Mr. Hard News: Shear, Bitter About Talking Weiner, Spends Next 2 Days on Palin Emails

Michael Shear sounds bitter and mad at having to talk about Anthony Weiner: "Lots of policy and we're going to start with the sex scandal!" What did he write about the next two days? Sarah Palin's three-year-old emails, breaking big stories like this: "Palin Wanted a Tanning Bed in the Governor's House." Too bad it had already appeared in the Times three years ago.
Michael Shear, chief writer for the New York Times' "Caucus" blog, sounded sarcastic and bitter, almost angry, at the opening of the paper's last "Caucus" podcast on Thursday about having to talk about the Anthony Weiner sex scandal.

Host Sam Roberts: "But you pointed out that this is a particularly inopportune time for this latest sex scandal to break in Washington. Why is that?"

Michael Shear: "Lots of policy and we're going to start with the sex scandal! That's fine. Yeah, it's not a good time for Democrats."

So what vital hard-core political news did Shear spend the entire following day covering to compensate for having to discuss Weinergate? The three-year-old trove of Sarah Palin emails from her stint as governor of Alaska, of course.

Among the urgent news Shear dug up? One subhead: "Palin Wanted a Tanning Bed in the Governor's House."

Sarah Palin's tanned good looks may have gotten a bit of help.

An e-mail from the manager of the governor's house to Ms. Palin in early 2008 makes clear that Ms. Palin had inquired about the possibility of installing a tanning bed in the house.

But even the tanning bed "scoop" is old news. Kate Phillips covered it on the "Caucus" back on September 17, 2008, and the anecdote showed up intermittently in the Times when the paper's liberal columnists needed a Palin joke.

Shear ran an update Saturday morning under a headline, "News Outlets Pounce on Palin E-Mails," that was an implicit confession the news value of the Palin emails were the political equivalent of the Al Capone vault (reference courtesy Allahpundit). After admitting "there were no major revelations" in the emails, Shear, showing chutzpah, worked in a crack at Fox News for refusing to join the liberal media hit parade on Palin:

A review in the morning of Web sites for news organizations and major blogs found that most gave the story prominent play, with large headlines and, in some cases, multiple articles.

One exception: Fox News, where Ms. Palin is a paid commentator. The network's home page offered one link to its article with the headline "Palin E-Mails Reveal Harsh Scrutiny After VP Pick." It came above an article about a fight on an airliner and below one about Turkish preparations for elections.

As if the overdose of Palin coverage was justified because all the other members of the liberal media were doing the same thing.

On Saturday, media reporter Jeremy Peters, to his credit, covered critics of the media's anti-Palin overkill, "Critics Fume Over Intensity of News Coverage for Palin's Messages."

News organizations mobilized teams of reporters and even recruited online volunteers to scan more than 24,000 pages of e-mails from Sarah Palin that were released on Friday, prompting some critics to accuse the news media of overkill at best and vigilantism at worst.


The New York Times and The Guardian sent reporters armed with scanners and then solicited readers' assistance. Politico enlisted a dozen editors, reporters and interns who worked as a team from their Northern Virginia newsroom "plowing through" the documents, as one editor described it. The Washington Post initially asked for 100 volunteers to sift through the documents. They were quickly overwhelmed with too many applicants. Unable to screen all of them, the paper abandoned the plan late Thursday, opting instead to invite reader comments.

Were news organizations Dumpster diving, as one outraged reader of The Washington Post put it?

News outlets insisted that they were trying to be as thorough and efficient as possible while reporting on information that the public was entitled to know.

"This is not a witch hunt," said Jim Roberts, an assistant managing editor at The Times. "There are 25,000 documents here, and we can use all the eyeballs we can get."


Greta Van Susteren, the Fox News host, asked if all the fuss amounted to a "media colonoscopy," and pointed to comments from her readers who asked whether news organizations had devoted such energy to the 2,800-page health care overhaul bill that passed last year.

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