You know the old joke about the politician who kept telling audiences he was sticking to the “high road.” “To prove that,” he said, “I won’t make an issue of rumors my opponent has a drinking problem.”
Former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan, who writes for a number of newspapers and blogs at the Atlantic Monthly’s Atlantic.com gave us all an actual example of sticking to the “high road” when he used his blog, which gets millions of hits most months, to spread the vicious rumor Gov. Palin is not the mother of her son Trig. Daughter Bristol is.
Mind you, Sullivan told everyone, he was just asking questions to put the rumors to rest. You can read one of his “put the rumors to rest” posts here.
Sullivan didn’t fool Realclearpolitics.com co-founder and co-publisher Tom Bevan who posts today “Some Kind of Ugly.” It follows, after which I add a few comments.
Bevan begins - - -
Let me get this straight: an anonymous blogger from the left wing site Daily Kos cobbles together snippets from newspapers, undated or misdated pictures, and other anecdotes and tidbits of information to produce a conspiracy theory that Sarah Palin is covering up the fact that her daughter, Bristol, is really the mother of Trig, the five month old baby born in April with Down's Syndrome.
This ugly rumor - ripped straight from the headlines of Desperate Housewives - is then picked up, turned over, and promoted repeatedly by a "respectable" writer in the online version of one of America's most venerated magazines.
The result is that an unfounded personal smear, which really should have no business existing outside of the bowels of the left wing Internet, becomes an overnight sensation among the political chattering class.
The sordid chronology of the last few days will get lost quickly as the mainstream media turns its attention to the dramatic announcement yesterday that Bristol Palin is five months pregnant.
But make no mistake about it: this was a litmus test of the media's responsibility and integrity, and at least one journalist failed that test miserably.
While all the major media outlets shied away from repeating this crackpot theory, Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic jumped into the fever swamp with both feet. Not only that, but he continues to demand that the Palins produce medical records to refute the rumor even after yesterday's announcement about Bristol made it clear that she could not possibly be the mother.
Just a couple of weeks ago Sullivan latched on to and began promoting another rumor that bubbled up from the left wing blogs that John McCain had lifted his "cross in the dirt" story from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago only to discover no such passage existed in the book.
Sullivan appears to want to justify his descent by arguing that trafficking in rumors is perfectly appropriate for his blog. He's just asking questions, after all. But The Atlantic is not Daily Kos, though these days it's becoming harder and harder to tell the difference.
Every blogger, reporter and journalist knows how easy it is to spread smears and rumors. You just publish them.
That’s what’s Sullivan did, knowing that his journalist colleagues who were holding back on the “Trig isn’t Palin’s baby” smear could jump on it as soon as he published. It was, after all, now being reported at the Atlantic Monthly’s site. And by Andrew Sullivan no less, who was “asking questions the McCain camp so far hasn’t answered.”
My hat is off to Tom Bevan for calling Sullivan on his promotion of one of the lowest political smears I know of .
Caution to all of you who are fair-minded: We’ll have much more of the Sullivan kind of smearing before the campaign is over.