ABC Pounds Away At Palin Pregnancy, 'Skeleton In the Closet'

ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday aggressively pushed the story about how Sarah Palin’s teenaged daughter is pregnant, leading their broadcast with that topic rather than the hurricane that slammed into Louisiana yesterday morning. ABC’s David Wright suggested the McCain camp was trying to bury the “skeleton in the closet” by putting the news out as the hurricane hit: “This was a political bombshell, timed to go off on a day when the McCain campaign knew that America would be focused on other news.”

The confrontational approach further revealed itself in co-host Diane Sawyer’s interview with a McCain campaign spokeswoman. Sawyer twice asked when McCain himself learned about the pregnancy, and tried to use the case of Palin’s daughter to lobby against abstinence-only education in public schools and suggested that it “was a mistake” not to include the news of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy in Friday’s introduction of Sarah Palin to the nation.

Sawyer also bristled at how Karl Rove reportedly called Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden “a big blowhard doofus,” forcing McCain advisor Nicolle Wallace to confess she didn’t know the precise definition of “doofus.” Dictionary.com offers various definitions, including “an incompetent, foolish, or stupid person” or a “dolt, idiot, nerd.”
 
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos actually undercut his network’s fixation on the pregnancy, saying he expected that “a lot of people will understand and will forgive this, not consider it a huge political issue and give the family their privacy.” But he also darkly suggested further negative stories loomed in Palin’s future: “What a lot of Republican operatives and delegates here are asking is what else is out there about Governor Palin?...What does it say about Senator McCain's judgment that he chose someone with no national security experience with so many questions out there who is such an unknown quantity?”

Over the past several days, Good Morning America has taken a generally derisive approach to Palin’s candidacy. Yesterday, MRC’s Colleen Raezler discovered, reporter David Wright snottily compared Palin to a young “trophy” wife: “The difference in their age sometimes making them an awkward pairing. In small groups, Palin can seem like the young, trophy running mate.”

And on Saturday, Wright sarcastically noted that McCain and Palin campaigning “looked a little like father and daughter out for an ice cream.” That was just before co-anchor Bill Weir seemed to impugn Sarah Palin as an unfit mother for undertaking a campaign four months after giving birth to a son with Down’s syndrome, a line of questioning that ABC’s Cokie Roberts quickly rejected as sexist.

Here is how ABC’s Good Morning America tackled the Palin story on Tuesday, even as CBS’s The Early Show and NBC’s Today led their broadcasts with Hurricane Gustav. The transcripts below were compiled by the MRC’s Justin McCarthy:
DIANE SAWYER: This morning, Republicans hit with a surprise. Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin announces her 17-year-old daughter is five months pregnant, but plans to marry her 18-year-old boyfriend. Exactly when did Senator McCain find out?

[...]

ROBIN ROBERTS: We will get to Chris and Sam, we should say, in just a bit down in Louisiana, but we're going to begin with the news that is shaking up the political world, the surprise announcement by Governor Sarah Palin that her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. ABC's David Wright is in Philadelphia and has the latest for us this morning. Good morning, David.

DAVID WRIGHT: Good morning, Robin. This was a political bombshell, timed to go off on a day when the McCain campaign knew that America would be focused on other news. It's exactly the sort of skeleton in the closet that American presidential campaigns for better or worse have a tendency to force out into the open. Why should it be any of our business that the governor's teenage daughter is five months pregnant? Well, for one thing, Palin wanted to rebut a conspiracy theory being flogged by a liberal website suggesting that the real mother of the governor's infant son with Down's syndrome --

ALASKA GOVERNOR SARAH PALIN: He was born just in April.

WRIGHT: -- Was her own daughter Bristol who's holding him there.

PALIN: His name is Trig Paxton Van Palin.

WRIGHT: In other words, the website insinuated that Governor Palin had faked her pregnancy to cover for a pregnant daughter, a plot line so gothic it could only be plausible on "Desperate Housewives." That's why the Palins disclosed that 17-year-old Bristol, a high school senior, is pregnant and plans to marry her boyfriend, 18-year-old Levi Johnston. "We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents," they said in a statement. "As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood she knows she has our unconditional love and support."

