Couric Patronizingly Challenges & Lectures Palin, Had Coddled Biden

In her day-on-the-campaign-trail stories about the VP candidates, Katie Couric didn't even try to deliver equal treatment. Last week, after her piece on her day with Joe Biden, I outlined what she must do to be consistent with Palin this week. She failed. Unlike with Biden on September 22, in the “Sarah Palin: Behind the Scenes” story on Tuesday's CBS Evening News, Couric declared a McCain-Palin policy position “misleading,” deliberately highlighted a policy disagreement between the two (drilling in ANWR), condescendingly demanded that Palin list the names of newspapers she read in Alaska and then treated Palin's conservative views as alien and thus in need of explanation -- pressing her on whether she agrees global warming is “man-made,” hitting her repeatedly on whether it should be illegal for a 15-year-old rape or incest victim to get an abortion or the “morning-after” pill and requiring she offer her position on teaching evolution.

Couric asserted that “it will take about ten years for domestic drilling to have an impact on consumers,” before accusing Palin: “So isn't the notion of 'drill, baby, drill' a little misleading to people who think this will automatically lower their gas prices?” On how Palin is an ill-informed dolt: “What newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?” Couric wouldn't let go: “Like what ones specifically?” and “Can you name a few?” [UPDATED below with how growing up Palin “consumed newspapers with a passion.”]

Jumping to social issues, as the two sat on the campaign bus, Couric insisted Palin reiterate how she adheres to views Couric framed as extreme:
♦ If a 15-year-old is raped by her father, do you believe it should be illegal for her to get an abortion? Why?...But ideally, you think it should be illegal for a girl who was raped or the victim of incest to get an abortion?

♦ You don't believe in the morning-after pill?...I'm sorry, I just want to ask you again. Do you condone or condemn the morning-after pill?

♦ Do you believe evolution should be taught as an accepted scientific principle or one of several theories?

(UPDATE: As for Palin's newspaper reading habits, Kaylene Johnson's biography, 'Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska's Political Establishment Upside Down,' recounts on page 21:

From the time she was in elementary school, she consumed newspapers with a passion. “She read the paper from the very top left-hand corner to the bottom right corner to the very last page,” said Molly [Sarah's younger sister]. “She didn't want to miss a word. She didn't just read it -- she knew every word she had read and analyzed it.” )

Earlier in the piece, Couric had wondered: “Do you consider yourself a feminist?”

Biden faced no such onslaught of demands for his views on contentious issues, even though few viewers know where he stands on such issues as partial-birth abortion, allowing minors to have abortions without parental notification, or same-sex marriage.

Instead, Couric had hailed him in a way she did not with Palin: “He's the close-talking, free-wheeling, ice-cream eating Democratic nominee for Vice President. Senator Joe Biden isn't holding back.”

Couric's obsession with Palin's social issue views matched what ABC's Charles Gibson pursued with Palin three weeks ago. My September 12 NewsBusters item recounted:

He ran through several social issues -- from abortion to guns -- forcing her to state positions Gibson certainly realized would cement her to ideologically conservative positions seen as extreme by many of his viewers....

# "Roe v. Wade, do you think it should be reversed?...John McCain would allow abortion in cases of rape and incest. Do you believe in it only in the case where the life of the mother is in danger?...Would you change and accept it in rape and incest?"

# Embryonic stem cell research, John McCain has been supportive of it.
# Homosexuality, genetic or learned?
# Guns: 70 percent of this country supports a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons. Do you?
My September 22 NewsBusters posting, “Couric Has Cushy Chat with Biden, Will She Be as Warm with Palin?” proposed:
If Katie Couric is to be consistent and treat Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin...as gently as she did Democratic VP nominee Joe Biden in her day with him Thursday in Ohio which became a story on the Monday night CBS Evening News, she will (Couric quotes from the Biden story in the parentheses):
Amongst the disparate aspects of the two “Behind the Scenes”/on-the-campaign-trail stories, based on my list and so not counting the most obvious lack of any tough policy questions to Biden:
# Hail her outspokenness: ("You say what's on your mind and I think people appreciate that.") COURIC WITH PALIN: No such praise.

# Ignore obvious factual/historical flubs: (Biden: "When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on television...") FDR was not in office at the time of the 1929 crash and his "fireside chats" were on the radio. COURIC WITH PALIN: She corrected Palin on the supposed payoff to off-shore drilling and repeatedly followed up when she didn't get the answer she wanted.

# Relay as reality positive campaign spin about her attributes: ("Relating to the fears of the average American is one of Biden's strong suits.") COURIC WITH PALIN: No such equivalent connection made to the concerns of average Americans as Couric, instead, pushed Palin to espouse her presumed less-popular social views.

# Cue up campaign rally attendees to praise her: ("What was it about what he said that really resonated with you in particular?" Answers: "I think he expressed what most working Americans feel at the moment. He seems to relate to our pain." and "I want him in office because I believe he will do things for women.")

