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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)


Palin is a conservative who allows her daughter to be pregnant before marriage?? Contradiction here. There’s a lot more truth to be revealed about Palin. McCain made a blunder by choosing her for the VP nomination.

Posted by Douglas Stambler | Report as abusive

The MSM did not break the Bristol Palin pregnancy story, the McCain campaign released this story.

In what it called a defensive move to blog rumors, Sarah Palin announced her unmarried 17 year old daughter’s pregnancy and then asked for privacy.

If McCain had been informed of Bristol’s pregnancy, as he insists he was, then what ethical calculation did he and Sarah Palin perform before putting her daughter’s dignity and privacy at risk?

Now ask yourself…you are Sarah Palin and John McCain asks if there is anything he needs to know about you that may come out in the campaign.
So you tell McCain, “Well my 17 year old unmarried daughter is 5 months pregnant”.
Do you suppose that she and McCain said, “Well, she’s almost old enough to vote, she can take the heat, Game On!”
What parent would knowingly make their child the subject of this avalanche of publicity?

Posted by Mike Kelly | Report as abusive

Whether or not politicians private lives should or shouldn’t be made public is moot – they will always be public because of the media’s and the public’s insatiable appetite for tabloid-like stories and personal details of celebrities and politicians alike. These details get people’s attention, not political issues. Maybe if they lead to a discussion of a particular issue (teen pregnancy), we all can at least get something useful out of it.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

Does the public have a right to know whether Sarah Palin’s (or any candidate’s) daughter is pregnant or not?
Generally, the public does not have a RIGHT to know the marital or reproductive status of a candidate’s daughter. The reason Sarah Palin’s daughter is in the news is because her mother is a social conservative who claims abstinence only sex education works and parents just need to focus on teaching their kids “good Christian values” to prevent things like teen pregnancy. Yet, even Bristol’s family can’t see this as a positive development- the Palin statement acknowledge that this would be a difficult time for her daughter.
–Should the private lives of family members of presidential and vice-presidential candidates be off-limits?
The private lives of all candidate’s underage children should be off-limits. Children are not in a position to defend themselves or to define their public image in the same way that their parents are. However, adult children or children who choose to become part of campaign events through speeches, etc. do become part of the public discussion.
–How aggressively should the mainstream media pursue allegations and rumors in the blogosphere and tabloid media?
The MSM does not pursue ALL allegations and rumors in the blogosphere and tabloid media with the same zeal and desire to discover the truth. The biggest difference is that the blogosphere is willing to show its partisanship/interests in getting a story exposed while the MSM is not.
–Should journalists have reported the Palin pregnancy story before the McCain campaign’s announcement?
If journalists knew about and sat on the Palin pregnancy story before Friday (and/or after Pawlenty and Romney had announced they were not the VP), they should have reported it. Journalists often, and sometimes justly, speak with pride of their role in a robust democracy. But, if the fourth estate keeps failing in its role as the everyday man’s eyes and ears to news and instead becomes a parrot of various press releases then the MSM is truly no different than the most liberal or conservative of bloggers who only report the news as they believe it.

Posted by Janet | Report as abusive

I am, firstly, outraged as a woman that McCain believes,
apparently, that any uterus will do on the ticket. That
any “woman” is as good as any other; that experience for
a woman counts for nothing; that women who supported Hillary supported her because of her genetic makeup, not
her political beliefs; and this is all VERY demeaning to women voters. Could McCain have chosen any female for
his ticket as antithetical to Hillary Clinton? I don’t think so. And the fact that she hunts and fishes – does this mean that she is a good ol’ boy, too?
Secondly, I believe that his vetting process is seriously flawed; this was essentially his first move as a potential United States leader, and I think it was a hastily conceived gesture – I have heard that he himself spent very little time interviewing her. Do the people who support the 72-year-old melanoma victim McCain realize that this inexperienced woman who is embroiled in the difficulties of her own very young family may very well be replacing him at some point during his
presidency? A woman politician who has (in this global day and age) successfully managed to avoid experience of both Washington, D.C. AND foreign policy? – - I shudder to think.


Family details are not off limits as fas as “people who live in glass houses should not throw stones”. Hypocrites who try to impose their “family values” on others should be exposed.

Posted by JulieS | Report as abusive

No I don’t think the public has a right to know about Sarah Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy. That is one thing that is most certainly a personal matter.

Public figure’s family should be off limits. Sadly though in some ways my opinion is that if you have a family, that should be your first priority. You can not tell me that a person in Sarah Palins position is being a full time parent. More like someone else is raising her children. In my opinion that is the most selfish thing of all. Its for that reason I am not exactly pleased with McCains decision to add Sarah Palin as a running mate. Stay at home for awhile raise your four children. Be there for them when they need you. After all of that, I would love to see your name on that ballet. Looks like at this point in time you have a daughter that desperately needs you and your undivided attention.

Posted by Penny | Report as abusive

Of course it’s our business. As long as politicians try to legislate morality, we are not only given the right, but the responsibility to discuss their morals and the effects of their belief structure.