SANDI HUDDLESTON, INDIANA GOP DELEGATE: I felt sympathy. I felt compassion. I know that what they are going through right now is probably something that a lot of other American families have gone through.

WRIGHT: That's exactly the sort of reaction the McCain campaign was hoping for. They say Palin had told them all this before he picked her and McCain did not see it as a deal-breaker. Barack Obama made it clear he won't touch the issue.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): Yeah, my mother had me when she was 18, and, you know, how family deals with issues and, you know, teenage children, that shouldn't be the topic of our politics.

WRIGHT: It's an interesting milestone. In the '90s another Republican vice presidential nominee famously picked a fight with Hollywood over the pregnancy of a fictional unwed mother Murphy Brown.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong.
Suspend transcript for a NewsBusters’ Reality Check: In the 1992 campaign, Dan Quayle was rejecting the entertainment media’s glorification of single-motherhood. Palin’s daughter plans to marry her boyfriend, not raise her alone.

Resume transcript:
WRIGHT: This year's nominee seems to understand that sometimes life doesn't follow the script.

PALIN: Some of life's greatest opportunities come unexpectedly and this is certainly the case today.

WRIGHT: All of this is part of the getting to know you process which can be uncomfortably intimate in American presidential campaigns. The McCain campaign is well aware of the sensitivities. That's why they confirmed to us today that the entire Alaska delegation at the convention has now received media training on how to handle questions about the Palin family.

DIANE SAWYER: Well, as you said, the McCain camp has said Governor Palin told the vetters she had a pregnant daughter, but we wanted to know more about when and how she discussed it with Senator McCain himself. And a few minutes ago we were joined by senior adviser to Senator John McCain Nicolle Wallace. As we know, everybody wants to protect the privacy of a family but there are real campaign issues that have arisen. Let me ask you about the first one. Exactly when did Senator McCain learn about this pregnancy?

NICOLE WALLACE: Well, you know, I think in the vetting process there are all sorts of rather other excruciating intrusions into the personal lives of any politician that subjects themself to that. So the normal vetting process was underway and obviously this was disclosed by Governor Palin and her family. The thing that forced our hand and that it's very unfortunate is that the fervor with which the Democratic leaning blogs and a few in the mainstream media pursued this I think forced the Palin family in an effort to knock down what were really lewd and outrageously false rumors forced them maybe ahead of a schedule that worked best for the family to make this news yesterday about their daughter.

SAWYER: But let me go back and try to ask you again. When did Senator McCain learn about it? Did he discuss it with her in that phone call that they had on the Sunday or in the meeting that they had last week?

WALLACE: You know, we're going to let some things stay private. And I don't happen to know the minute, hour and day that they talked about Governor Palin's daughter being pregnant.

SAWYER: But they did talk about it?

WALLACE: But there certainly -- it was certainly known and it didn't give Senator McCain any pause and I don't think, Diane, that it gives the American people pause that this is a real family dealing with real challenges.

SAWYER: Let me ask you this, though, one of the first rules, as we know, of campaigning is don't surprise your own team. Do you think it was a mistake not to announce this particularly since the campaign viewed it as no problem not to announce it right up front at the time?

WALLACE: Well, I don't know if you had the announcement speech in mind high on Sarah Palin and this is my daughter. I mean, I'm not sure what the question is. This came out pretty quickly after her announcement was made in the introduction to the country and the world. I think that there is a long tradition, one of the last really civil traditions in our politics is that the children of politicians are held harmless and usually not examined and investigated with the fervor that Governor Palin's daughter and children have been examined. So -- and the presumption too that the team didn't know is false. We did know. We all knew. So I think that there's a little bit of an assumption that had we known would we not have chosen the best candidate who's Governor Palin and that's flat wrong.