COURIC WITH PALIN: In about the only positive portion of the fairly lengthy eight-minute-plus story, Couric touted: “Speaking of energy, Palin has brought plenty of it to the campaign trail, attracting huge, enthusiastic crowds, like this one at Capital University.” Viewers then heard from an excited woman in the crowd: “I strongly support McCain, but I love Governor Palin!” Even here however, Biden made out better: He got three glowing soundbites from attendees in the crowd which Couric set up: “What was it about what he said that really resonated with you in particular?”

Couric also cited how “her trademark feistiness is on display as she delivers a punchy soundbite about her rival, Joe Biden” (“I've been hearing about his Senate speeches since I was in, like, second grade”), but Couric turned that into a negative: “You have a 72-year-old running mate, is that kind of a risky thing to say, insinuating that Joe Biden's been around a while?”

# Empathize with the challenge she faces at the upcoming debate: ("Are you worried you're going to have to pull your punches a bit because of her gender and you don't want to seem like you're bullying her? It's a different dynamic when it's a male/female thing, isn't it?") COURIC WITH PALIN: Didn't empathize with Palin's debate challenge.

# Not apply any ideological label: ("We decided to take a closer look at the 65-year-old Senator from Delaware.") COURIC WITH PALIN: Here Couric was balanced as she did not apply an ideological tag to Palin.
Tuesday's CBS Evening News report followed a just as slanted preview on Monday. My September 29 article, “Couric Badgers Palin on Pakistan; Had Cued Up Biden on Economy,” recounted:
On Monday night's CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric announced her day "on the campaign trail with Governor Palin" won't air until Tuesday, but CBS still made room for an excerpt of her time Monday in Ohio with Sarah Palin and John McCain in which Couric repeatedly pressed the two about an overheard comment Palin made Saturday about Pakistan, badgering them with five follow-ups before moving on to Palin's "reaction" to criticism of her answers during her previous Couric session. But a week-and-half-ago, when Couric's day on the campaign trail story with Joe Biden was delayed by news on the financial front, CBS ran video of Couric cuing up Biden on what he and Obama would do to resolve the crisis followed by one challenging question with no follow-up.
Now to the Tuesday story:

The “Katie Couric Reports, Sarah Palin: Behind the Scenes” segment on the September 30 CBS Evening News (CBSNews.com transcript and video, which does not match what is below since the posted transcript includes portions not aired, the text below reflects corrections to that transcript and also includes a few exchanges aired but not in the CBS transcript):
KATIE COURIC: The vice presidential candidates hold their one and only debate this Thursday night in St. Louis. Joe Biden and Sarah Palin spent part of this day preparing -- separately, of course. Now, before that debate prep, I spent some time with Governor Palin out on the campaign trail. And in an exclusive interview, she spoke frankly about a number of controversial issues -- including at least one disagreement she has with Senator McCain.

The day began early. After being briefed by her staff, Sarah Palin heads out with her 14-year-old daughter, Willow, in tow.

COURIC TO WILLOW: So nice to meet you too. I didn't realize you were going to be coming along. That's exciting. Are you having a good time with all this?

WILLOW PALIN: It's so fun.

COURIC: Is it really?

WILLOW PALIN: I love it.

COURIC: 8 a.m., she hits the ground running.

COURIC TO SARAH PALIN: Do you have any down-time, though? Do you ever feel like you can actually-

SARAH PALIN: I get to go running every day, which is my sanity. Sweat is my sanity.

COURIC: First, a photo-op with hotel staff. Then it's off to the McCain campaign plane, where we were invited up front to ask a handful of questions.
COURIC TO PALIN: Do you consider yourself a feminist?

PALIN: I do. I'm a feminist who believes in equal rights and I believe that women certainly today have every opportunity that a man has to succeed, and to try to do it all, anyway. And I'm very, very thankful that I've been brought up in a family where gender hasn't been an issue. You know, I've been expected to do everything growing up that the boys were doing. We were out chopping wood and we were out hunting and fishing and filling our freezer with good wild Alaskan game to feed our family. So it kinda started with that.

COURIC: In Columbus, Ohio, the candidates sat down with me for their first joint interview, where we focused on energy policy, specifically, off-shore drilling.

COURIC: Governor Palin, it will take about ten years for domestic drilling to have an impact on consumers. So isn't the notion of "drill, baby, drill" a little misleading to people who think this will automatically lower their gas prices, and quickly?

PALIN: We should have started ten years ago tapping into domestic supplies that America is so rich in. Alaska has billions of barrels of oil and hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of clean, green natural gas onshore and off-shore. Should have started doing it ten years ago, but better late than never. It's gotta be an all-of-the-above approach to energy independence.

COURIC: I know you'd like to see drilling take place in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Senator McCain, you oppose this. You call it, quote: "one of the most pristine and beautiful parts of the world." Who's right?

McCAIN: Did you expect two mavericks to agree on, to agree on everything? We just have, we'll be talking more and more about this issue. But for us to agree on everything would make us, I think, a little bit boring and we're anything -- You can say a lot about us, but we're anything but boring.