Posted by ETR | Report as abusive

It is 4 o’clock in the morning. A phone call to President of Unbited Staes, Sarah Palin, Commander in Chief (supposed the McCain got a heart attack. “Ms President, Iran is launching neuclear attack on Israel”. Sarah; “I am feeding my baby”. “Bristol – please, take care of your baby yourself!”.

Posted by Dag Vegger | Report as abusive


Posted by frank lean | Report as abusive

I think that if your running for the highest office, well anything is game. Since Obama has no experience and is set to a standard, the so shall Mc Cain and his VP.

Its good for the country and good to see how the candidate handle adversity.

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive

One questions 1 and 2. I think the public does have a right, albeit limited, to know about the private lives of the candidates and their families. Like it or not, they are now public figures and all public figures should expect some prying into their private affairs.
Do these questions have an impact on the candidacy? It depends and in this case I believe it does. You have a candidate who is in favor of “abstinence only” sex education… She should be asked about that opinion in light of her 17 year old daughter’s situation and whether she believes, now, that abstinence education is appropriate as “stand alone” sex eduation. The other issue is that may on the extreme right of the Republican party have supported her daughter’s pregnancy in a way that seems to approve of teenage pregnancy. From the perspective of a vice-presidential candidate, Palin should be able to discuss both of these issues specifically as they relate to her daughter. Is “abstinence alone” an effective strategy for sex education? Is teenage pregnancy a problem in this country and what, if anything, should be done about it.
So her daughter’s pregnancy itself is a private matter, but the issues it raises are not. As a public figure and vice presidential candidate, she should address the questions.

Posted by mike | Report as abusive

I want to know more about her membership in the Alaska Independence Party and their stance on seceding from the US. As for the teenage pregnancy, it’s an issue because Sarah Palin is against sex education in schools.

Posted by Jose | Report as abusive

Palin’s teenage daughter’s preganancy is open debate as is Palin’s personal life in every aspect. We would not accept a male VP nominee if we knew that he was ignoring the needs of his family. Politicians’s especially the Presidential Office & Congressman’s personal lives have always been a source of public opinion and interest. Palin’s own family life is reflection of how she can perform as VP. If as it seems here, Palin’s personal-family life is in shambles, her down syndrome son left in buses or with nannies as she trots on a campaign, her teenage daughter having unprotected sex & getting prgnant, her husband drunk & driving, her sister’s messy divorce & her allege involvement. Her family issues are legitimate questions, anyone who is going to run the USA needs to have solid-family base in order to efficiently do her job. Its cruciual for the public to know that the Pres. & VP family is strong, stable and unconditionally supports a job that shall be (and should be) all consumming of his/her time. The family unit needs to be stable enough to allow the VP all of the time that the VP office requires. We all know people whose careers/jobs have taken a toll due to family crisis or issues. The VP is not just a job. It is a 24/7 calling, thus, its important for Palin and all of the other canidates to be judged as to how good a father, mother, husband, wife they are, because if they cannot do that minimum, then we will be left with a VP who cannot perform her duties b/c of some family issue. This teenage pregancy may have made Palin “more real” for some folks. But I just care that VP and Pres. will be able to fulfill their calling, not be worried about a sick child or their daughter who will probably be divorcing by next year. We American have to deal with these things all of the time, I want and expect the Pres. & VP commmitted to their positions and expect them to be more of role model for the rest of us. I am sure if XX country or XX terrorist attacks us they will not wait around b/c Palin is flying to Alaska to handle her daughter’s divorce.. Private lives are open for discussion and reflect how the candidates will perform.

Posted by Melinda | Report as abusive

Absolutely this revelation about the Palin family is real news: It shows that either McCain didn’t thoroughly vet his VP choice, or that McCain and Palin went ahead with her as VP candidate even knowing the cost of privacy to her young, pregnant daughter, Bristol.

McCain comes out looking like an idiot, or a skunk.
BIG story.

Posted by SueP | Report as abusive

Yes, the public has the right to know if the GOP’s Vice Presidential Nominee’s daughter is pregnant & unmarried. This is particularly important when those facts show acandidate as a hypocrite [as it does in this case].

No, the private lives of a candidates minor children should not be off limits because this surely reveals something about the candidate.

The mainstream media should pursue blogoshere rumors with vigor because the public should know the truth of such matters (these truths reveal the candidate in a light that is not being manipulated by the campaigns).

The media should have reported as soon as they had the facts backed by credible sources– that is the media resposnibility and their role!

First, the hypocrisy of this matter desreves attention. Ms. Palin believes that abstinence before marriage and she is against sex education in the high schools. It is exactly because of parents like Ms. Palin that we need sex education in the high schools (i.e. Ms. Palin failed as a parent to get across to her teenage daughter that although abstinence before marriage is the way to go, if she went against her parents’ teachings, then this is how you use birth control. Second, John McCain has opposed federal funding for teen pregnancy programs. Not all such teenagers are wealthy. Also, if Ms. Palin was truly consistent in her values, she would persuade her daughter to put the baby up for adoption to a loving, more stable, 2 parent household.

