Monday, September 29, 2008

Should Palin Step Down Because of Couric Interview? Please ...

The calls for Gov. Sarah Palin to step down from the GOP ticket has moved from the blogs to the mainstream media as journalists across the nation have been in a state of shock that she performed poorly during the interview with CBS' Katie Couric.

Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, took the ball from Kathleen Parker from The National Review and published an editorial this morning demanding that the governor from Alaska remove herself from the GOP ticket because of her poor performance.

In a four-paragraph editorial, Zakaria's thesis is that because Palin stumbled on answering Couric's questions she is no way qualified for the office of vice president.

The problem with that thesis is that answering media questions is not what qualifies anybody for high office. If it were, we'd be in trouble with all the candidates.

Case in point: Here's Sen. Joe Biden, well known as a gaffe machine, speaking to, ironically, Couric on how a president can respond to an economic crisis:

Now, we all know that President Roosevelt was not president when the stock market crashed in 1929 (it's what made Herbert Hoover famous). We also know that few televisions existed in the Roaring '20s. So is Biden out of touch for making such a ridiculous argument? Where is the media outrage that he can't put forth a reasonable answer to a reasonable question, and therefore should step down from the campaign?

Biden isn't the only one to misspeak during the campaign. Sen. John McCain has had his share of fumbles in front of a microphone. For instance, he proudly proclaimed at the start of the current financial crisis that if he were president, he would fire Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox for his “betrayal of trust” leading up to this past week’s financial market crisis."

Now, in this case, the problem is that the SEC, which regulates the trading of stocks and bonds, is an independent agency outside the jurisdiction of the White House. While the president nominates and the Senate approves the SEC chairman, there is some doubt on whether a president can actually fire the SEC chair. After a few days of back-and-forth between the McCain campaign and the media about the gaffe, the GOP candidate changed his language to say he would asked for Cox's resignation, not fire him. The media was appropriately tough on McCain, but there were no calls for him to step aside from the campaign for the good of the party.

Or how about this one?

The Spanish press was pounding the McCain campaign for at least one news cycle after the Arizona senator failed to correctly identify Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain. The reporter that spoke with McCain said that she had the feeling that McCain didn't know what he was talking about. Some said McCain was confused in the interview, apparently thinking Zapatero was someone from Latin America who is an enemy of the United States. This interview started a minor international controversy; but there were no calls from the media that McCain step down from the campaign because he had misspoken to the press on a foreign affairs matter, which is one of his strong points.

And probably the most famous gaffe of McCain's campaign was when Politico asked the senator how many homes he owned. "I think — I'll have my staff get to you," McCain said. "It's condominiums where — I'll have them get to you."

He's still taking heat for that one. But are there any calls for him to step aside? Not really.

Misspeaking in front of cameras is a bipartisan sport. Some of Sen. Barack Obama's have been outrageous as well. For instance:

How could someone who thinks there are 58 states actually serve as president? How many electoral votes do those extra eight states give the Democrats? This is obviously a slip of the tongue, not a sign of a basic lack of knowledge about geography. But what would the media be saying if Palin made that same mistake. Tina Fey would have a field day on "Saturday Night Live."

There were more serious missteps by Obama. Remember his statement earlier in the campaign that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided."

That's a policy statement, and it was one that gave Obama some considerable heat. He had to spend days backtracking on the statement.

Once again, CBS' Couric was in the middle of the fray we she asked the senator: "You said not too long ago that Jerusalem should remain undivided. And then you backtracked on that statement. Does that play into the argument that some believe that someone more experienced would not have made that kind of mistake?"

Obama: "Well, if you look at what happened, there was no shift in policy or backtracking in policy. We just had phrased it poorly in the speech. That has happened and will happen to every politician. You're not always gonna hit your mark in terms of how you phrase your policies. But my policy hasn't changed, and it's been very consistent. It's the same policy that Bill Clinton has put forward, and that says that Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, that we shouldn't divide it by barbed wire, but that, ultimately that is a final status issue that has to be resolved between the Palestinians and the Israelis."

This was a case where he used code words that upset many Palestinians in part of the world where people die because high-ranking officials use incorrect language. But nobody in the media started to write editorials saying that he should drop out of the race because that he was not qualified for high office because he misspoke to the media.

Here's another case. On his trip to the Middle East, Obama proudly proclaimed that "Now, in terms of knowing my commitments, you don't have to just look at my words, you can look at my deeds. Just this past week, we passed out of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, which is my committee, a bill to call for divestment from Iran, as a way of ratcheting up the pressure to ensure that they don't obtain a nuclear weapon."

Of course, there was some press concerning this, mostly for one news cycle. Obama is not a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Obama took credit for the committee's works as one of his deeds. And while there was some press criticism about it, there were no calls for him to step aside because of a lack of ability to speak into a microphone.

Here's the deal. Palin had a bad interview with Couric. Her answers were not on target. But that does not disqualify her as part of the GOP ticket. An ability to speak to the press has never stopped anyone from succeeding in high office. Every politician on the planet misspeaks and stumbles on their words, usually on a daily basis.

Members of the media have the same amount of power in the presidential elections as other citizens. Each reporter, editor and commentator has one vote, just like you. Journalists do like to think they control the national dialogue. The whole Palin phenomena has been a thorn in the news media's side. Journalists did not see her coming as a candidate, they never approved of the vetting process (because they didn't have a chance to vet her), and she represents a segment of the populace that journalists in New York and Washington have a tough time understanding. In their collective mind, they cannot fathom a person coming out of nowhere, who holds opposite values as they do, potentially jumping in and becoming a very powerful person. In a nutshell, they never approved her. Therefore, in most journalists' mindset, she isn't qualified.

But, it's not the news media's call.

You, and everyone else who goes to the polls in November, are the only ones who gets to decide if she, or any one else is qualified. Don't make your decision based on a candidate's performance with the media. Judge office-seekers by their policies, their past performance in government service and their vision for the future. Those are the only qualifications you need to look at.

In the end, she's not qualified only if the voters, not the media, say so.

No comments: