August 7, 2022

Critics Fume Over Intensity of News Coverage for Palin’s Messages

The debate over the exhaustive efforts to analyze the e-mails by news outlets like, The New York Times and The Washington Post erupted on Friday with the kind of partisan ferocity that tends to accompany anything related to Ms. Palin.

Another near certainty whenever Ms. Palin is involved: a media spectacle.

Scores of journalists descended on Juneau this week in preparation for the release of the e-mails. deputized 40 volunteers, chosen with the help of the League of Women Voters and the Retired Public Employees of Alaska. They were the reinforcements for the team of two journalists from the Web site and six more from NBC News who flew to Juneau.

The New York Times and The Guardian sent reporters armed with scanners and then solicited readers’ assistance. Politico enlisted a dozen editors, reporters and interns who worked as a team from their Northern Virginia newsroom “plowing through” the documents, as one editor described it. The Washington Post initially asked for 100 volunteers to sift through the documents. They were quickly overwhelmed with too many applicants. Unable to screen all of them, the paper abandoned the plan late Thursday, opting instead to invite reader comments.

Were news organizations Dumpster diving, as one outraged reader of The Washington Post put it?

News outlets insisted that they were trying to be as thorough and efficient as possible while reporting on information that the public was entitled to know.

“This is not a witch hunt,” said Jim Roberts, an assistant managing editor at The Times. “There are 25,000 documents here, and we can use all the eyeballs we can get.”

The Times, like The Post and others, uploaded the e-mails onto its Web site and invited readers to sift through them and comment on anything compelling they found. (Because the state of Alaska made the e-mails available only on paper, news organizations had to scan them to make them viewable online.)

“From our perspective, we’re just providing the public records to the public, who own them,” said Bill Dedman, a reporter for who was helping lead his Web site’s effort. “The people of Alaska will figure out what news or insights they find in their public records.”

The scope of the coverage led one close Palin associate to equate it with a mass attempt at “gotcha journalism,” using a favorite characterization the former governor often uses to criticize the news media’s taste for blood.

Greta Van Susteren, the Fox News host, asked if all the fuss amounted to a “media colonoscopy,” and pointed to comments from her readers who asked whether news organizations had devoted such energy to the 2,800-page health care overhaul bill that passed last year.

Charles Mahtesian, national politics editor for Politico, said he was sympathetic to critics who said the news media went into unnecessary overdrive on anything Palin-related. “I think there’s some truth in what the critics on the right say about a double standard for Sarah Palin,” he said. “Having said that, she is an incredibly compelling character. And anything she says or does will have a bearing on the 2012 presidential election cycle. So it’s a pretty easy call as a news story.”

Others said they hoped news outlets would use such vast resources on more urgent stories.

“It seems to me like some kind of swarm,” said Jane Hall, a professor in the School of Communication at American University. “This is not WikiLeaks. This is not the conduct of the war in Afghanistan or the war in Iraq.”

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