Posted by Chris McCary | Report as abusive

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

It’s not something that can be easily hidden.

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

Yes. It only distracts from the issues that really matter.

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

Pursue them as aggressively as the sources traditionally relied upon by the mainstream media, but be very skeptical of your sources and conservative in your reporting. The anonymity afforded by blogs makes it so much easier to push false information, and you risk your reputation by reporting on the rumors without independent verification.

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

No. If you report a false rumor, great harm is possible. Even if the rumor is true, there is no benefit to the public good.

Posted by Woody | Report as abusive

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

That Palin’s daughter is pregnant is public knowledge. That it has been made such officially is just a step toward the inevitable and I think there is no ethical issue in the public knowledge.

That the event is politicized is inevitable I think, though, I think for either party to talk about the situation in concrete specifics is inappropriate. Teen pregnancy is a fact in America. Both sides have very different stances on how to approach that issue and that debate is one worth engaging. The facts of Palin’s family life brings that to the fore, but that is where it should stop. In the same way that hurricane Gustav brings to the fore the realities of proper federal response in times of crisis, neither candidate should then politicize the disaster itself.

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

To be honest, yes. These are people who are volunteering their lives to the most prominent of public service. American’s have the right to know all skeletons that might even remotely effect one’s ability to perform their duties in office.

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

I think the media outlets have an obligation to consider as valid any hair-brained scheme hatched on the internet. That they all race to break news is abhorrent. Publishing any allegation that might injure a public figures ability to serve just to be the first to have it in print in case it is right is detrimental. This is one case in which the saying “it is easier to ask forgiveness, than permission” does not apply. Forgiveness is almost impossibly got once a bogus story is hinted at through the whisper campaigns.

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

Sure. The McCain camp doesn’t really have the right to control spin on the facts. It is their obligation to break the story as soon as they know of it. Any hesitation could be a sign that they are trying to hide facts from the general public. A news organization is just doing their job in putting into the public sphere. Granted this doesn’t make us feel warm and tingly all over, but that’s how things work and McCain’s people should know that by now.

Posted by Brett Haughney | Report as abusive

Story seeds from the blogosphere should no more be considered off-limits because of their point of first appearance than one from supermarket tabloids. Saying otherwise is to give those with bad news an easy method to inoculate themselves from mainstream exposure. The aggressiveness of pursuit should primarily be determined on the same grounds as if the seed came from a more traditional source.

On this story, specifically, the one aspect of the affair that I find offensive is the category of story in “mainstream” press, which lovingly recounts each tidbit of Palin family information (such as a 22 year back drunk driving conviction of an non-candidate) above the fold on the front page, then claims that the story is not that tidbit, but the advocates the position that the McCain campaign choice of this candidate proves either incompetence (if they failed to unearth this crucially important disqualification in advance) or recklessness (if they proceeded while in possession of this disqualifying information).

Posted by Peter A. Stoll | Report as abusive

These questions need not become issues about journalistic ethics if the MSM debate focuses on issues of judgement and character. For instance, does the Palin nomination represent good judgment by McCain with respect to the qualifications of the VP candidate and his vetting process? Does the Pain nomination represent a slap in the face to pro-choice Clinton supporters considering the fact that Palin is pro-life. Is the Palin nomination a cynical and nihilistic ploy to sucker the women’s vote in the same manner that the Clarence Thomas appointment was a slap in the face to black Americans? What does the Pain nomination say about McCain’s judgement if the VP were to become president notwithstanding McCain’s age and health history? These are valid campaign questions without resorting to low-road politics.


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?

Not totally. The public has a right to know who the Secret Service is protecting and why. When the VP candidate’s minor daughter is engaged, her boyfriend probably requires the same protection as the minor daughter deserves, and likely should get the same press attention.

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

The blogosphere contributes to reporting, even when its presentation is inappropriate. Journalistic articles which (incidentally) rebut tabloid rumors should be reported with vigor. Sometimes this enters uncomfortable territory — for instance, reporting on Bristol’s pregnancy as opposed to Sarah Palin’s pregnancy. However, did you print articles about Republican appeals for clemency for Jack Abramoff without mentioning the murder of Konstantinos Boulis? Obviously, mainstream journalism often does a very bad job of presenting the complete story.

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

Sarah Palin rejects birth control WITHIN MARRIAGE, which becomes risky as a woman ages, but that is not newsworthy. While Sarah Palin is pregnant her minor daughter becomes pregnant too, but that is not newsworthy.

The Republican party platform opposes sex education to placate “social conservatives” who reject birth control, so that everyone in America can take the risks Sarah Palin took? That is most certainly news. It speaks to societal leadership, which the Republican party is apparently incapable of providing.

Posted by insight2 | Report as abusive

Not an easy question to answer. The reason is this is the party that thinks they can legislate upon us their version of morals and family values. What kind of family values lets a parent run for an extremely demanding political office when you have a 4month old baby at home (one with additional neeeds no less) and a pregnant teenage daughter who is going to need all the help she can get. I suppose it is off limits for the press to pursue stories involving candidates children. However that fact that Sarah Palin supports abstinence only education does beg the question of its effectivness.

Posted by brandon | Report as abusive

Dear Wright before I answer your questions, I want everyone to see the “arms length” I am from the key story of the US political process. I am an outsider looking in. I am a Canadian Citizen who will not and cannot vote in this election. Therefore, I am the least biased person to address your questions.
With this said, I feel that the entire world is looking in disbelief at John McCain’s choice for a running mate. Sarah Palin is even more unqualified for the position as Vice President as George W. Bush is a President of the United States.
The mere fact that this political race is so close baffles people in France, Germany, Australia, the UK, and yes, Canada. Our view on American’s ability to look at what is rational in electing a sound politician is low. The real ethical topic that should be addressed is the media’s role in “dumbing down” American’s to the point that they cannot look at real issues that affect them in electing the proper people in office. This in no way reflects support for Obama/Biden.
With this said, here is my answers to your questions
What do you think of the media’s coverage of this story?
The media coverage of this story has been fair and just. I think the media did not search out Levi Johnston or Bristol. They took the facts, as supplied by the GOP/Sarah Palin, and applied the relative stories. A few reporters crossed the line on ethics by suggesting that Sarah Palin herself might have been an unwed mother having eloped and 8 months later having her first child.
–Does the public have a right to know whether Sarah Palin’s (or any candidate’s) daughter is pregnant or not?
The public certainly does have a right to know if the candidate has a stance which is so unrealistic (abstinence) that it doesn’t even apply to her own children. Sarah Palin’s decision making ability like all candidates should be reviewed. Sarah Palin has made “several” blunders in her decision in accepting the Vice President nomination of the Republican Party. Any parent, being male or female who would subject their family to such a media circus is blinded by ambition instead of doing what’s right for their family.
–Should the private lives of family members of presidential and vice-presidential candidates be off-limits?
Again, in certain cases, no but family members bear influence in the decision of candidates. History has proven this fact for all politicians.
–How aggressively should the mainstream media pursue allegations and rumors in the blogosphere and tabloid media?
The mainstream media has a right to leave “no stone unturned” in the pursuit of any story that might be factual. Had they not investigated allegations about Sarah Palin’s son, the Republicans would have never come forward with the truth about Bristol Palin.
–Should journalists have reported the Palin pregnancy story before the McCain campaign’s announcement?
This question is really an internal question and not for the public scrutiny. From an ethical viewpoint, I see nothing wrong with reporting on stories that are factual in a timely manner.

Posted by Rob Christofle | Report as abusive

I believe it is OK to let the public know the truth regarding the pregnancy of Palin’s daughter. Having said that, I also believe this is personal to the family. Why have rumors circulating when the truth clears that up. The family is public information. So that’s just the way it is when someone is in the public eye. Besides this a Vice Presidential candidate. The public deserves to know what is really going on. Thank you for asking for viewer feedback. FLK


Re Pregnancy of Palin’s 17-year-old daughter: In general, the media should respect the privacy of the family members of political candidates. In this case, however, the public has a right to know because the candidate herself claims to adhere to the highest standard of family values. The news now show the double standards of Mrs. Palin and her conservative Republican base to which she caters.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

Leave her family alone, BUT… think about McCain’s judgment. Faulty intelligence needs to end with the Bush administration.

Posted by Jimmy | Report as abusive

It is very easy to say that the personal life of any political candidate should remain personal. And, although as a strong supporter of Women’s rights my gut reaction is that the way a woman handles her family is her own business (as long as it does not impact the way I live my life), in this case my reason says otherwise.

It is the parenthetical thought above which is the reason why in this case Sarah Palin’s family life must be subject to debate. The truth is the personal beliefs of the VP does impact my life directly, because she will be managing the country in which I live with the same decision-making process she has managed her family, and she will be a role model for future generations.

First of all, a family must budget its time and money to be successful, because no family can do everything. For example, a parent and child may have to choose between summer school tuition or a summer job. The choices made reflect what is more important to the family: education or revenue.

Voters have a right to know how their candidates will manage the office of the President of the United States, which is why senate voting records, legislation sponsored, and programs created are all subject of debate. Well, what about how the family is managed? If the family spends 10% of their budget on a homeless shelter, or spends one Sunday a month cleaning up a beach, it would be reasonable to assume that homeless or environmental programs may be highlighted in the administration.

Second, both the President and VP are role models to our children; they are our leaders and represent our country to the rest of the world. Children and adults want to be proud of them and strive to make the same positive impact on the world that they do, hence many will try to live all aspects of their lives making the same decisions their role models do. This is why private decisions are so important, because others will be making the same. Professional athletes are in the same situation: their conduct off the playing field is scrutinized because young boys and girls emulate them.

