had a Down's Syndrome child. Members of this campaign went to off-the-record lunches with reporters today, and they were asked if she would do paternity tests to prove paternity for her last child. Smear after smear after smear, and it’s disgraceful, and it’s wrong, and the American people are going to reject it overwhelmingly when they see her tomorrow.

COURIC: Let me ask you, though, both of you, a couple of questions that I hope you’ll deem legitimate.

SCHMIDT: Sure.

COURIC: And that is that she raised sales taxes as mayor, which seems to be against John McCain's philosophy, and that she personally lobbied for some very sizable earmarks. You addressed that briefly. But, you know, she hired someone, when she was mayor of Wasilla, to get a lot of money for her town – I think $27 million, the Washington Post reported. So how does that square with John McCain's philosophy and sort of persona as this maverick reformer?

SCHMIDT: You know, Senator Obama has attacked that experience that she was a mayor, degraded it. She’s a governor today. But when she was a mayor, she fought for her city, and she did everything she could to make that city a better place, and there are stories in the paper about how much that city grew and developed during her tenure as mayor. She was an effective leader, served on the PTA, and she became the governor. She’s going to join John McCain in vetoing every earmark project that comes in a spending bill and stop this outrageous spending in Washington, D.C. She raised sales taxes. That was the right thing to do for that town at that time. It shows that she doesn't adhere to a dogmatic principle. We have to have taxes in the country. Here’s the difference: Senator Obama wants to raise everybody's federal taxes, Governor Palin, Senator McCain are going to cut them.
Couric with Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty:
COURIC: I know you’re an evangelical Christian. To what extent do you think Sarah Palin, the choice of Sarah Palin has energized the Republican base?

GOVERNOR TIM PAWLENTY (R-MN): Well, I think she, on a whole range of issues, has energized the Republican base, and you can see that in terms of increased donations and energy and enthusiasm, so I think she’s hit a home run with the Republican base.

COURIC: But she is against abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. She wants creationism taught in schools. Do you worry that her selection might be a turnoff to some wavering Democrats and independents who might consider supporting John McCain?

PAWLENTY: Well, I think your question from before the break was the right one, which is, if you’re voting only on the abortion issue from a pro-abortion standpoint, you probably weren't voting for John McCain to begin with. But from a whole range of other perspectives on other issues, I think women, in terms of who are worried about breaking through that glass ceiling, are going to look at her life story and relate to her life story in ways that go beyond just the abortion issue.

COURIC: And you think her story will trump experience?

PAWLENTY: I think her story is, in part, experience. She’s got more experience, as you know, than Barack Obama, so I don't think that’s going to be a strong argument.

COURIC: Well, that’s according to Republican talking points. I think the Democrats would disagree with that.

PAWLENTY: Well, Katie, I think it’s also a fact. She’s been the governor of a state, she’s been a mayor. In terms of executive experience, it’s just a matter of fact that she has more than Senator Obama.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center