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Monday, September 8, 2008

Palin Media Avoidance Watch: Day 9 -- McCain Camp Says She Won't Do Interviews Until It Knows She'll Be Treated with "Deference"

Jake Tapper is ABC News' Senior National Correspondent based in the network's Washington bureau. He writes about politics and popular culture and covers a range of national stories.

Rick Davis, campaign manager for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., just told Fox News Channel's Chris Wallace that McCain running mate Gov. Sarah Palin won't subject herself to any tough questions from reporters "until the point in time when she'll be treated with respect and deference."

Davis assailed the way the media had discussed Palin and her family in the last week and said the campaign would wait until a less hostile media environment.

So when will she subject herself to questions?

"When we think it's time and when she feels comfortable doing it," Davis said, praising a Fox News Channel profile of Palin that ran last night.

Why is she scared of answering questions? Wallace asked.

"She's not scared to answer questions," Davis said, "but you know what? We run our campaign not the news media."

Wallace said inappropriate intrusions into Palin's family and personal life aside, there are legitimate questions about whether she is prepared to be vice president.

"Sarah Palin will have the opportinity to speak to the American people," Davis said. "She will do interviews, but she'll do them on the terms and conditions" the campaign decides.

In fairness, an Alaska TV reporter did get to ask Palin a question Thursday, something along the lines of

"Governor, we feel like we're losing you - are you still going to be there for Alaska?"

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Chris Wallace Fact-Checks Sarah Palin’s Bogus ‘Bridge To Nowhere’ Claims

Since accepting Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) offer to be his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) has lied about her supposed opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere in nearly every single campaign appearance:

Palin claimed she “championed reform of earmark spending by Congress, and I told the Congress thanks but no thanks on that ‘Bridge to Nowhere,’” she said, ommiting [sic] mention that she’d campaigned for governor supporting the bridge. [Albuquerque, NM, 9/6/08]

PALIN: And I’ve championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. In fact, I told Congress thanks, but no thanks, on that “Bridge to Nowhere.” [Dayton, OH, 8/29/08]

PALIN: I told the Congress “thanks, but no thanks,” for that Bridge to Nowhere. [St. Paul, MN, 9/3/08]

This is demonstrably false. Campaigning for governor, Palin visited the town of Ketchikan to promise action on the bridge. She “said the bridge was essential for the town’s prosperity,” and that “she could feel the town’s pain at being derided as a ‘nowhere’ by prominent politicians.” She said the time to secure the funding was now, “while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist.”

Today on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace tried to pin down a straight answer on Palin’s bridge position from McCain campaign manager Rick Davis. When Davis refused to acknowledge Palin’s misleading statements, Wallace detailed her support for millions of dollars in earmarks, including the bridge:

WALLACE: During her 1.5, 2 years as Governor, Alaska continued to get more federal money for pork-barrel projects per capita than any state in the country and…she supported the Bridge to Nowhere. And it was only after the federal government dropped it out, killed it, the Congress killed it that she then opposed it. And in fact she still got the money for the approach, the ramp to the Bridge to Nowhere.

Watch it:

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Teen Sex, Sex Education And Sarah Palin

by Brenda Wilson

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin campaigns in Wisconsin.
Robyn Beck

Palin, shown here campaigning in Wisconsin on Friday, has said she is "opposed to explicit sex education." AFP/Getty Images

All Things Considered, September 5, 2008 · The pregnancy of the Republican vice presidential nominee's daughter is only the latest of a number of highly visible teen pregnancies, ranging from celebrities such as Jamie Lynn Spears to a group of teens in Gloucester, Mass.

Sarah Brown, executive director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, says she sees 17-year-old Bristol Palin's situation as a teachable moment for many. Roughly 750,000 teens in the U.S. will become pregnant this year.

"You can turn the television on any day or night and find something that allows families and communities to have a conversation with their young people," Brown says. "It allows parents to explain why 'in this family, we hope you are going to delay childbirth and pregnancy until you are older.' "

It's a conversation, she says, that parents should have with their children not once, but time and time again.

The messages in the movies, at church and in school may not be the same as the one they're hearing at home. And those mixed signals can confuse teens, she says.

"Is the message that sex is OK as long as you use protection?" she asks. "Is it that sex should be postponed until you are 22 and out of the house? In the meantime, teens are spending a lot of time together, and a lot them are grown up — at least physically."

Sex education is a highly politicized issue in the United States. Polls show that the vast majority of adults agree that teenagers should not be having sex. Most parents support some form of comprehensive sex education. But they disagree about what to tell teenagers who are already having sex.

Meanwhile, Brown says, about 60 percent of teenagers surveyed say they have had sex.

On one side of the debate, some oppose providing contraceptive information to teenagers. They just want teens to abstain until they are married.

Gov. Sarah Palin is among that group. In response to a questionnaire during Alaska's gubernatorial race, Palin said, "I am opposed to explicit sex education."

Alaska ranks in the middle of all states — 30th — in teen pregnancy. Its teenage pregnancy rate is lower than the national average, though teenagers in Alaska are just as likely to be sexually active as U.S. teenagers in general.

Three out of 10 U.S. girls get pregnant at least once before their 20th birthday. After a 15-year decline in teen pregnancies, there was a 3 percent increase in the most recent year tallied.

Most states leave the scope of sex education up to the local school boards. That's also true in Alaska, where there is no requirement that the subject be taught. Alaska's largest school district, Anchorage, emphasizes abstinence, with a program called "Abstinence Plus."

Once each semester, a teacher, student or principal can invite experts to talk to the class on reproductive health. Planned Parenthood is often invited in to do comprehensive sex education, and so is Let's Talk, a program that advocates abstinence until marriage.

Let's Talk is run by Bill Donovan, who also directs the Crisis Pregnancy Center in Anchorage. He says teenagers in Alaska are getting a balanced view of the options available to them.

"You can't say that because they are hearing abstinence education, they don't know anything about what they call 'safer sex,' " Donovan says. "They hear it from their teachers. They hear from outside groups that are invited in."

Teens from small towns like Palin's hometown of Wasilla turn up "all the time" at the Crisis Pregnancy Center, Donovan says.

"Not only that, they will fly in from the bush and the villages to come to our center," he says.

He has helped teenagers tell their parents that they are pregnant and he has counseled them on adoption. But Donovan says he neither counsels nor refers them to contraceptive services.

Reproductive health and family planning services are available through Alaska's Department of Maternal and Child Health, which is headed by Stephanie Burch. Through the agency, she says, teenagers can be directed to public health centers and private doctors in their area. She often relies on the Internet to communicate with them.

"Teenagers are pretty Web savvy," Burch says. "I get many e-mails from young women or men who are seeking reproductive health services. They can tell me which community they are from and I can connect them with either a private provider or one of the public health centers."

But confidentiality can be a challenge outside of large cities like Anchorage and Juneau, and Burch says teenagers don't always realize that the services are free.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a clearinghouse on reproductive services, Alaska ranks No. 1 in providing contraceptive services to people who need them. But Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy says such services will never stop all teen pregnancies.

"Even in the face of very good services and education, sex happens," Brown says. "Life happens."

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Palin and McCain’s Shotgun Marriage


SARAH PALIN makes John McCain look even older than he is. And he seemed more than willing to play that part on Thursday night. By the time he slogged through his nearly 50-minute acceptance speech — longer even than Barack Obama’s — you half-expected some brazen younger Republican (Mitt Romney, perhaps?) to dash onstage to give him a gold watch and the bum’s rush.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Frank Rich

Still, attention must be paid. McCain’s address, though largely a repetitive slew of stump-speech lines and worn G.O.P. orthodoxy, reminded us of what we once liked about the guy: his aspirations to bipartisanship, his heroic service in Vietnam, his twinkle. He took his (often inaccurate) swipes at Obama, but, in winning contrast to Palin and Rudy Giuliani, he wasn’t smug or nasty.

The only problem, of course, is that the entire thing was a sham.

As is nakedly evident, the speech’s central argument, that the 72-year-old McCain will magically morph into a powerful change agent as president, is a non sequitur. In his 26 years in Washington, most of it with a Republican in the White House and roughly half of it with Republicans in charge of Congress, he was better at lecturing his party about reform than leading a reform movement. G.O.P. corruption and governmental dysfunction only grew. So did his cynical flip-flops on the most destructive policies of the president who remained nameless Thursday night. (In the G.O.P., Bush love is now the second most popular love that dare not speak its name.)

