McCain's Protection of Bristol Palin's Privacy Calls Leadership Into Question

On a podcast, reporters Jackie Calmes and Sheryl Stolberg attack Palin and McCain's judgment and say the pregnancy story is fair game because the campaign has "made a big issue of [Palin's] personal life."

Meet the newly minted traditionalists at the Times, two female reporters who seem to doubt whether or not a woman can have it all - at least if she's a Republican vice-presidential nominee.

The Labor Day edition of the Times' "Political Points" podcast, recorded at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn, was hosted by Jane Bornemeier with commentary from reporters Jackie Calmes, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David Kirkpatrick. The conversation was predictably dominated by "baby-gate" - the news that Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol was pregnant. Some choice excerpts in which the two female reporters question the judgment of McCain and Palin and find the issue of a teen-ager's pregnancy fair game:

Jane Bornemeier: "Jackie you were just talking to Steve Schmidt, the senior advisor for the McCain campaign. What does he say about how this will affect the convention going forward, and what the fallout is among Republicans?"

Reporter Jackie Calmes: "Well, to hear Steve talking, [unintelligible] think there will be no fallout, and that he attacks - the questions - as offensive, and that the American people will respect the privacy and will in fact turn against the media and anybody else who tries to make an issue of this. But it's a difficult argument to make, considering that in the days since Sarah Palin was announced as Senator McCain's running mate, the campaign has made a very big deal of every other element of her personal life, and her personality and her family life, and so it would be highly unrealistic to think that the public wouldn't be hugely interested in this."

It was up to the lone male, reporter David Kirkpatrick, to make an aside that "we feel a little bit bad for Bristol Palin, I mean I don't think this is something that anybody particularly relishes reporting" and that attacking the media for its focus on it might work.

Calmes continued:

"Right. I think that will happen. But I just want to say that one of the questions I put to Steve out there, when a lot of reporters had gathered around Steve Schmidt, was that, you know, there will be - they're trying to appeal to women with her candidacy, women voters, and I do think there will be a number that will be against the media, there always are, for not respecting privacy. But at the same time there will be the question of why Gov. Palin and Senator McCain would embark on this campaign together, knowing it would subject this 17-year-old to having, not just national but international attention to her pregnancy."

That's hypocritical, since most of the GOP seems to accept the situation and in fact find it a positive sign that Bristol is going to keep the baby. It's the media raising the cry.

Reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg: "You know Jane, I think that the campaign was really calculating that the standard that was used for Chelsea Clinton and the Bush girls and now the Obama girls would be applied to the Palin family, which is that the kids are left out of it. But frankly I'm not sure that it will work this time, precisely because of what Jackie said, they've made a big issue of her personal life. She herself, Gov. Palin, has a new baby, and so one question that comes up, is this is a woman that has a lot going on in her personal life, she's got a new baby herself, her daughter's about to get married and have a baby, a lot going on there. I do think it's a fair question to ask how she will juggle those responsibilities. Maybe it's a question that wouldn't be asked of a man, as Steve Schmidt said, but it is a question that I think Americans will ask."

Stolberg didn't exactly apply that Chelsea Clinton "standard" when she made two false statements about Jenna Bush in a September 2007 story, falsely claiming in the lead that Jenna Bush "was twice arrested in connection with under-age drinking." [Jenna Bush was cited twice, not arrested.]

Did the Times raise questions about Bill Clinton subjecting his teen-age daughter Chelsea to ridicule with his horn-dog exploits? Did the Times excuse the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's accusations against John Kerry, because, after all, Kerry had made his Vietnam service an issue in the campaign? Of course not. The paper also went along with the rest of the media with a blackout on stories about the affair of Democratic Sen. John Edwards.

Later, Stolberg even said that protecting a teen's private life reflects badly on John McCain's leadership skills:

"I also think that it raises questions about John McCain's qualities as a chief executive, his decision-making. The vice-presidential pick is a very important decision for any candidate. It's the first real decision that the candidate makes, and it gives insight into how that candidate would make decisions as president. And I think that, the fact that the McCain campaign didn't make this public, felt perhaps it didn't have to reveal this information, will raise questions about the way Senator McCain would run the country if he were elected."