Newsweek's Alter Defends Media's Reporting of Palin Pregnancy

On Tuesday's "Morning Joe," Newsweek's Jonathan Alter appeared as a guest for a discussion about Governor Sarah Palin's pregnant 17 year old daughter, Bristol. Alter defended the media's actions in heavily reporting on the pregnancy, saying of the Palin's: "This, to quote the Godfather, this is the business they have chosen."Alter also defended the media's lack of reporting on former Senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards's affair. The columnist argued that Edwards was no longer running for president when the scandal broke and therefore the media was right in avoiding stories on it. However, in regards to Governor Palin, Alter scoffed, "They know it's all gonna come out if they're running for president or vice president. If they don't want it to come out they shouldn't get in the ring, I hate to tell you that." It seems Alter forgot that Edwards's affair began in 2006 according to his own admission, just before Edwards announced his candidacy for president. Nevertheless, as Joe Scarborough pointed out, Edwards was going to play a big role at the Democratic National Convention and was even slated to speak when the story broke. But Alter stuck with his argument that Edwards's affair was not as newsworthy as Bristol's pregnancy. In responding to Joe Scarborough's request to "name one minor that has been exposed on the front page of the New York Times in presidential politics," Alter named former Vice President Al Gore's son, who was caught smoking marijuana. While the story did appear in the New York Times and Washington Post, it was essentially a non-story and was not the subject of three front page stories on one day like Bristol Palin's pregnancy. Later in the segment, Alter and Scarborough got into a disagreement about whether the media, specifically the New York Times, would cover Bristol's pregnancy so heavily if she were the daughter of a Democratic candidate. Alter argued that the press coverage would be just as heavy while Scarborough rebuked the mainstream media for talking about stories which appeared on the Daily Kos Web site:

ALTER: If the shoe had been on the other foot, if Barack Obama's daughter, who is a little young now but let's say, you know, God forbid, that she got into this situation, that the idea of the right-wing blogosphere, the right-wing media holding off and saying, "oh, well, we're not gonna report anything about Barack Obama who's talked a lot about the importance of fatherhood, the importance of-that we're not gonna report anything about his child is just completely naïve.

SCARBOROUGH: The difference is you would not see it on the front page of the New York Times in three different stories.

ALTER: Absolutely you would.

SCARBOROUGH: All right. Well you know what, when we go to break, I'm going to give you the example that I'm not gonna say on air. I'm gonna - when we go to break, because I'm not gonna expose somebody else. There's a double standard. There is a rancid double standard and it is offensive and it was offensive to both of us. The fact that you have some of the best journalists in America running around two nights ago talking about Daily Kos and being thrilled that networks and newspapers - this is where we've come. Mike Barnicle was talking about a guy that we hired for a - helped hire for a newspaper, called him up all excited. "Did you see what's on Daily Kos? This is huge!"

A transcript of the relevant portions of the segment follows:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: And in this case, Jonathan Alter, to drag a 17 year old girl and to see the mainstream media, which we saw the first two nights here, go after the Daily Kos sleazy rumors like rabid dogs was very frightening to us.JONATHAN ALTER: Well, I think it's disturbing. I don't like seeing a 17 year old gone after that way. I have kids who are 19, 17 and 14 so I can relate on this. But I think we need to get into the real world here. This is not about the internet. This about the world of politics as it has been for the entire history of country.

SCARBOROUGH: 17 year old girls?

ALTER: Listen. This, to quote the Godfather, this is the business they have chosen. Go back to the election of 1880. "Mamma, where's my pa? Gone to the White House. Hahaha."

SCARBOROUGH: Jonathan, name one minor that has been exposed on the front page of the New York Times in presidential politics.

ALTER: Al Gore's son when he got picked up -- he was in a car, they were smoking pot.

SCARBOROUGH: They protected him.

ALTER: It was in the papers. So, look, eventually, look in this business, it's sad, it's unfortunate. Eventually it all comes out especially when you're talking about president. John Edwards a different story. He was no longer running for president so the rules and, you know, people's sense of - but when it's president and when you're vice president you gotta - that's president, everything, unfortunately, everything is on the table.

SCARBOROUGH: Jonathan, that's not the case.

ALTER: So the onus is on the family to decide.

SCARBOROUGH: That's not the case.

ALTER: They know it's all gonna come out if they're running for president or vice president. If they don't want it to come out they shouldn't get in the ring, I hate to tell you that.

SCARBOROUGH: You know what, I hate to tell you this. That's not the case and I can't give you my example because I'm not going to out another son or daughter of a candidate. That's just not the case.

[…]

ALTER: I agree with that but just to defend Jonathan's point here so it's not 3 against -- 4 against 1, here's where I think Jonathan is on to something. And I've heard this from a number of liberals in the last couple of days. If the shoe had been on the other foot, if Barack Obama's daughter, who is a little young now but let's say, you know, God forbid, that she got into this situation, that the idea of the right-wing blogosphere, the right-wing media holding off and saying, "oh, well, we're not gonna report anything about Barack Obama who's talked a lot about the importance of fatherhood, the importance of-that we're not gonna report anything about his child is just completely naïve.

SCARBOROUGH: The difference is you would not see it on the front page of the New York Times in three different stories.

ALTER: Absolutely you would.

SCARBOROUGH: All right. Well you know what, when we go to break, I'm going to give you the example that I'm not gonna say on air. I'm gonna - when we go to break, because I'm not gonna expose somebody else. There's a double standard. There is a rancid double standard and it is offensive and it was offensive to both of us. The fact that you have some of the best journalists in America running around two nights ago talking about Daily Kos and being thrilled that networks and newspapers - this is where we've come. Mike Barnicle was talking about a guy that we hired for a - helped hire for a newspaper, called him up all excited. "Did you see what's on Daily Kos? This is huge!"

ALTER: Well, but this is what it was like with Drudge going back more than decade.SCARBOROUGH: But there's a big difference between Drudge and the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

ALTER: But Drudge has driven stories into those places for the last decade. John Edwards was not a candidate for president. It was a different situation.

SCARBOROUGH: He was a candidate for vice president.

ALTER: You have to compare apples and apples. No he wasn't.

SCARBOROUGH: Yes he was.

ALTER: No, he was not being vetted.

SCARBOROUGH: Before that happened, they were talking about him as a possibility. He was gonna come here, he was gonna give a speech. He was gonna play a big role and the media stayed away from it like they should have.

ALTER: I'm not defending the media's behavior, I'm just telling you this is not new. This is the way it's been for at least a decade and I would argue for more than a hundred years in American politics.

SCARBOROUGH: You know what, I thought the press was admirable the way protected the Clinton children, child, the Gore's, Carter, the Bush's. Except for some tabloids with the Bush's at parties. Not the case so here.

ALTER: That's 'cause there was no news with those folks. When there's no news, they're not gonna intrude.

SCARBOROUGH: Okay, they were saints.