Summoning up the robust tones of indignation that he’s trying to make his trademark, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez tried to outrage his viewers Monday afternoon by telling them that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin “suggested in an interview that President Obama could help his chances of being re-elected by declaring war on Iran.”
The Palinophobes in Sanchez’s audience no doubt rolled their eyes at hearing this latest tidbit, which confirmed for them, once again, that the Wicked Witch of Wasilla must off her rocker.
But there’s a big fly in that ointment: Sanchez grossly mischaracterized Palin’s comments. And this is not the first time that Sanchez — whether by design or merely due to sloppy reporting — has manipulated comments out of context to attack a conservative woman.
A bit of background: During an interview Sunday on the Fox News Channel, anchor Chris Wallace asked Palin if she thought Obama would win re-election in 2012. Her response was that as things now stand, he wouldn’t, but she also noted that outside international events could improve his electoral prospects, attributing that thesis to conservative columnist Pat Buchanan.
However, in paraphrasing Buchanan, Palin referred to the potential use of military force by Obama as playing the “war card” – a silly and artless turn of phrase that gave the impression that she was suggesting that the president would bomb Iran to get re-elected, as Sanchez told his viewers.
Unfortunately for CNN’s freewheeling host, though, the interview did not stop there.
Wallace – his journalistic antennae clearly tweaked by the “war card” reference – followed up, asking Palin if she was really suggesting that Obama would deliberately bomb his way to victory. She said no, she wasn’t. She then tried to explain her intended point more clearly; namely, that if Obama decided to “tough it up” in his handling international threats, his electoral prospects might improve. And two examples she cited were war with Iran and stronger U.S. support for Israel. (The reference to Israel seemed to be an attempt to explain why America might bomb Iran, although her rambling answer left that open to interpretation.)
Lampooning Palin for her lack of eloquence in answering the question, including inaccurately using the term “war card,” would have been fair. However, mischaracterizing what she meant by not evaluating her answer in its full context was journalistic malpractice. Even MSNBC’s liberal commentators, who usually relish treating Palin like a piñata, didn’t go there (with the exception, of course, of Keith Olbermann, dubious company indeed for any purported journalist.)
Sanchez recently used a similar tactic against Rep. Michele Bachmann, who, like Palin, is the sort of unvarnished conservative that drives liberals into a curious frenzy. He charged on air that Bachmann publicly opposed compliance with the 2010 census, then implied that she shut up after realizing that a low census count in her home state might lead to elimination of her House district.
However, Bachmann’s critical comments about the census related not to the population count itself (which is what determines congressional representation) but to the questionnaire that will be sent to households as part of the process. She complained that the data collection effort was too intrusive, expressing fears about what the government might do with citizens’ sensitive personal information (stuff like how many bathrooms are in their house.)
Granted, Bachman’s pandering to the paranoia of the black helicopter crowd may have hit the bell on the buffoon-o-meter, but Sanchez’s innuendo that she was advocating some sort of militant resistance to the census (tar and feathers, anyone?) made him look just as foolish. And his speculation that Bachman changed her tune about the census to save her own seat was thinly supported by anything but his own hot air.
If Sanchez or his audience want to see Palin’s “war card” comments fairly critiqued in their actual context, they should watch liberal commentator Chris Matthews’ report Monday on MSNBC. He opined that Palin must be living on another planet if she thinks that Obama’s political prospects would actually improve if the United States got involved in a third war with a country as militarily advanced as Iran.
Matthews’ analysis, while debatable, had the advantage of being both pithy and insightful. And he managed to take a whack at Palin without twisting her comments like a pretzel.