Public Editor Says Palin Coverage Fair, Parenting Angle "Legitimate"

The Times' public editor Clark Hoyt appeared on MSNBC on Tuesday afternoon with hosts Tamron Hall and John Harwood to defend the media and the Times' coverage of John McCain's vice presidential pick Sarah Palin from raising questions about her ability to juggle motherhood, grandmotherhood and the vice presidency, to the McCain campaign's allegedly hasty vetting process, a process that so far has been vindicated, judging by poll numbers moving in McCain-Palin's direction.

Here's Hoyt's defense of his media colleagues, as transcribed by the Media Research Center's Lyndsi Thomas.

MSNBC Host Tamron Hall: Well, since John McCain announced that Sarah Palin would be his running mate, she has been the topic on newspapers and media reports all over the world.

NYT/MSNBC contributor John Harwood: And in response, the McCain campaign has accused the media of being on the mission to destroy the Alaska governor. New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt joins us now with more on the scrutiny of Sarah Palin. Has the media been unfair to Sarah Palin?

New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt: For the most part, no. The media is doing its job which is to find out who this person who was basically unknown to the country except for Alaska until roughly ten days or so ago who she is, her record and what she might do as Vice President of the United States and possibly, even as President of the United States.

Harwood, who also writes for the Times, next pitched Hoyt a softball:

Harwood: In other words, you spring a surprise like that, somebody is not only a surprise as a running mate choice but isn't well known nationally that's part of the package that you buy when you do that?

Hoyt: Absolutely. And it's part of the package the McCain campaign should have anticipated. I'm sure it did anticipate. And, um, so I think a lot of the attack back at the press is a pushback in an effort to, let's face it, the press and the campaign have two different roles. The campaign is trying to sell a candidate, to package a candidate and to present it - her to the American people. The press has a job to find out who this person is and what this person's character is, what the person's background and record are and to fill out the picture for the American people.

Hall then offered a slight challenge to the media's obsession with Palin's pregnant daughter, and questionedwhether the media was holding Palin to an unfair standard for being a mother.

Hall: But it's a growing process for all of us, Clark, and has you have - someone who's in a history making position, you learn history making decisions here. What is the line though? It is one thing for some to believe that we can talk about the bridge to nowhere, where she stands on taxes or even abstinence. It's another to say, "let's talk about her seventeen year old daughter" or "let's talk about women who work and raise a family, can she do both." Do those things enter a gray area of unfairness for her?

Hoyt: I think that - let's remember how the story about her seventeen year old daughter originated. It was announced by the campaign and so it was not the press going and sneaking around and peeping in windows and I think for the most part, the mainstream press, the responsible press has really, after reporting the story, has really backed off for the most part from that story. The New York Times did have a front page story about the conversations that are going on among women, much of it on the internet, about how Governor Palin could, as Vice President of the United States, juggle those duties and the duties of a mother with four children at home, one of them now a pregnant teenager, one of them an infant with Down's syndrome. Those are legitimate questions for people to discuss.

Harwood: Let me ask you as somebody who's covered politics a long time as I have, when we were out at the convention, Sarah Palin burst on to the scene, there was a lot of incoming that those of us in the press were getting. You're getting sent photographs that you don't know if they're legit or not, getting sent stuff that's popped on the internet and then we go and ask the campaigns about and I would send inquiries to the campaign. There was one particular picture that I forwarded to them and said, "is this a real picture of Sarah Palin?" and the answer I got because was, "What, do you work for the National Enquirer now?" Is there anything that the press should do in the way - inhibiting the questions that they ask or is this entirely legitimate? You know, I was always brought up to think there are no dumb questions and you ask and you get the answer and decide what to do with it.

Hoyt: I think you're right. I think it is our job, your job, to ask those questions even the most uncomfortable kinds of questions and then to make responsible decisions about what you do with the answers that you get. There was something very telling I think that happened earlier this week. Rick Davis, the McCain campaign manager, said that Governor Palin would not be made available to reporters for questioning until the press treated her with respect and deference. Now, she should be treated with respect. Deference is not something that members of the press should treat any political candidate with. Deference suggests caving in to the image that's trying to be projected and not asking tough questions.

Harwood: Well, one more quick question 'cause there was a New York Times story that was in the news attacked by the McCain campaign. It was the piece about the vetting process and the McCain campaign came out and said it's not true. So far as I can tell, and I think your article, your column shared this conclusion, the only thing that's been shown substantively wrong about that was the idea that she'd actually been a member of the Alaska Independence Party. Did you find that that story has held up over time?

Hoyt: Yes. The story has held up over time and what's been interesting is that some who reported a different story have gradually come to the same spot, which is that she - the vetting of her was done hurriedly and at the last moment.

Harwood: Clark, thanks so much for joining us.