By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Picking apart Jeff Jacoby’s indictment

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby today takes on what he calls the “frenzy of rage and contempt set off by the nomination of Sarah Palin.”

Because Jacoby’s an important voice and deserves to be taken seriously, I’m going to take a little more space than I normally might to pick his column apart. As you will see, there is almost nothing in Jacoby’s piece that holds up to scrutiny.

1. “There has been legitimate criticism, of course. But there has also been a gusher of slander, much of it — like the slur that she isn’t the real mother of her infant son, Trig — despicable.”

Agreed. It doesn’t get much more despicable than that. But why bring it up? As we know, this rumor was nothing but the product of a pseudonymous hate-monger on Daily Kos. Until the McCain campaign itself cited it as a reason for going public with 17-year-old Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, the only mainstream journalist who mentioned it was Andrew Sullivan, blogging for the Atlantic. I unloaded on him for that.

This complaint makes as much sense as blaming the media and mainstream Republicans for anonymous e-mails that claim Barack Obama is a Muslim.

2. “Voters have been told that she slashed funding in Alaska for special-needs children.”

Perhaps that’s because, this summer, she cut the budget for the Special Olympics by $275,000. [True, but see note below.]

3. “That she tried to ban books from Wasilla’s public library.”

Unproven, though Bill Adair, editor of the nonpartisan Web site PolitiFact, now says there may be more to this allegation than first appeared. The investigation continues.

4. “That she was a member of the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party.”

That was a case of media overreach based on some pretty tantalizing information. We know, for instance, that Palin’s husband, Todd Palin, was a member for seven years; that she denies the testimony of several eyewitnesses who say she attended a state convention in the mid-1990s; and that, as governor, she recorded a cheery video message to be played at the party state convention.

Lest we forget, the words of party founder Joe Vogler remain emblazoned on the party’s Web site: “I’m an Alaskan, not an American. I’ve got no use for America or her damned institutions.”

5. “That she links Saddam Hussein to the attacks of 9/11.”

She does, most recently last Thursday.

6. “That she backed Pat Buchanan for president.”

The source of this error was an MSNBC analyst named, uh, Pat Buchanan. In Buchanan’s defense, it’s possible that the “Buchanan for President” button Palin was wearing fooled him.

7. “That she doesn’t want students taught about contraception.”

During her 2006 campaign for governor, Palin answered a questionnaire that dealt with sex education and a number of other issues.

Here is one of the questions: “Will you support funding for abstinence-until-marriage education instead of for explicit sex-education programs, school-based clinics, and the distribution of contraceptives in schools?”

And here is Palin’s answer: “Yes, the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support.”

Does not abstinence-only education by definition exclude teaching kids about contraception? That’s not a rhetorical question — I don’t know. But I think it does. (Or not. See “Update,” below.)

8. “That she called the war in Iraq ‘a task from God.'”

I think Jacoby is right in calling this a stretch, though reasonable people — including a Pentacostal scholar — believe otherwise. But she did ask people to pray that a natural-gas pipeline would be built in Alaska. Is it somehow better to refer to a pipeline as a gift from God than it is to call the war in Iraq a task from God?

9. “For months they [the media] refused to mention the infidelity of John Edwards, yet they leaped with relish onto Bristol Palin’s pregnancy.”

What the media refused to do was pass along — or at least investigate and verify — stories in the National Enquirer about Edwards’ infidelity. Now the media are ignoring stories in the Enquirer that Palin had an affair with an ex-business partner of her husband’s, and that her two oldest kids have a thing for OxyContin and weed. Sounds pretty even-handed to me.

10. “Yet the more she has been attacked, the more her support has solidified. In the latest Fox News poll, Palin’s favorable/unfavorable ratio is a strong 54-27.”

Polls prove nothing. But for what it’s worth, her favorability/unfavorability ratings are down 10 points in the past few days, according to Newsweek.

Jacoby also passes along some pretty nasty comments from the likes of Randi Rhodes and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. I’m not sure what that proves. We’ve also heard Obama referred to as “uppity,” and recently a waffle mix featuring Obama as Uncle Jemimah was spotted at some sort of “values” conference.

