PBS's Shields Slams Palin for Choosing Ambition Over Her Daughter

The gloves came off and the punching of Republican vice-presidential pick Sarah Palin began early in the night on PBS. Just after the Pledge of Allegiance, the analyst team of Mark Shields and David Brooks got into a squabble over Sarah Palin's pregnant daughter Bristol. Shields insisted a callous Gov. Palin chose national ambition over "love and consideration for her daughter...By accepting John McCain’s offer she guaranteed that her daughter would be known globally as the best known 17-year-old unwed teenager in the world, and that decision many people question."

Brooks suggested we don't know enough to judge the Palin family values, and even suggested that the children of vice presidents have had problems, and that the media that usually lays off the children are covering this story in a "big massive way."

Shields began by suggesting that people in both parties can agree that making an issue out of candidates' children is "really out of bounds." He then turned around and made the mother's allegedly unseemly ambition an issue:

There is another question though which essentially I’ve heard expressed here many times today and from calls elsewhere, and that is the decision made by Sarah Palin herself, when knowing her daughter’s condition, by accepting John McCain’s offer she guaranteed that her daughter would be known globally as the best known 17-year-old unwed teenager in the world, and that decision many people question.

I mean, Republicans, it’s not a partisan question. It’s just a question of whether in fact family values, and whether family values collide in this case. All candidates – David and I have talked about this – have healthy if not overly healthy ambitions. But there had to be some tension here. The ambition of going on a national ticket, and her love and consideration of her daughter, being known once and for all as ‘Aren’t you the daughter who was pregnant of the vice presidential candidate in 2008?

Lehrer asked Brooks: "Do you share that concern?" Brooks did, but tried to be less partisan:

It’s certainly something I’ve heard about today. To be perfectly honest, I think politicians at this level sacrifice a lot of their family life. Anybody who’s running, especially with young kids, whether it’s Obama, Chris Dodd, or Sarah Palin, is putting their kids at risk, and they do it because it may be a sense of service, maybe a sense of ambition, but they do it. And if we elect someone on the basis of whether they’re good parents, I’m not sure Ronald Reagan would have been elected. I’m not sure that’s a very good basis to decide.

I think the more profound issue for me is I don’t know whether Sarah Palin’s a good mom or not. I don’t have the basis to know what’s going on in her family. I have no basis to know how her decision affected her daughter or her sons or any of that. What happens in another’s family is a darkness, even if it’s your neighbor who’s getting divorced. So it’s just not something I feel I know about that.

Shields wasn’t giving in, and doubled down in underlining what he insisted was Governor Palin's parental cruelty:

Jim, David is entitled to his opinion. The question of how it affected her daughter is not open to question. It has made her daughter a front-page item for the country. That would not have been the case if Sarah Palin had said to John McCain, ‘thanks but no thanks. This is a private time for my daughter, an important and terribly difficult time in her life.’ I really can only imagine the painful time that girl is going through, not simply to be known and introduced to the nation this way, but also being conflicted about what this pregnancy could do to her mother’s career and all the rest of that. So I don’t think there’s any question the impact it was going to have upon her.

Brooks fought back, and brought in the media's role in blowing the story up:

I don’t know if you can blame Sarah Pain for that. In the last 15 years, we’ve had vice presidents whose kids have gone through tough times. We’ve had public figures who kids have gone through tough times. And in general, we in the media have laid off, and laid off those kids. So it gets reported here and there, but not in a big massive way. And now it’s being reported in a big massive way, what’s on a MySpace page and we’re having pictures of this and that, and long pictures and descriptions of the pregnancy and what it means about abstinence education and this and that. I’m not sure Sarah Palin’s to blame for that. I think you make a decision. You hope people respect the privacy of your kids. Barack Obama hopes that. Joe Biden hopes that, John McCain hopes that, and I think it’s our responsibility to respect that privacy.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis