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A Perfect Storm: Politics, Babies, Bloggers and a Hurricane

September 2, 2008

Sarah PalinIt has certainly been a busy — and historic — week for journalists in the United States. We love big stories, and we got them. We love surprises, and we got them.

In Denver, the Democrats nominated the first African-American candidate of a major party, while orchestrating a clockwork convention designed to show unity after a divisive primary campaign.

Barack Obama had hardly given his acceptance speech in a rock-star setting in front of  75,000 supporters  before John McCain grabbed the headlines and surprised the world by picking Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the first woman for a top slot in the GOP’s history.

Oh, yes. A major hurricane bore down on New Orleans. Gustav disrupted the script of  the Republican convention, revived memories of 2005′s Katrina and the devastation of a great American city and reminded many of the damage the response to that storm did to the reputation of the Bush administration.

Then on Monday, in a development worthy of a soap opera, the McCain campaign revealed that Palin’s 17-year-old unmarried daughter, Bristol, was pregnant, in an announcement intended to knock down rumors by bloggers that Palin faked her own pregnancy to cover up for her child.

The story raises a number of ethical issues for journalists, which is why I’m writing today.

First, an introduction: I am Reuters’ newly named Editor for Ethics, Innovation and News Values. One of my missions is to lead discussions on ethics and standards wherever journalism is practiced at Thomson Reuters — and the Palin story seems a good place to start. It raises important issues for journalism: the right of public figures’ families to privacy; the mainstream media’s relationship with bloggers and other media; and the relationship between journalists and the people they cover.

The pregnancy story — like many stories now — got its start in the blogosphere, with liberal bloggers, such as those on the Daily Kos discussing rumors that the governor’s fifth child, born in April, was in fact her daughter’s. Conservative blogs, such as  launched furious rebuttals. The McCain campaign chose to reveal Bristol’s pregnancy on a major U.S. holiday, at a time when much of the public’s attention was still focused on barbecues and beaches and the  media’s attention was focused on Hurricane Gustav.

But the story was neither overlooked by the public nor overshadowed by Gustav.

There was instant debate over whether Bristol’s pregnancy was anyone’s business but hers and her family’s; whether candidates’ children should be off-limits (Obama thought so); whether GOP delegates would stand by Palin (all signs are that they are); and whether the McCain campaign’s vetting process had been less than thorough.

So let’s have some debate (or at least discussion) here. What do you think of the media’s coverage of this story?

–Does the public have a right to know whether Sarah Palin’s (or any candidate’s) daughter is pregnant or not?

–Should the private lives of family members of presidential and vice-presidential candidates be off-limits?

–How aggressively should the mainstream media pursue allegations and rumors in the blogosphere and tabloid media?

–Should journalists have reported the Palin pregnancy story before the McCain campaign’s announcement?

I’m looking forward to your views on this story -and on other stories in the future. Reuters and other news organizations don’t operate in a vacuum. We wouldn’t be in business were it not for you, our customers, clients and users.

Dean Wright is Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation and News Values

(Photo credit: REUTERS/Matt Sullivan)


The biggest news is always buried by Reuters Editors: Reuters is in the bag Obama. Sarah Palin is persecuted by a corrupt and sexist media. These should be the headlines accompanied by cutting edge reports that shake every tree, rake every leaf, excoriating the perpetrators of bigotry: the venal anti American cabal at Rueters.

Posted by rural american | Report as abusive

One’s got the feeling that this was a desperate move on Senator McCain and or the republican party to exploit the female. Senator Clinton, a female, was rallying a lot of attention on the Democratic side of the presidintal ticket so the republican party thinks that that’s what America wants. It’s not about black or white, male or female but what the candiate can bring to the ticket as far as domestic and foreign experience. Sarah Palin might be smart but there’s a lot of other right wing consertive canadates with more Washington intelligence then her. Shame on them for thinking that were not smart enough to figure that out.

T in Indiana


Issues, policies, economics, war and so many other critical components of an election have taken a backseat. Instead we spend our time discussing the VP’s daughter’s pregnancy, lipstick, pigs, and pitbulls. This presidential election has received so much international attention. The world is truly watching and we are not exhibiting the characteristic of a country known as the leader of the free world. What happened to America


Mike Kelly asked “What parent would knowingly make their child the subject of this avalanche of publicity?”

Mr. Kelly seems to assume that Bristol would be spared the publicity if her mother turned down the VP nomination. That assumption must rely on an assumption that news of the VP offer and Palin’s refusal would stay secret. I doubt that very highly.

Even if it were not much of a national story, which I also doubt, it would be a BIG story in Bristol’s home town. She would be subjected to all the publicity that would matter to her, and she would be known as the kid who destroyed her mother’s chance to be VP by doing things her mother advised her against doing.

I don’t know about teenagers in Mr. Kelly’s experience, but in my experience they feel that they are responsibility for their own actions when their actions go against their parent’s rules. They want the right to make their own mistakes, but don’t expect their parents to pay for their mistakes and would be humiliated if their parents have to.

I think her chances of recovering her self esteem are much better as the VP nominee’s daughter than as the kid who ruined her mother’s chance to be VP.

I don’t write as a Palin supporter, by the way. I am more likely to vote for Joe Schriner ( who sought the Green Party Nomination and is now a write-in candidate.


