Politics & Policy

The Tears of Clowns

A bummed MSNBC.

St. Paul — If you watched MSNBC on mute Wednesday night after Sarah Palin’s speech, it looked like the top story was that a hurricane swept through the North Pole and killed Santa Claus, so crestfallen were the network’s stars. It was the same with the sound up. Keith Olbermann’s first words after the applause in the Xcel Center finally died down were, “That appears to be the end of it.” He sounded relieved.

The same man who literally couldn’t find anything wrong with Barack Obama’s speech in Denver last week — calling it “spellbinding,” “fully realized” and “tough” — found that the best he could say of Palin’s speech was, “People who like this sort of thing will find this… the sort of thing they like.”

Chris Matthews, who gets thrills up his leg when Obama speaks, sounded shell-shocked. “Well, I have to say that I was completely surprised by what I saw,” he said, without an ounce of enthusiasm. “She is a torpedo aimed directly at the ship of Barack and Michelle Obama. That’s what she is. She’s an alternative to them. This is not an alternative to Hillary. This is a cultural alternative to Obama and his proposed First Lady. This is a very direct cultural shot.”

After he’d had a moment to compose himself, Olbermann tried to come up with a better reaction. Of the speech, he said there was some “condescension in there towards Obama.” Condescension is an interesting word. Here’s a woman who was belittled for being a small-town mayor by a guy who described small-town people as clinging to their guns and religion because they’re bitter. And yet, when she hits him back, she’s the condescending one.

It wasn’t just MSNBC’s anchors who were struggling to respond. On the floor of the convention center, a visibly depressed Andrea Mitchell interviewed a beaming Rudy Giuliani about Palin’s speech. Some context: Last week, reporting from among the Democratic delegates at Invesco Field, Mitchell relayed the reaction of the delegates to some of Obama’s best lines, literally shouting, “Whooee! Whooee!” into the camera.

But there would be no sharing in the Republican delegates’ joy over Palin’s speech for Mitchell. Instead, after her interview with Rudy was over (sample question: “And you don’t think she’s vulnerable on the size and scale of her executive experience and the brevity of her political experience?”), she stared dead-eyed into the camera and said, “The war has begun.”

Some might say the war actually began when the media decided to aggressively pursue every smear against Palin the left-wing blogosphere could think up. First, they questioned the maternity of Palin’s son, Trig, after a left-wing blog accused Palin of faking the pregnancy to cover for her daughter, Bristol. This forced the campaign to make a very private matter — Bristol’s real pregnancy — public. (Bristol’s pregnancy predates Trig’s birth by two months, proving she’s not his mother.)

The latest smear is an attempt to paint Palin as an anti-Semite. Two weeks ago, the executive director of a group called Jews for Jesus spoke at Palin’s church. Her pastor says she was in church that day. The guest speaker made some controversial comments and insinuated that the conflict in the Middle East is attributable to God’s “judgment of unbelief.” So, just to be clear: This was a guest speaker, not a man that Palin sought out, befriended, and received spiritual guidance from for over 20 years.

Nevertheless, the newest addition to MSNBC’s prime-time line-up, Air America radio host Rachel Maddow, was quick to imbue this story with grave portent Wednesday night after Palin’s speech. “Was she sitting in the pew in her church in Wasilla two weeks ago when a speaker said that the Israelis deserves terrorist attacks because Jews are unbelievers in Christ?” Maddow said. “I mean, there are tough questions she’s going to have to answer.”

Maybe so. Maybe someday, the media’s campaign to bury Sarah Palin will yield something more substantial than the smears and innuendo we’ve seen so far. Maybe somewhere, a left-wing blogger is closely inspecting a JPEG of young Willow Palin and gleefully discovering the baby bump that will sink McCain’s campaign. But there is no joy in MSNBC-ville — mighty Sarah has struck back.

— Stephen Spruiell is an NRO staff reporter.

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