In Sarah Palin’s case, the news of her daughter’s pregnancy should be a topic of conversation to voters. There are some positives in the news (the family supporting the young mother), some negatives (how/why did she get pregnant in the first place), and topics very open to interpretation (how healthy the teenage marriage will be and what impact it will have on the child). But the truth is this situation is not an ideal one in any family, and without context, it is very possible some may make poor decisions while trying to emulate their role model.

Unfortunately, the truth is we are not electing a ticket that will lead the country with impartial values and pure logic. Instead, we are electing human beings to make human decisions. All their previous decisions in life are pieces of the puzzle that tell us who these people are and how they think, regardless of the theater in which they are presented. This image in the puzzle illuminates how they will manage the country, and paints a picture of life that many will try to emulate. I believe it is important to see that picture now, before the ballots are cast because once they are in office they are under no obligation to consult us first.

Posted by sofia | Report as abusive

Since Palin’s special needs child and all that goes with it (no abortion in spite of knowledge)is a big part of the energizing of the right wing evangelical base to vote for McCain, the truth is what people should be told, not a “good story”. It should be easy for her to clear the whole pregnancy thing up without bringing her daughter into it. The privacy of medical records without the patients consent for release makes this issue much more difficult for anyone to get the facts.

Posted by Mike Landis | Report as abusive

For every potential leader we must ask ourselves:
1) Can this person inspire young people to be the best that they can be?
2) Can this person set educational policies that help young people be the best that they can be ?

For Palin, we have a limited number of data points. One of those data points that we do have is her daughter.

Palin brags about being a “hockey mom.” So we have to look at her resume and ask, “Was she a good hockey mom, or did she let being a governor interfere with being a hockey mom? Did one part of her resume diminish her performance of other parts of her resume? If she does not have the skills to balance her life, then the needs of her family could diminish her performance as a VP.

If she wants to use her “mom skills” on her resume, then we get to look at the products of those skills. If she had sent the kids off to boarding schools and not put them on her resume, then the kids would be entitled to absolute privacy.

Posted by Aaron Lewis | Report as abusive

1. No; Gov. Palin’s daughter is having the baby, not Gov. Palin. Bristol Palin is not a public official. Bristol Palin has a tough road ahead and many emotional issues to deal with; she does not need a bunch of vultures attacking her. How about some compassion and support for her? Shouldn’t Planned Parenthood come out and support her since they supposedly are for helping young women who face difficult situations.

2. Yes; even Senator Obama agrees with this.

3. A large percentage of the mainstream media demonstrated that it lacks the discipline to report the news based on credible sources. Most of the mainstream media does not report the news, but they present news in a way to influence people. It is fine to investigate the rumor, but verify it before reporting it.

The mainstream media proved how biased they are in favor of Senator Obama by aggressively seeking a scandal to tear down Gov. Palin. The mainstream media should be embarrassed because of their overwhelming bias and support for Senator Obama. Why do we fail to hear about the scandalous people Senator Obama associates with, such as Bill Ayers (domestic terrorist), and Tony Rezco (Chicago slum lord who gained favorable government contracts by supporting Senator Obama when he was in the Illinois legislature). These are verifiable stories with substantial legal evidence to support them; they are not generated by a blogger. These are real stories about Senator Obama that display the relationships he keeps, yet their is no attention paid to them. These are criminals who wanted to tear down America through violence or through providing favors (corruption).

On the other hand, a young women who courageously decides to keep her baby in the face of future hardship receives overwhelming coverage like that is a crime. It is not a crime to have a child out of wedlock; it is a bad decision. In one of Senator Obama’s speeches, he said, “If my daughter makes a mistake, I don’t want her to be punished with a baby.” He said this to shore up the vote of the pro-abortion crowd. What if Senator Obama’s mom decided it was a mistake to have him? Where is the compassion? Who in their family has not had someone divorced or someone who has not had a child out of wedlock? WHO??

Tangent: everyone attacking Bristol Palin and Gov. Palin should be ashamed, especially the feminist. Feminist are so hypocritical if they do not show some compassion. Feminists should be jumping to Gov. Palin’s defense, because she is an accomplished women who has a family and is dealing with real life problems. Instead, they show disdain for her!

4. No; they should have verified the story before reporting it. Senator McCain’s announcement should have been the first step in verifying the story. Today, anyone with the ability to think critically and any intellectual integrity knows the mainstream media has no credibility. In the populist media’s eagerness to continue to prop up Senator Obama’s views and campaign, they demonstrated their overwhelming bias.

Posted by Palmer | Report as abusive

Media coverage is fine when it present verifiable facts and identifies opinion. When it comes to facts that allow people to ascertain a political candidates suitability for office, then coverage has significant value.

Her daughter’s pregnancy sheds light on her parenting skills and of course on her values. This is certainly fair game.

Governor Pallin is dealing with the consequences of her decision to invest more time in her political career than in her family.

Makes one wonder how she’d handle being a VP, when she’s mother of the whole country.

Posted by Watching carefully | Report as abusive

Dean, interesting questions!

But what about the one you didn’t ask — should the private life of candidates be off limits? I think it should. The media tends to disagree. Witness: John Edwards.

Family members should be off limits.

As for rumors from tabloids and blogs — the referendum seems to have come and gone. Bloggers and tabloids break news stories because mainstream media editors have been compromised on many levels. On the other hand, bloggers and tabloids don’t have the kind of oversight we expect of mainstream media. So the quandary is that if enough bloggers and tabloids raise a stink, it becomes newsworthy.

With the McCain/NY Times debacle, the Times essentially reported the hint of a rumor and were rightfully lambasted for the cheapness and yellow journalism of that decision.


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?

The news may be of interest, but as she (Bristol Palin) is not my daughter, and may be of age of consent, it is difficult to justify, except for the fact that private lives can influence public decisions, so there is a need-to-know.

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

There should be solid research performed to vet such allegations, and rumors. If they are true, then report them. Once the item has been reported, then the level of interest should be considered.

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

No, let this be handled by the Palin family, to report otherwise would have been intrusive.

My concern about the entire affair is that more heat and light seem to be generated by the fact of who knew what, and when, then does this fact impact the abilities of Gov. Palin to potentially serve as vice-president? What are the Governor’s political views? How does she bring strengths or balance weaknesses for the ticket?

Posted by ml | Report as abusive

To me, the most reprehensible thing was the McCain/Palin campaign’s use of the pregnancy story as a way to get Gov. Palin out of a political tight spot. And, it was totally gratuitous. The pregnancy announcement was made in order to dispel some scurrilous rumors about the parenthood of baby Trig Palin. Instead of simply refusing to dignify such remarks with an answer, they responded by invading young Bristol Palin’s privacy and making her the object of public scrutiny. Then, to complete the cynical ploy they attacked anyone who discussed it as an unwarranted invasion of Bristol’s privacy. How politically convenient! How wonderfully cynical. And all because of some nutty blogosphere blather? Talk about throwing someone under the bus! If I were Bristol I’d be furious with my mother for allowing this to happen. Wouldn’t it be her mom’s job to protect her from such attention in the first place? Couldn’t they just have waited until the RNC was over to make an announcement of the soon-to-be-obvious fact? And then just let it lie?

Posted by DaveW | Report as abusive

The issue here is not the daughter’s pregnancy–it is the behavior of the mother who claims to stand for so-called Christian family values, but was willing to catapult her daughter into the public eye at the toughest time of her young life. Forcing your child to carry a child unwanted by its father is bad enough. Forcing your child to do it in public so you can live out your ambitions? Disgraceful.

And you can be sure that if a Democratic woman’s child had been in the same situation the Rove smear meisters would have been all over it. The hypocrisy of the Republican right wing when one of THEIRS is caught violating their moral prescriptive code is nauseating.

I am also disgusted that the media are not reporting that the Republican Platform supports forbidding abortion in cases of rape and mother’s life in danger. If they want to make that choice themselves, fine. But when they want to impose it on ME or my daughter, that’s something else.

And my heart goes out to Palin’s daughter who is being forced to have a child so her mother can advance her political agenda. Poor kid.

Posted by J Ruhl | Report as abusive

So, Mrs. Palin is just a regular human being…like the rest of us!

Posted by Cristobal Rodriguez | Report as abusive

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

Unless she hides in a cave for 9 months, the public is bound to find out she is pregnant.

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

Only if they are not part of the candidates campaign- if the candidate showcases his/her family as an example of his/her character, the family should expect scrutiny of their character.

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

Ask John Edwards his opinion. What’s sauce for the goose is good for the gander.

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

Would have the McCain campaign have made an announcement otherwise?

Posted by John Zbesko | Report as abusive

–Does the public have a right to know whether Sarah Palin’s (or any candidate’s) daughter is pregnant or not?
SURE – but that is NOT the story nor should it be.

–Should the private lives of family members of presidential and vice-presidential candidates be off-limits?
NO – but HOUNDING should be.

–How aggressively should the mainstream media pursue allegations and rumors in the blogosphere and tabloid media?
YAWN… Leftist media trying to make media rather than report it….

–Should journalists have reported the Palin pregnancy story before the McCain campaign’s announcement?
WHY NOT – if they think it is an issue then report it.

What if this was an abortion story – would it get the same coverage?

What if this was about Obama being born out of wedlock – would that be factual and relevant?

What if this is about the facts of qualification and not some feel good over blown issues….

What if….

Posted by Sam | Report as abusive

Okay, let’s see now…I want to make sure I have this straight. A 17 year old girl, whose mother is running for political office is pregnant out of wedlock.
Honestly, it sounds like an interesting bit of gossip for high school girls and the town beauty salon.

The story seems inconsequential to the arena of running for a national public office, and it is not worth the attention of journalists who have their sites on the Pulitzer Prize or on building a career on intelligence, integrity to the profession and providing real quality of life news reporting to the public to whom they serve.

This sort of reporting is slimy, slanted and revealing…revealing in that it shows the true political bent of the writer or commentator or producer. Too many times in recent history major publications and television newscasts have gotten their hands caught in the cookie jar, as they have lost objectivity and allowed less-than-credible sources lead them in their story telling.

