Mildly Criticizing (But Also Excusing) Unhinged Rumors of Sarah Palin's Pregnancy

A Labor Day evening catch-all post by Kate Phillips on the Times' "Caucus" blog, "Pregnant Pause," mildly criticized the hateful tone of the left's unhinged "baby-gate" rumors (but also made an excuse for it) and featured an extended cameo by Times Watch colleague Matt Sheffield, the editor of Newsbusters.


Conservative bloggers struck back today at their left-leaning Web counterparts, blaming them for forcing the family of John McCain's vice-presidential choice, Gov. Sarah Palin, to release the news that their teenage daughter was pregnant. But right-leaning bloggers also used the megaphones of their Web sites to tout the idea - just as Republicans here at the convention site were doing - that a teenager giving birth and keeping the baby - reinforced their anti-abortion, family beliefs. And they seized the news today to attack Senator Barack Obama on his abortion rights views.


For several days, rumors had swirled around on the Internet - including links on highly trafficked Web sites to speculative, accusatory posts - about whether the Palins' youngest son Trig was actually their grandson. This morning, the campaign released a statement from Governor Palin and her husband that their oldest daughter, Bristol, who is unmarried, was pregnant.


On the one hand, conservative bloggers and Republicans alike tried to put a positive "pro-life" spin on the startling news, highlighting the fact that the 17-year-old Ms. Palin intended to keep the baby and marry the young father. At HotAir, conservative blogger Michelle Malkin's headline blared: "Bristol Palin Chooses Life. Now Leave Her Alone."


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We chatted a bit today with Matthew Sheffield, of Dialog New Media and NewsBusters.org, about the impact of the teenage pregnancy on the presidential campaign. While religious voters might be a bit skeptical initially, he said he believed in the long run "it will probably be a plus. It just shows the Palins practice their pro-life values." And he added, "I also think it humanized them in the age of the political consultant and packaged candidate. This shatters that."


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Nor will she be the last person whose private life turned public in an instant in the 24/7 news culture. The Palins' statement demonstrated the potential for damage and heightened questions about privacy issues after swirling falsehoods and speculation were fueled by whipped-around stories gaining traction on the Internet. From Drudge to mega-blogs, Governor Palin's child-bearing history became fodder for gossip. The fact that she traveled widely and didn't disclose her last pregnancy until her third trimester last spring also spurred rumors.


For those who are blaming the liberal blogs in the Palin instance, the left would certainly counter and take aim at Republican blogs and Internet sites that have been devoted to questioning Mr. Obama's faith and even his birth certificate.


Big difference: The Times has lambasted on several occasionsand in far stronger terms Internet chatter about Obama's religion, and has evidently mentioned the birth certificate rumor only once before, in a July 7 story by Brian Stelter, which gave it no credence.