COURIC: Speaking of energy, Palin has brought plenty of it to the campaign trail, attracting huge, enthusiastic crowds, like this one at Capital University.

WOMAN IN CROWD: I strongly support McCain, but I love Governor Palin.

COURIC: Her trademark feistiness is on display as she delivers a punchy soundbite about her rival, Joe Biden.

PALIN, ON STAGE: I've been hearing about his Senate speeches since I was in, like, second grade.

COURIC TO PALIN: You have a 72-year-old running mate, is that kind of a risky thing to say, insinuating that Joe Biden's been around a while?

PALIN: Oh no, it's nothing negative at all. He's got a lot of experience and just stating the fact there, that we've been hearing his speeches for all these years. So he's got a tremendous amount of experience and, you know, I'm the new energy, the new face, the new ideas and he's got the experience.

COURIC TO PALIN: And when it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?

PALIN: I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.

COURIC: Like what ones specifically, I'm curious that you-?

PALIN: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years.

COURIC: Can you name a few?

PALIN: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn't a foreign country, where it's kind of suggested it seems like, "Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking and doing when you live up there in Alaska?" Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.

COURIC: Our conversation continued aboard the campaign bus.

COURIC TO PALIN: What's your position on global warming? Do you believe it's man-made or not?

PALIN: Well, we're the only Arctic state, of course, Alaska. So we feel the impacts more than any other state up there with the changes in climate and certainly it is apparent. We have erosion issues and we have melting sea ice, of course. So, what I've done up there is form a sub-cabinet to focus solely on climate change. Understanding that it is real and-

COURIC: Is it man-made, though in your view?

PALIN: You know there are man's activities that can be contributed to the issues that we're dealing with now, with these impacts. I'm not going to solely blame all of man's activities on changes in climate because the world's weather patterns are cyclical and over history we have seen change there. But kind of doesn't matter at this point, as we debate what caused it. The point is: it's real; we need to do something about it.

COURIC: We also talked about her positions on a number of social issues.

COURIC TO PALIN: If a 15-year-old is raped by her father, do you believe it should be illegal for her to get an abortion? Why?

PALIN: I am pro-life and I'm unapologetic about my position there that I am pro-life. And I understand good people on both sides of the abortion debate. Now, I would counsel to choose life. I would like to see a culture of life in this country. But I would also like to see, taking it one step further, not just saying I am pro-life and I want fewer and fewer abortions in this country, but I want then those women who find themselves in circumstances that are absolutely less than ideal, for them to be supported, for adoptions to be made easier.

COURIC: But ideally, you think it should be illegal for a girl who was raped or the victim of incest to get an abortion?

PALIN: I'm saying that, personally, I would counsel that person to choose life, despite horrific, horrific circumstances that this person would find themselves in. And, if you're asking, though, kind of foundationally here, should anyone end up in jail for having had an abortion, absolutely not. That's nothing that I would ever support.

COURIC: Some people have credited the morning-after pill as, for decreasing the number of abortions. How do you feel about the morning-after pill?

PALIN: Well, I am all for contraception. And I'm all for any preventative measures that are legal and safe, and should be taken, but Katie, again, I am one to believe that life starts at the moment of conception. And I would like to see-

COURIC: Ergo, you don't believe in the morning-after pill?

PALIN: I would like to see fewer and fewer abortions in this world. And again, I haven't spoken with anyone who disagrees with my position on that.

COURIC: I'm sorry, I just want to ask you again. Do you condone or condemn the morning-after pill?

PALIN: Personally, and this isn't McCain-Palin policy-

COURIC: No, that's okay, I'm just asking you.

PALIN: But personally, I would not choose to participate in that kind of contraception.

COURIC: Do you believe evolution should be taught as an accepted scientific principle or one of several theories?

PALIN: Oh, I think it should be taught as an accepted principle. And, you know, I say that also as the daughter of a school teacher, a science teacher, who has really instilled in me a respect for science. It should be taught in our schools. And I won't ever deny that I see the hand of God in this beautiful creation that is Earth. But that is not part of a policy or a local curriculum in a school district. Science should be taught in science class.

COURIC: The Governor told us, though she's not a member of any church, she visits a couple of them regularly when she's home. She took issue with news reports that one of them, the Wasilla Bible Church, sponsored a conference where gays could be made straight through prayer.

PALIN: When the media gets it wrong, it frustrates Americans who are just trying to get the facts and be able to make up their mind on, about a person's values. And I don't know what prayers are worthy of being prayed and I don't know what prayers are going to be answered or not answered. But, as for homosexuality, I am not going to judge Americans and the decisions that they make in their adult personal relationships. I have one of my absolute best friends for the last 30 years who happens to be gay, and I love her dearly and she is not my "gay friend," she is one of my best friends, who happens to have made a choice that isn't a choice that I have made. But I'm not going to judge people.

COURIC: People may judge her after Thursday's debate where she'll be unfiltered and unedited -- something reporters complain the campaign has resisted.

PALIN: The campaign knows that I am an open book. My record is out there and my life is out there.
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