The point is that Jacoby has gathered together essentially the entire indictment of the so-called liberal media with respect to Palin. And every bit of it is either wrong or distorted.

More: Sean Roche has similar thoughts at Blue Mass Group.

Update: Media Nation reader J.S. passes along this link, which shows that Palin does indeed believe contraception should be part of sex education. So yes, Jacoby is right about that. Not sure what Palin believed she was responding to when she also said she supported abstinence-only programs.

Thursday update: The NPR story on which I relied was imprecise. Palin did indeed slash the Special Olympics budget request by $275,000, but the program will still receive slightly more money than it did the year before. Thanks to Media Nation reader P.S.

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  1. Dot Lane

    I love that Jacoby starts out with “There has been legitimate criticism, of course.” And of course, Jacoby won’t address any of that, choosing instead to focus on the sensationalistic stories and rumors, thus furthering them. The fact that Jeff Jacoby even has a job continues to amaze and astound me. I can only guess it is the evil liberal Globe seeking to undermine conservatives by giving him a platform.

  2. mike_b1

    One might give Jacoby, who apparently is taking a break from complaining that the world is full of anti-Semites, the benefit of the doubt if at least he could sound sincere about any of this stuff.But he doesn’t. Just another knee-jerk, “I do what I’m paid to do” boilerplate piece from the Globe’s token conservative wanna-be.

  3. R. Scott Buchanan

    I’m perfectly fine with ignoring the kids on drugs angle unless there’s some sort of credible proof that Gov. Palin has used her influence to keep them out of legal trouble. And I still don’t care about Edwards’s affair, or Palin’s alleged affair. Until people running for office start offering me sexual favors, I’m just not that interested.

  4. O-FISH-L

    Dan, after weeks of bashing Governor Palin, you sound quite proud of yourself in announcing, “her favorability/unfavorability ratings are down 10 points in the past few days.”I couldn’t help thinking of the 1970’s-era TV commercial for a Kraft Foods product in which the mother reveals that the chicken “isn’t fried, it’s Shake ‘n Bake” followed by her young child (played by Philip Amelio) proudly piping up in strong Southern drawl, “And I helped!”If they make a documentary on the media’s all-out attempt to destroy Governor Palin, perhaps you can play Phil Amelio’s role.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Polls prove nothing. But for what it’s worth …Yes, Fish. A sure sign that I’m all puffed up about Palin’s poll numbers. What, pray tell, was I doing other than showing Jeff was wrong?

  6. michael

    “Jacoby’s an important voice and deserves to be taken seriously.”Say what? I’ve been reading Jacoby for years, and I’ve heard very little from him but nonsense, like the column in which he claimed, with no proof whatsoever, that an increase in the divorce rate in New Hampshire, I believe, was a direct result of the increasing acceptance of homosexuality. Over and over he says things that just leave me shaking my head, like last week’s column in which he made the statement that taxation is “confiscation at gunpoint.”I often email to thank him for such witticisms and encourage him to keep it up because I’m convinced that the Globe hired him as a stealth maneuver to show the world just how idiotic conservatives can be. Taken seriously? That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all day.

  7. Doug Shugarts

    Nice work, Dan. Palin was the last trump card that McCain had up his sleeve, and voters are recoiling at the senator’s poor judgment in choosing her.I think that’s the great gift that McCain has given to Obama. Judgment has supplanted experience as the fundamental question of 2008.

  8. O'Rion

    Occasionally I read a formerly suspended columnist –like Jeff– and wonder why this guy is put up with? In an era of dwindling resources –see current Doonesbury–do we really need stuff like this to waste time, space, matter? You can make a number of good cases for Palin. But it’s really hard to push a poor Sarah line of attack for a person who almost certainally will be POTUSA if McCain is elected.

