Sarah Palin and the Abuse of Blog Power


The social media that permeate the blogosphere have changed the way politics unfolds in this country. It is more difficult now than ever before to get solid, reliable information about the character of presidential candidates, for example. Today, rumors about Sarah Palin are flying with fury and labels are being applied as if these are factually established and relevant.

Anti-Palin bloggers are pumping out bile with the unrelenting force of an Alaskan gusher. These people are using their blog-power to influence voters. Nothing wrong with that. But fomenting discontent on the basis of rumor alone is an abuse of that power.

We need an example. One blogger who illustrates this obsessive, vicious lampooning of Sarah Palin (and John McCain) is “AKMuckraker” at Mudflats. On one post she insinuates that Sarah Palin is John McCain’s latest “trophy girl.” In another, she rolls out all the labels she can contrive—”Trooper-Gate,” “Baby-Gate,” “Bridge-Gate,” and “Veep-Gate”—and wails to the world that the GOP campaign will come unraveled in the days left before the election. Many who chime in with comments at her posts exhibit an astonishing willingness to believe on the basis of ethereal fumes. (One shining exception is Gerri; she candidly states that she’s pro-Obama, but says she wants proof because she doesn’t like rumors and blatant lies. Way to go, Gerri.)

I have four guidelines to recommend to blog browsers whose eyes are burning from all this smoke. If you find that rumor is beginning to influence your outlook, you might find these helpful.

1. Chase the rumor to its source and investigate the source.

The “scandal” that’s all the rage today swirls around allegations that Sarah Palin’s youngest child, an infant with Downe syndrome, is not her own child but the child of her 17-year-old daughter, and the spectacle of much handwringing about the news that Palin’s daughter is pregnant now and will soon marry the father.

Who’s behind the effort to bring this to national attention? The advertised culprit is Andrew Sullivan, of TheAtlantic.com, a leftist blogger and adoring fan of Obama, who seems to have proven that he can be truly unscrupulous if it will help the liberal cause. Norman Podhoretz explains what is worse than despicable about Sullivan’s behaviour here and here. This criticism extends to Sullivan’s channelers throughout the blogosphere.

2. Listen carefully to the tone of the blogger.

Is the blogger being sarcastic? Does the blogger rely on sarcasm to make the “argument”? Is it plausible to suppose that the blogger is being objective? That the blogger is willing to give the candidate the benefit of the doubt? That the blogger is sincere about relying on bullet-proof evidence when evaluating the candidate’s character and motives?

Does the blogger consider counter-evidence or counterarguments? Are these treated fairly?

Does it sound like the blogger is preaching to the converted? If so, then she probably is.

A muckraker is someone seeks out and publishes alleged scandals in an underhanded way. The writer at Mudflats calls herself “AKMuckraker.” Enough said?

3. Step back and remember what governing this country is about.

Don’t lose sight of the issues. This goes to the question, How relevant is the rumor, even if true? What aspect of prudent national leadership is threatened? Make a list the most important foreign and domestic policy issues facing this country. Then ask, How will the candidate who’s been smeared address those issues? Does the candidate act consistently with his or her declared principles?

4. Don’t expect the candidate to answer every scandalous charge of scandal with counter-evidence.

Putting an opponent on the defensive by making frivolous charges is one of the oldest tricks in the book. If Sullivan or someone else broadcasts an allegation, forbear not to believe it, or even to give it another thought, unless and until the sponsor of the claim presents compelling evidence. That is his or her responsibility, if a case can be made.

No one should be distracted by, and still less should one believe, a baseless allegation made by a scurrilous troublemaker who is ultimately indifferent about truth.

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Bottom Line: It’s time to shut the Rumor-Gate and get down to the business of sorting out the kind of national leadership, in both foreign and domestic policy areas, that is really needed. Maybe the concentration of muckraking in one party gives us a clue.

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