The main problem is that we start counting noses on who is being low-brow in their reporting. After all, “If xyz numbers of reporters are doing it, then it must be moral and ethical.” Wrong answer.

D L Grandy
Washington State

Posted by D L Grandy | Report as abusive

I cannot believe all the commotion about Pallin, her experience, her being chosen because she is a woman, her daughters cicumstance. Where were or are the questions about why Obama is a nominee? Does anyone really think if he were just a young white man he would be where he is? Do you think an inexperienced white political activist with a failed track record in his own region, questionable relationships, shady realestate purchases, a brother living on $20.00 a year in poverty, with a wife who thinks america is a mean place, and he is missing from his senate job more than there (and has a record of actually not committing to a vote more than taking a stand) would have been nominated. So here it is, nothing but Sarah is only there because she is a woman, but take a look at Obama and think if he would be where he is if he were not black.


There are several very good reasons “the” pregnancy should be discussed. The Republicans tout themselves to be the “moral majority”..this is the heart of their party and campaign. This speaks to that issue explicitly…Are the Palin’s a good role model for the masses? Any teenage pregnancy of an unwed teenage girl is a HUGE mistake and a tragedy…do we want a soap-opera family in the position of being the next President of the U.S.? Are they to be commended for welcoming the baby to their family or chastised for letting it happen…I strongly believe the latter is the more important subject. I, and many others, have always felt that teenage pregnancy is in great part due to lack of parental supervision and knowledge of what their child is doing and who the child is involved with…are we to believe this was a “one shot deal”? I also believe the situation brings attention to the judgement of McCain and his advisors…did they REALLY know the daughter was pregnant and did not think it would be an “issue”? What planet are they on? Then, if they did not know, as I suspect, it shows they made a very impetous decision that does not demonstrate the judgement a President of the United States should have…both deplorable situations. Bottom line, this issue should be front and center of ALL political discussions at this time and McCain is not Presidential material…!!!!

Posted by Stephanie Schieltz | Report as abusive

Check this out, Palin addresses the Alaskan Independence Policy:

Posted by Josh | Report as abusive

Ideally, the private lives of politicians’ kids should remain private. However, this case raises questions of Palin’s supposed commitment to the “family values” agenda. The facts suggest she was so eager to jump onboard the McCain camapaign, she didn’t think about how it would affect her family. Did she imagine she could become VP while somehow none of this would become public?

Given her stance on the right-wing social agenda–that being one of the major reasons she was picked, i.e. McCain needed to firm up support with the Right–one wonders whether Palin’s stance is purely for partisan political advantage, but irrelevant to how she actually lives her life and raises her family. In short: are her conservative values genuine, or is she a hypocrite?

Most important is how all this reflects on McCain’s judgment and the competence of his Presidential campaign. It would appear Palin was poorly vetted, if at all.

Posted by cwm | Report as abusive

–Does the public have a right to know whether Sarah Palin’s (or any candidate’s) daughter is pregnant or not?
A: Of course. Why should we not have that right? It shows what kind of mother/father they are. It shows if they cannot manage a child’s upbringing, they will probably be bad at managing teh country. It shows they are probably a dysfunctional family. It shows bad judgment as a parent. It shows that they are biting off more than they can chew – with 5 kids, similar to what Bush did with Iraq. Every little detail is important and nothing is off limits.

–Should the private lives of family members of presidential and vice-presidential candidates be off-limits?
-No. Not at all. Why? Nobody forced them to run. Be prepared to handle that pressure. If you cannot, then you are not qualified to handle the pressures of a Soviet nuclear buildup.

The decision to apply for and become the most public figure in the society comes with the disadvantage of having your life scrutinized.

–How aggressively should the mainstream media pursue allegations and rumors in the blogosphere and tabloid media?
- Only up to the point of finding and reporting facts. Things become bad only when teh media churns those facts for maximum public controversy.

–Should journalists have reported the Palin pregnancy story before the McCain campaign’s announcement?
-Yes. As I said earlier – every little fact goes to make up the picture of who she really is. Now we know that that picture is of a gun toting convervative redneck trailer trash. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Those type of people are welcome to live their life – but such a person should not be leading the country. The news of the pregnancy and other personal facts helped make up that pictures. So how can you say that it is not important to report those facts?

Posted by Rob | Report as abusive

Okay, first off, I would say that this is a very complicated issue. Journalists should probably not go around reporting things not officially announced by the first party. But who can tell that to reporters? Now, think that how her family life is run tells us a lot about her capabilities to lead in this country. If her daughter were grown and on her own, then I might see her as free from responsibility. But her daughter is 17 years old and pregnant. Yes, thank God she is making the right decision by marrying the man she has already made herself one with, and keeping her baby alive. But Palin cannot even handle her own household. Not to mention, I agree with those who say that she has a special needs baby, she has a big family and lots to take care of. Becoming Vice President, not to mention, if McCain were to die in office, President, she will be sorely neglecting her family. So I certainly think that people who are considering giving McCain their vote should know about the Palin’s family issues. If, for instance, I were to know that a candidate for President or their running mate had a gay or lesbian child, it would definitely affect my vote.

Now, about the aggressive pursuit by tabloids and media, that drives me batty! Those crazy people have got to get ahold of every little piece of celebrity “dirt” (true or not) and go wild with it! When you walk up to any check out, you will see 400 different papers, all telling contradictory stories about a famous person. People’s reputations can be irreparably destroyed by this kind of hunger and thirst for gossip! I LOATHE IT!!!


The public doesn’t have a “right to know”, but the public will know. So I guess the question is, how will they know? Will it find out from reputable news organizations that take the time to verify their sources and vet the story, or by insinuation and whisper campaigns? If a rumor has been started, I’d like to know the truth, be it John McCain’s black baby, swift boat veterans for truth, or Barack Obama is a secret muslim. I don’t which is more helpful for squashing rumors, running away from the the rumors or confronting them. But if multiple news organizations vet and debunk them then I feel better that the truth will sink into the consciousness of the american public.

Private lives of family members are not categorically off limits. Use your own judgment. My own thoughts on the matter, if the family member is campaigning for their relative or chooses to speak up in support of an issue, what they say should be vetted and tough questions asked (age appropriate, you don’t ask the 5 year old that gets trotted out for photos how he/she feels about the parent’s martial infidelities, etc). But adult children don’t get to be a walking infomercial just because they’re not the one running for office.

Bristol Palin as far as I know hasn’t done any campaigning. I think her pregnancy highlights the failings of abstinence only education, but I don’t need her to show that. She’s just an anecdote. The evidence and statistics more than demonstrate what the correct position is. This announcement would seem to put to rest the rumor that Trig is really Bristol’s child, therefore further coverage on the topic seems unnecessary unless something comes up that actually adds to our understanding of governor Palin’s policy views and character.

Posted by barnetto | Report as abusive

-What do you think of the media’s coverage of this story?
Yes, I think the MSM handled it well. I have a right to know all the ‘facts’ relating to any candidate.

–Does the public have a right to know whether Sarah Palin’s (or any candidate’s) daughter is pregnant or not?
Yes, all the facts are pertinent.

–Should the private lives of family members of presidential and vice-presidential candidates be off-limits? Yes, as king as they are not involved with a candidate’s campaign.

–How aggressively should the mainstream media pursue allegations and rumors in the blogosphere and tabloid media? Very aggressively. This is where MSM is transitioning (from print to internet), so the same way that reporters cover the courthouse, a baseball game, a business opening or closing…they should cover all serious trends on the net. The MSM should not cover tabloid type stuff, unless it is some type of real news. Leave it the tabloids.

–Should journalists have reported the Palin pregnancy story before the McCain campaign’s announcement? Yes, they should report factual news as it happens.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

Now I am a card carrying unabashed Bay Area liberal, but even I feel very strongly that this media feeding frenzy has gone too far. While there is a certain irony to the teenage daughter of a fierce proponent of ‘abstainance only’ education becoming pregnant, I do not feel that it is relevant in the least to the question of Gov. Palin’s judgment, political views, policies, or qualifications. This is all one big distraction.

As a working professional I consume enough news have a reasonable idea where the truth stands, how is it that professional news organizations get it so wrong. An example is the ‘troopergate’ “scandal”. From what I’ve ascertained, she exerted political pressure to get her ex-brother in law, who shot her nephew with a taser and threatened to kill her father, fired. Now maybe this is just my experience, but I can’t think of a single profession where could I threaten one of the chief executive’s family members and still expect to have a job the next day.

Why aren’t we talking about real issues or questions of judgment, such as how Gov. Palin denies the link between human industrial activity and global warming? What’s more important here? That the candidate’s daughter made a foolish youthful mistake, or that the candidate them self, who has no scientific background that I know of, feels that they somehow have insight about the nature of climate change that thousands of professional scientists around the world who make a living studying the earth’s climate lack? Personally, I’m much more interested in knowing whether or not a person vying for a position second to the president is of the type that will throw out the facts when they conflict with their preconceived notions than what their daughter does in her spare time.

Posted by gothamcitypolitico | Report as abusive

Of course we have a right to know.
I keep waiting for someone to ask “Where is the father of this unborn child?” Surely he would have married her already if he cared about her and the child. Does anybody care about him when this gun toting mom forces him to marry her daughter? Did the daughter want to not have this baby? I agree with the above comment, she must hate her mother.

Posted by Aldine Wallace | Report as abusive

Thanks to all of you for a thoughtful discussion on these issues. As my colleague, Adam Pasick, notes, there is already activity on the online prediction markets gauging whether Palin will stay on the ticket:  /02/prediction-markets-place-bets-on-pa lins-permanence/.

Whatever happens, I’m certain there will be other coverage issues for we in the media to wrestle with this campaign and I look forward to using this forum to discuss them.

Posted by Dean Wright | Report as abusive

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