I do not like the media’s involvment, I believe they twist things instead of reporting the news. I do not believe that the media or people have the right to bad-mouth the Palin’s over their daughter’s pregnancy, it is none of their business. Where was all the ‘covered mouthed gasps’ when the President of the United States was being investigated for illegal land deals and infidelity? Oh, I’m sorry, it was determined by the ‘media’ that oral sex is not sex, therefore we could not hold the President at that time responsible. You have a family that is standing by their daughter, offering support and love regarding a private situation. Oh the fickleness of our society. How can we not hold one person to be morally responsible but yet demand it of someone else? I look more at what the individual candidates have done for this country and what I have seen so far hasn’t changed my mind in the least on who I will be voting for.

Posted by kim | Report as abusive

The obsession with everything about Palin is distracting voters from the more important issues like unemployment, mortgage mess, bank runs, bailouts, declining assets, inflation, etc.

Does the next American President have the resolve to tackle such issues and bring Americans out of the current malaise?

That should be the main concern, not Palin’s hoop earrings, spectacle, babies, hacked email, etc.


I wasn’t sure where to post this, and this seemed like good a place as any.

I’m against the $85,000,000, 000.00 bailout of AIG. Instead, I’m in favor of giving $85,000,000, 000 to America in a We Deserve It Dividend.
To make the math simple, let’s assume there are 200,000,000 bonafide U.S. Citizens 18+. Our population is about 301,000,000 +/- counting every man, woman
and child. So 200,000,000 might be a fair stab at adults 18
and up. So divide 200 million adults 18+ into $85 billon that
equals $425,000.00.
My plan is to give $425,000 to every person 18+ as a We Deserve It Dividend.
Of course, it would NOT be tax-free.
So let’s assume a tax rate of 30%. Every individual 18+ has to pay $127,500.00 in taxes. That sends $25,500,000, 000 right back to Uncle Sam. But it means that every adult 18+ has $297,500.00 in their pocket.
A husband and wife has $595,000 .00. What would you do with $297,500.00 to $595,000.00 in your family?

Pay off your mortgage – housing crisis solved.

Repay college loans – what a great boost to new grads

Put away money for college – it’ll be there

Save in a bank – create money to loan to entrepreneurs.

Buy a new car – create jobs

Invest in the market – capital drives growth

Pay for your parent’s medical insurance – health care

Enable Deadbeat Dads to come clean – or else

Remember this is for every adult U S Citizen 18+ including the folks who lost their jobs at Lehman Brothers and every other company that is cutting back. And of course, for those serving in our Armed Forces.
If we’re going to re-distribute wealth let’s really do it…instead of trickling out a puny $1000.00 ( “vote buy” ) economic incentive that is being proposed by
one of our candidates for President. If we’re going to do an $85 billion bailout, let’s
bail out every adult U S Citizen 18+!

As for AIG – liquidate it.

Sell off its parts.

Let American General go back to being American General.

Sell off the real estate.

Let the private sector bargain hunters cut it up and clean
it up.

Here’s my rationale. We deserve it and AIG doesn’t.

Sure it’s a crazy idea that can “never work.”

But can you imagine the Coast-To-Coast Block Party!

How do you spell Economic Boom?

I trust my fellow adult Americans to know how to use the $85 Billion We Deserve It Dividend more than the geniuses at AIG or in Washington DC.

And remember, The Family plan only really costs $59.5 Billion because
$25.5 Billion is returned instantly in taxes to Uncle Sam.

Ahhh…I feel so much better getting that off my chest.

Kindest personal regards,

A Creative Guy & Citizen of the Republic.


‘Be kinder than necessary
because everyone you meet is fighting
some kind of battle.

Posted by Tisha | Report as abusive

I think all candidates should have an open book. Underage children should be off limits. I believe all the candidates should start by showing their birth certicates to prove exactly where they were born , to be certain they should even be allowed in the race for Pres. of the United States of America, not United States of the World. If they are friendly with terrorist, and wont salute our flag and only wear the flag pin when the party insist and used the koran when being sworn into office. Then I feel these are the things that should matter with all people(democrat or republician)more than a pregnant teenager. I am sure that most all of you have had one in your family or friends or neighbors have. So, dont throw stones, its unbecoming. Get your heads out of the sand and really check out who is running for Pres.

Posted by Joyce | Report as abusive

And here lies the true problem…in the previous post, 85,000,000,000 divided by 200,000,000 = $425 dollars.
That email probably made the rounds of most of us in the US, and I don’t think that would solve anyones’s problems. But it highlights our current “human” condition, believing everything you read or hear without thinking, and then spreading the word. This applies to politics, economics, or any other conflict where those involved operate as a pair of magnets…if the polar ends agree, they are drawn together by substantial forces. If they disagree, the force to separate is just as powerful in the opposite direction. The world is a complex system without a possible exact solution, and until everyone involved is willing to investigate why their “opponent” feels the way they do…there will be no REAL progress. You may not agree 100%, but understanding that every solution will be a true compromise would be a giant step forward. Every day should be toward trying to understand the root of the problem and the opposite view, not defending the poles.

Is this a wish for Utopia…yep, will it ever happen, nope. But I will die knowing I was not a part of the problem.

Posted by alex | Report as abusive

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