  9. ErrantFool

    I do not agree with those who think we should ‘lay off’ Sarah Palin. But of course I do think we need to stick to what can be verified. 1. As a city council member, Palin voted against closing Wasilla bars earlier than 5 a.m., a measure supported by local law enforcement as a way to reduce roadway fatalities (because bar patrons in towns whose bars closed at 2 a.m. would travel to Wasilla).2. But Palin voted for allowing concealed weapons in banks and bars.3. Palin did want to ban gay-friendly books from the Wasilla library, causing the librarian (head of the state association) that she fired and then rehired (due to public outcry) to resign two years later. [See for a letter from a pastor in the town at the time who says there is no doubt what Palin was trying to do, and that the book(s) in question kept disappearing from the shelves.]4. Palin’s mother-in-law, Sarah Palin, has said, “I’m not sure what she brings to the ticket other than she’s a woman and a conservative,” and she has not yet decided for whom to vote. [NY Daily News, 8/31/08]5. Palin was “a big Alaska Buchananite” in 1996, according to Connie Mackey, senior vice president of Family Research Council Action (8/29/08). [See Palin tried to bury the work of Alaska scientists on the question of whether polar bears are endangered due to global warming. Recently, The Christian Science Monitor published a good article on this topic by Jerry Larson, journalism prof at Boston’s Emerson College. See “Don’t Be Swept Away by Hype in the Palin Campaign: The media’s job is to unearth the facts, not repeat myths.” []Who knows what else we will find?

  10. Aaron

    Dan,The Alaska Independence Party thing came from party officials who later corrected themselves (See But she still clearly had a lot of connections, spoke at their conventions etc. And the Iraq war comment is true – it's on video.What gives?

  11. Ani

    To make inroads on Palin’s acceptance by a large swath of voters, I think her critics need to translate their criticisms into points that will be heard by her supporters — I think much of what is said, even the legitimate, factual counters by her critics, just bounce off her supporters — something like, “never let the facts cloud the issues” — the issue here being, “We like her, she’s one of us.” I’d like to see the criticisms addressed to her supporters, not to other critics.

  12. MeTheSheeple

    Dan, sorry for the tangent. Michael: The taxation at gunpoint thing is straight out of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” She makes a lengthy argument for its cause .. much as the book is a lengthy argument for her cause. It’s worth a read, if only to understand how some folks thing.

  13. Peter Porcupine

    DK – I have a comment on the sex-ed allegations.There are three kinds of curricula which can be termed explicit, balanced and abstinence-only.In Massachusetts, ANY mention of abstinence is termed ‘abstinence only’ – Planned Parenthood of Mass. is particularly hysterical about this in its pitches to the Legislature for funding. This hyperbole is as inaccurate and ultimtely unproductive as the ‘just say no’ school of thought is on the other extreme.Most of the nation is not as black/white in its views, and tolerate discussion of all points of view. Perhaps that is why Palin’s answers seem puzzling when viewed through the prism of ‘correct’ views advocated here.

  14. Dan Kennedy

    PP: I am not familiar with the ins and outs, so to speak, when it comes to sex education, which is why I originally left it as an open question. I don’t doubt what you’re saying, but I do wonder if the Christian right in Alaska was disillusioned by Palin’s embrace of contraception in sex-ed programs.

  15. Dot Lane

    “In Massachusetts, ANY mention of abstinence is termed ‘abstinence only’ – Planned Parenthood of Mass. is particularly hysterical about this in its pitches to the Legislature for funding.”Candidate questionnaires created by Planned Parenthood in Massachusetts routinely ask if candidates support age-appropriate sex ed, including information about both abstinence and contraception. Planned Parenthood wants both taught in schools. To say otherwise, especially to characterize Planned Parenthood as “hysterical” (a very poor choice of words, considering the subject) is disingenuous. Are you thinking of Planned Parenthood’s opposition to Healthy Futures, which Mitt Romney saw fit to award a million bucks to? My guess is that many people don’t want their money steered to faith based abstinence only programs operating the public schools…

  16. Nial Liszt

    DK wrote: Jacoby also passes along some pretty nasty comments from the likes of Randi Rhodes and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. I’m not sure what that proves. We’ve also heard Obama referred to as “uppity,” and recently a waffle mix featuring Obama as Uncle Jemimah was spotted at some sort of “values” conference.What it may prove, Dan, is that you have apparently been waiting to squeeze these two items in somewhere relevant, and have even yet to succeed. They were not presented by anybody from the media, but by a U.S. Rep and two individuals at some sort of voter summit. Meanwhile, you peg Jacoby’s citing of two instances of personally “nasty” comments by members of the MSM as questionably on point in a column on media bias.

