PBS Star Ken Burns Bashes Palin: 'Supremely Unqualified...American Idol' Pick

From Reuters and the Hollywood Reporter comes news that PBS filmmaker Ken Burns used a New York panel discussion preceding the news and documentary Emmy Awards as a forum to denounce the Republican vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, as proof the selection process devolved "into a high school popularity contest and an American Idol competition" and insisted "in the whole history of the republic there has been no one with as thin a credential" as Palin.

The reporter on this story, Paul J. Gough, treated Burns as an eminence and not as a partisan liberal who endorsed Obama in December 2007. He also completely ignored that Burns made a sappy tribute film to Sen. Ted Kennedy for last month’s Democratic convention in Denver, and then went on MSNBC to tout him as an "amazing, amazing man." At the same event, CBS’s Bob Schieffer insisted the media coverage of Palin was fair, and that "It seems to me that some would suggest we should just accept on faith that Sarah Palin is qualified."

Gough reported that Burns declared at Fordham University:

"He (McCain) selected someone who is so supremely unqualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, and he has turned the selection process into a high school popularity contest and an 'American Idol' competition," Burns said. He said that McCain made a "cynical" pick in what he said was the most important decision of his presidential candidacy.

Burns, whose body of work has focused on American history, said that "in the whole history of the republic there has been no one with as thin as a credential" as Palin. He said it was, for McCain, a "Hail Mary pass" that will be decided in November.

Burns, who became famous due to a ponderously long documentary series on the Civil War, surely knows Abraham Lincoln had four terms in the Illinois House and one term in the U.S. House of Representatives – not unlike the experience of Sen. Barack Obama.

Jill Zuckman of the Chicago Tribune reported the Burns endorsement of Obama on December 18, 2007. Experience was hardly his emphasis:

Burns said he liked Obama right off the bat and felt he could stamp out society's "creeping cynicism" with his "unironic posture."

"I have been attracted from the beginning to his authenticity," he said. With the country facing difficult times, he said, the nation needs "someone able to dream and suggest a future without being tied to the past."

He also said he appreciated Obama's stand against the war when other candidates supported it.

"I think this is a human being who knew in advance how unnecessary and foolish this war was," Burns said, adding that Obama knows how to distinguish between "fraudulent wars," and "those that really need to be fought."

Gough reported that Schieffer didn't take a stand like Burns did, but he did defend the national media's coverage of Palin after she was named McCain's running mate.

"Sarah Palin is a 72-year-old heartbeat away from the presidency. The presidency is the most powerful office in the world," Schieffer said. "It seems to me that some would suggest we should just accept on faith that Sarah Palin is qualified."

Bob Schieffer is 71, so this assertion of frailty might sound a little strong. Conservatives weren't arguing that Palin's experience should be accepted "on faith," but that the Eastern elite media shouldn't rush to endorse instant Democrat judgment. Gough said Schieffer paid tribute to Palin and her remarkable and compelling life story but insisted that the media didn't mistreat her.

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