Even more fraudulent, if that’s possible, is the contrast between McCain’s platonic presentation of his personal code of honor and the man he has become. He always puts his country first, he told us: “I’ve been called a maverick.” If there was any doubt that that McCain has fled, confirmation arrived with his last-minute embrace of Sarah Palin.

We still don’t know a lot about Palin except that she’s better at delivering a speech than McCain and that she defends her own pregnant daughter’s right to privacy even as she would have the government intrude to police the reproductive choices of all other women. Most of the rest of the biography supplied by her and the McCain camp is fiction.

She didn’t say “no thanks” to the “Bridge to Nowhere” until after Congress had already abandoned it but given Alaska a blank check for $223 million in taxpayers’ money anyway. Far from rejecting federal pork, she hired lobbyists to secure her town a disproportionate share of earmarks ($1,000 per resident in 2002, 20 times the per capita average in other states). Though McCain claimed “she has had national security as one of her primary responsibilities,” she has never issued a single command as head of the Alaska National Guard. As for her “executive experience” as mayor, she told her hometown paper in Wasilla, Alaska, in 1996, the year of her election: “It’s not rocket science. It’s $6 million and 53 employees.” Her much-advertised crusade against officials abusing their office is now compromised by a bipartisan ethics investigation into charges that she did the same.

How long before we learn she never shot a moose?

Given the actuarial odds that could make Palin our 45th president, it would be helpful to know who this mystery woman actually is. Meanwhile, two eternal axioms of our politics remain in place. Americans vote for the top of the ticket, not the bottom. And in judging the top of the ticket, voters look first at the candidates’ maiden executive decision, their selection of running mates. Whatever we do and don’t know about Palin’s character at this point, there is no ambiguity in what her ascent tells us about McCain’s character and potential presidency.

He wanted to choose the pro-abortion-rights Joe Lieberman as his vice president. If he were still a true maverick, he would have done so. But instead he chose partisanship and politics over country. “God only made one John McCain, and he is his own man,” said the shafted Lieberman in his own tedious convention speech last week. What a pathetic dupe. McCain is now the man of James Dobson and Tony Perkins. The “no surrender” warrior surrendered to the agents of intolerance not just by dumping his pal for Palin but by moving so far to the right on abortion that even Cindy McCain seemed unaware of his radical shift when being interviewed by Katie Couric last week.

That ideological sellout, unfortunately, was not the worst leadership trait the last-minute vice presidential pick revealed about McCain. His speed-dating of Palin reaffirmed a more dangerous personality tic that has dogged his entire career. His decision-making process is impetuous and, in its Bush-like preference for gut instinct over facts, potentially reckless.

As The New York Times reported last Tuesday, Palin was sloppily vetted, at best. McCain operatives and some of their press surrogates responded to this revelation by trying to discredit The Times article. After all, The Washington Post had cited McCain aides (including his campaign manager, Rick Davis) last weekend to assure us that Palin had a “full vetting process.” She had been subjected to “an F.B.I. background check,” we were told, and “the McCain camp had reviewed everything it could find on her.”

The Times had it right. The McCain campaign’s claims of a “full vetting process” for Palin were as much a lie as the biographical details they’ve invented for her. There was no F.B.I. background check. The Times found no evidence that a McCain representative spoke to anyone in the State Legislature or business community. Nor did anyone talk to the fired state public safety commissioner at the center of the Palin ethics investigation. No McCain researcher even bothered to consult the relevant back issues of the Wasilla paper. Apparently when McCain said in June that his vice presidential vetting process was basically “a Google,” he wasn’t joking.

This is a roll of the dice beyond even Bill Clinton’s imagination. “Often my haste is a mistake,” McCain conceded in his 2002 memoir, “but I live with the consequences without complaint.” Well, maybe it’s fine if he wants to live with the consequences, but what about his country? Should the unexamined Palin prove unfit to serve at the pinnacle of American power, it will be too late for the rest of us to complain.

We’ve already seen where such visceral decision-making by McCain can lead. In October 2001, he speculated that Saddam Hussein might have been behind the anthrax attacks in America. That same month he out-Cheneyed Cheney in his repeated public insistence that Iraq had a role in 9/11 — even after both American and foreign intelligence services found that unlikely. He was similarly rash in his reading of the supposed evidence of Saddam’s W.M.D. and in his estimate of the number of troops needed to occupy Iraq. (McCain told MSNBC in late 2001 that we could do with fewer than 100,000.) It wasn’t until months after “Mission Accomplished” that he called for more American forces to be tossed into the bloodbath. The whole fiasco might have been prevented had he listened to those like Gen. Eric Shinseki who faulted the Rumsfeld war plan from the start.