SAWYER: Abstinence only education as opposed to sex education. As you know "The Journal of Adolescent Health" probably you know in March of this year said that kids who receive comprehensive sex ed in school are 60 percent less likely to be pregnant or to have gotten someone pregnant than those receiving abstinence only education. Do Senator McCain and Governor Palin just think that this is --this is not a statistic to be addressed?

WALLACE: Well, look, this isn't a policy area that I'm a particular expert in, so I can't speak with too much authority here, but I think that there are many levels. I think as a nation we may speak as politicians, we may talk about policy and I think that at the moment we're speaking about parents and families.

SAWYER: You're saying this is not something that should be addressed?

WALLACE: I certainly think that at one level we're talking about this as a family dealing with, you know, I think what will obvious be a challenging situation that forces their daughter to grow up much faster than maybe she would have liked and certainly than they would have liked, but I'm acknowledging my lack of expertise in the area of abstinence policy.

SAWYER: Going to ask one more question on a completely unrelated topic here but Karl Rove yesterday said to a delegation that the vice presidential nominee on the Democratic side, Joe Biden, Senator Biden, is ‘a big blowhard doofus.’ That was his quote. What does Senator McCain think about this from Karl Rove? What does he think about Karl Rove saying things like this?

WALLACE: I think John McCain is his own witness to the character of Joe Biden in that they've been colleagues and friends for a very long time. You know, I was with Senator McCain when Senator Biden was selected and I know he had a very warm conversation with him on the phone congratulating him and welcoming him to the race.

SAWYER: But I saw you laugh. Is this language that should be used about another candidate?

WALLACE: I mean doofus I'm not sure what the technical definition of “doofus” is, so my laugh was about the word. I've known Karl for a long time and, you know, he does come up with some interesting turns of phrase, so I think that, you know, I can only speak to Senator McCain's feelings and views about Senator Biden and I'm pretty sure he doesn't ever describe him as a doofus.

SAWYER: Nicole Wallace again thanks so much for being with us this morning.

WALLACE: Thank you.

SAWYER: And again, on the issue of abstinence only education, both Senator McCain and Governor Palin have said they believe in abstinence only education, which is why we raised that issue.

ROBIN ROBERTS: Okay, Diane, we're going to turn now to "The Bottom Line" and go to our chief Washington correspondent and host of "This Week," George Stephanopoulos, who joins us in St. Paul at the RNC. Let's put a bottom line to this, George. How does this affect the McCain campaign and where does the story go from here?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Robin, it certainly rocked them for the day. I think if it is limited -- if the story is limited to the potential grandchild of Governor Palin, a lot of people will understand and will forgive this, not consider it a huge political issue and give the family their privacy. I think the question is what else is out there? We've seen other revelations about Governor Palin over these last 24, 36 hours that she was a member of the Alaska Independence Party, questions about whether she was a supporter of Pat Buchanan in 2000. Other questions raised about whether she even had a passport before she went to Kuwait last year and has traveled overseas.

"The Washington Post" reported this morning that even though the McCain campaign portrays her as a crusader against wasteful government spending she sought $27 million in earmarks for her tiny town of Wasilla, Alaska, so there are a lot of questions out there right now. We'll see how the campaign weathers it over the next several days. I think what a lot of Republican operatives and delegates here are asking is what else is out there about Governor Palin? Was the vetting process complete and professional? The McCain campaign, as you saw,insists that it was and finally, what does it say about Senator McCain's judgment that he chose someone with no national security experience with so many questions out there who is such an unknown quantity?

ROBERTS: As you said so many questions still to be answered. A limited schedule yesterday there in St. Paul because of Hurricane Gustav. What's on tap for today?

STEPHANOPOULOS: They are trying to get back on track today, Robin. They will have a convention program tonight. President Bush is scheduled to speak to the convention by satellite between 9:00 and 10:00 eastern time and then the prime time program will include former Senator Fred Thompson and Senator Joe Lieberman, of course he was the vice presidential candidate for the Democrats in 2000, now he's coming out for John McCain.
Rich Noyes
Rich Noyes
Rich Noyes is the Senior Editor for Newsbusters