Whalin' on Palin: Media Discover Motherhood, Overlook Character

The media are showing presumptive Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, a life member of the NRA, what it's like to be the hunted instead of the hunter.

The Big Media are in a frenzy over Palin's announcement Monday that her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant. Bristol's indiscretion has provided a handy stick to beat the 44-year-old Alaska governor's candidacy. How could a pro-life mother of five, a conservative Protestant who believes in waiting until marriage, have a daughter pregnant out of wedlock?

Then there's the motherhood question.  How could a full-time mother of five, including a disabled infant, possibly serve as Vice President?  Won't she be forced to neglect her children?  Juggling these roles shouldn't be much of a problem for Palin.  She's received rave reviews for her performance in a far more difficult job, running the government of Alaska, while also being a hands-on mom.  Besides, no elected office in the land is better suited for a full-time mother than the vice presidency. Unlike governors, vice presidents spend most of the day looking for something to do.

Since John McCain announced last Friday that he had chosen Palin, to be his running mate, media dirt-diggers have been working around the clock. They hadn't found enough for a good mudslinging campaign – just a dispute about why Palin fired her public safety commissioner, and her husband's 1986 arrest for drunk driving – but with Monday's announcement of Bristol's pregnancy, they think they've hit pay dirt.

The New York Times alone ran three stories focused on the pregnancy: “Palin's Teen Daughter Is Pregnant, New G.O.P. Tumult”; “In Political Realm, 'Family Problem' Emerges as Test”; and “Palin Daughter's Pregnancy Interrupts Script.” On Tuesday's front page, the Times also used these “shocking” revelations about Palin to attack McCain's judgment. The story “Palin Disclosures Raise Questions about Vetting” suggests that the McCain campaign failed to investigate Palin adequately before putting her on the ticket.

Bristol Palin's pregnancy has also opened the door to attacks on abstinence education, which Sarah Palin supports. On Monday afternoon, CNN's Kyra Phillips repeated an Alaskan pro-abortion organization's statement citing Bristol as an example as to why “comprehensive” sex education, with its emphasis on contraception, is needed. On Good Morning America Tuesday morning, ABC's Diane Sawyer asserted that 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% less likely to be pregnant or to have gotten someone pregnant than those receiving abstinence-only education.”

Neither CNN nor ABC bothered to report whether Bristol Palin had received abstinence education, comprehensive sex education, or both, and ABC failed to acknowledge that other studies have found that abstinence programs have successfully persuaded teens to delay sexual behavior. 

The untimely pregnancy has added ammunition to attacks on Palin's ability to serve as Vice President and also serve as mother to her children, especially the newborn son with Down syndrome. This line of attack began Friday, the day McCain selected Palin, with CNN's John Roberts saying: “Children with Down's syndrome require an awful lot of attention. The role of Vice President, it seems to me, would take up an awful lot of her time, and it raises the issue of how much time will she have to dedicate to her newborn child?" On Saturday, ABC's Good Morning America co-host Bill Weir jumped on a McCain campaign spokesman with obvious anger: “She has an infant – she has an infant with special needs. Will that affect her campaigning?”

On Tuesday morning, The New York Times launched a front page attack on the motherhood front. The article, “A New Twist in the Debate Over Mothers,” states:

With five children, including an infant with Down syndrome and, as the country learned Monday, a pregnant 17-year-old, Ms. Palin has set off a fierce argument among women about whether there are enough hours in the day for her to take on the vice presidency, and whether she is right to try.

The newfound media concern about a politician's ability to be a devoted mother might be touching, if it weren't such an obvious political ploy. One wonders whether all those feminist in the newsrooms are comfy with this line of attack.  “What do you mean, a woman can't have it all?”

What's missing in these stories is the acknowledgement the Palin family deserves for its strength of character and commitment to core values. Mother and daughter have demonstrated their devotion to the sanctity of life by carrying through pregnancies that many politicians and political families would have aborted. Mother and daughter have embraced the responsibility for raising children other candidates might have dismissed as inconvenient.

Media attacks on Sarah and Bristol Palin appear to be calculated to weaken conservative Christian support for Palin, and ultimately for the McCain presidential candidacy. What the media fail to understand is that conservative Christians don't expect people to be morally perfect, and they are quick to forgive when people admit their sin and accept the consequences of their behavior. The media's assault on this courageous family will only generate sympathy among conservative Christians and the public at large.

Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.