Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Anatomy of a Non-Story

Remember what the MSM were saying right after John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate? That his “vetting process” was somehow deficient because the media hardly knew anything about her. Judging by what we see so far, McCain vetted her just fine. But the media will keep trying to prove him wrong and throw her off her game by finding some embarrassing detail that he might have missed.

So swarms of investigative reporters, lawyers and opposition researchers have descended on Alaska to do what McCain probably did months ago. That is, check her out. Of course, their agenda is different from his. They have gone North in the hope, if not the expectation, of digging up some dirt. But they don’t have much time to be thorough and fair. So, instead of real dirt (which requires serious and sustained digging) you can expect to find innuendo, speculation, gossip and the passing along of unsubstantiated charges from political enemies. Non-stories, in other words.

I’ve been in the newspaper business and I know how these things work. News organizations don’t deploy well-paid reporters on weeks-long assignments without expecting something for all that time and money. Put your crack team of investigative journalists on the hunt and they will have to produce something, even if it is flimsier than a wet shopping bag. Witness the New York Times “Did he have an affair with a lobbyist”? piece.

Now we have an article in The Washington Post that describes – in many, many words – how Palin followed the rules on reimbursed travel and has spent much less in this area than her predecessor.

Only that’s not the lede. What the Post wants you do know, right off the bat, is that “Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has billed taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first 19 months in office, charging a ‘per diem’ allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business.”

This is made to sound bad, especially for a self-styled fiscal conservative. But it shocks only those who don’t understand Alaska or its geography. Juneau, the capital, is an 800-mile round trip from Palin’s home in Wasilla. It is far from most Alaskans’ homes, and at least once it has come very close to losing its place as the capital to a more convenient spot. Long commutes for state officeholders are nothing new. And in a state as big as Alaska, lots of air travel on state business is the norm. The Post does note, about two thirds of the way down, that Palin spent $93,000 on airfare in 2007, rather less than the $463,000 spent in 2006 by former Gov. Frank Murkowski. And a check of Alaska’s rules for reimbursement shows that she did not break them.

Here’s another story The Washington Post should pursue, if it wants balance. The Website OpenSecrets details Joe Biden’s expense reimbursements for official travel in 2007. A sizable amount of this (covering about seven pages) is for Amtrak fare to and from his Delaware home. Maybe it’s not travel on an Alaskan scale, but the object is the same and so is the case for billing it to the taxpayers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wish this blog entry would make it into the MSM.