In other words, McCain’s hasty vetting of Palin was all too reminiscent of his grave dereliction of due diligence on the war. He has been no less hasty in implying that we might somehow ride to the military rescue of Georgia (“Today, we are all Georgians”) or in reaffirming as late as December 2007 that the crumbling anti-democratic regime of Pervez Musharraf deserved “the benefit of the doubt” even as it was enabling the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. McCain’s blanket endorsement of Bush administration policy in Pakistan could have consequences for years to come.

“This election is not about issues” so much as the candidates’ images, said the McCain campaign manager, Davis, in one of the season’s most notable pronouncements. Going into the Republican convention, we thought we knew what he meant: the McCain strategy is about tearing down Obama. But last week made clear that the McCain campaign will be equally ruthless about deflecting attention from its own candidate’s deterioration.

What was most striking about McCain’s acceptance speech is that it had almost nothing in common with the strident right-wing convention that preceded it. We were pointedly given a rerun of McCain 2000 — cobbled together from scraps of the old Straight Talk repertory. The ensuing tedium was in all likelihood intentional. It’s in the campaign’s interest that we nod off and assume McCain is unchanged in 2008.

That’s why the Palin choice was brilliant politics — not because it rallied the G.O.P.’s shrinking religious-right base. America loves nothing more than a new celebrity face, and the talking heads marched in lock step last week to proclaim her a star. Palin is a high-energy distraction from the top of the ticket, even if the provenance of her stardom is in itself a reflection of exactly what’s frightening about the top of the ticket.

By hurling charges of sexism and elitism at any easily cowed journalist who raises a question about Palin, McCain operatives are hoping to ensure that whatever happened in Alaska with Sarah Palin stays in Alaska. Given how little vetting McCain himself has received this year — and that only 58 days remain until Nov. 4 — they just might pull it off.

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Comcast to Appeal FCC's Decision On Internet Blocking


WASHINGTON -- Comcast Corp. filed suit against the Federal Communications Commission Thursday to overturn the agency's decision to sanction the company for blocking certain Internet traffic.

The lawsuit involves a 3-2 decision the FCC handed down in early August that found Comcast's practices violated so-called net-neutrality principles, and ordered the company to provide more details of its network-management policies within 30 days. The FCC also ordered Comcast to stop by the end of the year blocking traffic related to specific applications, such as file-sharing software that allows users to swap videos.

It was the first time the FCC had found a company in violation of the commission's net-neutrality principles, which lay out consumers' Internet rights.

Comcast was widely expected to appeal the FCC's decision, even though the company wasn't fined. Comcast says its practice of sometimes slowing Internet traffic on file-sharing networks like BitTorrent is reasonable and necessary to prevent a few heavy bandwidth users from slowing other customers' service. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals here, doesn't go into details about the complaint, but company officials have argued that the FCC has authority to bring enforcement actions under formal rules, not principles. While the FCC has stated a position on net neutrality, it hasn't established formal rules.

Concern about the issue has driven efforts by congressional Democrats to pass net-neutrality legislation that would give the FCC specific authority to police Internet providers.

Despite the lawsuit, Comcast said it will fully comply with the FCC's order, including filing more information about its network-management practices. Comcast had already announced changes to its practices. It will begin slowing traffic of its heaviest residential customers for anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes during peak times by the end of the year. The company also recently announced that, beginning Oct. 1, residential customers will be limited to 250 gigabytes of traffic each month.

"We filed this appeal in order to protect our legal rights and to challenge the basis on which the [FCC] found that Comcast violated federal policy in the absence of pre-existing legally enforceable standards or rules," Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen said in a written statement.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said he was disappointed by Comcast's decision to appeal but was pleased that the company has agreed to comply with the FCC's order for more consumer disclosure and information.

A week ago, public-interest groups filed lawsuits about the FCC's Comcast decision in three appeals courts across the country, so a lottery would be held to decide which court hears the case.

Those interest groups don't oppose the FCC's decision to slap Comcast for its network-management practices, but said in their lawsuits that the agency erred by not forcing Comcast to stop blocking traffic immediately.

Write to Amy Schatz at

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