  17. Dan Kennedy

    Oh, yes, Randi Rhodes and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., card-carrying members of the MSM. What world do you live in, Nial?

  18. Doug

    Dan, You are spinning things in ways that unfairly put Palin in the worst possible light, which is Jacoby’s point. Take the special-needs issue, for example.Say Obama voted to increase spending on special-needs kids by $1 billion as a senator, but he also voted to end a separate $2 million program that he thought outlived its usefulness. Would you really say that meant he had “slashed” funding for special-needs kids? By your definition it would.You cite the Anne Kornblut story in the Washington Post as an example of how Palin linked the attacks of 9/11 to Saddam Hussein, but you apparently didn’t read the story, or the “clarification” attached to it. Go back and read them, and you’ll see that it does not say that Palin linked 9/11 to Saddam Hussein, it just sort of implies that. I suspect you read on a liberal blog somewhere that Palin had made the link between 9/11 and Saddam, and the WaPo article was the proof.Read the clarification, and you will see the Post admits in it what Palin actually was saying was that American soldiers were going to Iraq to defend innocent Iraqis from al Qaeda in Iraq. Obviously, it would make no sense at all for Palin to say what Kornblut implied in the original version of the story, that the troops were going to Iraq to fight Saddam’s regime.In short, Kornblut misinterpreted what Palin said in her speech. So Kornblut later added the third sentence, then she added the clarification. I think you owe your readers a correction, and Palin and Jacoby an apology.Your item on Buchanan is another example. Your link to Factcheck doesn’t back your point at all. It just flatly states: “Claims that Palin endorsed conservative Republican Pat Buchanan for president in the 2000 campaign are false.” It notes that she backed Forbes and once wore a Buchanan button simply as a courtesy when he visited Alaska.Do you have proof she actually backed Buchanan? You say Buchanan was the source that she did. How so? The link provides no clue, but does just the opposite. Even if he said such a thing, might he have thought she was a supporter because he met her once when he showed up in Alaska and she was wearing one of his buttons?Anyway, if you have proof, her name should be on campaign records or something. Please supply them.I could keep going on throughout the rest of your points but I don’t have all day. Suffice it to say that your statement that there’s “almost nothing” in Jacoby’s column that holds up is flat wrong.

  19. Dan Kennedy

    Doug: I don’t know what you’re talking about. (That’s a polite way of saying you don’t know what you’re talking about. Uh, oh. Sorry for not being polite.)The WaPost clarification is pathetic. Palin was referring to Al Qaeda in Iraq? Huh? Well, we know they had nothing to do with 9/11, don’t we? Based on Palin’s very clear quote, I don’t think the clarification should have been published. I’m not sure what it even clarifies.As for Buchanan, I called it an “error.” I’m not saying it’s true. I’m merely saying that Buchanan was the source. He’s quoted in the link. Hardly an example of liberal bias.

  20. Amused

    It would appear that Palin’s mentors on energy policy are Milburn Drysdale and Jed Clampett.

  21. raccoonradio

    The latest on Palin is that some hackers got into her email account.Nice. And it’s traced back to…Chicago…guess where Obama HQ is!Hmm.

  22. Dan Kennedy

    Raccoon: Obviously Obama was directly responsible for hacking into Palin’s e-mail account. I’ve never been to Chicago, but I understand that almost no one lives there except for the Obamas and their friends. Thank you for alerting us to this.

  23. Dot Lane

    raccoon radio:The proxy service’s servers used in the hack is located in Chicago. The hacker wasn’t traced to Chicago.This is perfect example of how the right wing spreads its lunacy. If you want the real story, read this:

  24. swollenfez

    I’ve been reading the Boston Globe for years, and used to read Jacoby’s column for whatever might have been good in it. Afterwards, though, I would often feel an indistinct, low-level rage, which left me wanting to write a letter to the editor. Now, I no longer read his columns, because I’ve figured out the Jacoby/Globe shtick, and I no longer take it seriously. Here’s the deal. Jacoby is a master of a particular kind of formulaic column: make a series of reasonable points, get the reader following along and nodding the head, and then matter-of-factly drop in the first wingnut opinion. Repeat. It makes liberals’ heads explode, but not before they’ve written a letter to the editor. And there’s the payoff for the Globe: the liberals take the bait over and over again, write their damn letters, and the Globe gets to believe a couple of things — first, that their editorial pages matter — because look at that reader response! — and, second, that they’re offering “balance” on their editorial pages. The whole thing amounts to a silly and cynical game played by the Globe and their wingnut columnist.

  25. Nial Liszt

    “Thursday update: The NPR story on which I relied was imprecise. Palin did indeed slash the Special Olympics budget request by $275,000, but the program will still receive slightly more money than it did the year before.”Imprecise is one way to categorize it. Deliberately misleading is more accurate. This is the oldest canard in dirty politicking. An appropriation increase is termed a budget cut after a portion of the amount requested is denied.The 2007 appropriation line item fo Special Olympics Alaska was $250,000 (it was also $250,000 in 2006 under the previous governor). That agency requested an increase in 2008 to $550,000. Palin granted $275,000. There was no “slash” in the operating budget! That is how this game is played- you ask for the stars and settle for the moon. Only in the liberal mind is a 10 percent year over year increase called “slightly more money.”Pg. 100 here: 34 here: 23 here:

  26. bostonph

    Interesting that Jacoby ignores the “bridge to nowhere” lie. Today’s LA Times discloses just how big the lie is:,0,3279132.storyOn a clear day recently, Mayor Weinstein flew over Gravina Island, looking down on the nearly completed road. “When Sarah Palin goes on national television and says: ‘I told Congress, “Thanks but no thanks,” ‘ it’s not true,” he said. “The implication is we didn’t take the money. But we did.”

  27. Peter Porcupine

    DK – the email hacking has been traced to the son of a Democratic state senator in Chicago – still want to be snarky about the friends theory?

  28. Dan Kennedy

    PP: Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. I like evidence first. If now there’s evidence, that doesn’t change the fact that he made his accusation without evidence.

  29. Dan Kennedy

    PP: Tennessee. Care to revise and extend your remarks?

  30. Peter Porcupine

    DK – I don’t suppose I could say he was FRIENDS with the kid from Chicago? I am sorry for the mistake, which I heard on a reputable news station (not a partisan talk one) as a news item.Please let me know if the minister who just ‘knows’ that Palin was responsible for hate emails he received, and who is SURE what her intent was, ever provides any backup – and let me know if the allegation will be rescinded if/when he does not.

  31. Dan Kennedy

    PP: Haven’t even heard the one about the minister. I know of people who just know the CIA is responsible for the implant inside their heads. Not everything is worth passing along.

  32. Doug

    So, would you now argue that Anne Kornblut is misinterpreting her own story? really doesn’t hurt my feelings if you think I’m a rube who does not know what I’m talking about. Sometimes I don’t. But according to Kornblut herself, Sarah Palin wasn’t linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks of 9/11. You were pretty vehement before in asserting that Palin had done such a thing, so I’m sure you will ignore me again. Yet maybe, as a journalism professor, you might believe the search for truth is more important than the scoring of political points, and that your readers should be set straight on such matters.For whatever it is worth, Stuart Taylor of National Journal also interpreted Palin’s comments the same way, and I think he has a sterling reputation.

  33. Dan Kennedy

    Doug: I’ll go with the video, thank you very much. I may have linked to Kornblut’s story, but my item certainly didn’t depend on her interpretation of what Palin said.

  34. tsg

    PP: Unless liberal Cambridge has become “abstinence only,” I think you’re wrong on Massachusetts sex ed. The curriculum my kids had (see document here) clearly includes abstinence. Given that middle school is the target sex ed audience (just like when I was in school, 40+ years ago), it would be ridiculous NOT to discuss abstinence. As for Jacoby, he can’t really be shocked that some people are saying nasty, untrue things about Palin; people have been saying nasty, untrue things since the beginning of time. Yes, Internet distribution leads to more readership than street corner flyers. But on the other hand, we have the Internet to help us separate fact from nasty rumor, eventually. So where’s the problem?

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