This past week, the draft of an academic paper that focuses on the 2008 birth of Sarah Palin’s son, Trig Paxson Van Palin, and the various theories that surround his birth, was made public prior to publication through a university newspaper and then exploded, quite predictably, on the Palin-centric blogosphere, where Trig’s birth remains a cause célèbre and the source of considerable controversy. It has now spilled over into the mainstream media as well.
“Palin, the Press, and the Fake Pregnancy rumour: Did a Spiral of Silence Shut Down the Story?” written by Bradford W. Scharlott, Ph.D., an associate professor at Northern Kentucky University, comes to two primary conclusions: 1) that Palin “likely” staged “a hoax” concerning the birth of her son Trig; and 2) that “a spiral of silence” prevented the mainstream U.S. media from adequately investigating the circumstances of Trig’s birth.
As both a life-long journalist and an academic–and perhaps most importantly, as the author of the forthcoming book, The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind Her Relentless Quest for Power–I read Scharlott’s draft thesis with considerable interest and anticipation.
Scharlott’s initial contention that Palin orchestrated an elaborate “hoax” around the birth of Trig does not hold up to close scrutiny. It remains a premise, not a fact. That said, his second assertion about “the spiral of silence” raises several issues about Palin, her birth story and the mainstream media that must be scrutinized fully as Palin continues to position herself for a run in the 2012 Republican primaries.
In the end–as is the case with virtually all things Palin–the most troubling scenario regarding Trig’s birth is the one proffered by Palin herself–a scenario that has been largely muted, or disregarded, by the focus on Trig’s birth as being a “hoax.”
Let me acknowledge that while researching my book I spent a considerable amount of time and resources trying to sort out the facts of Trig’s birth. As with many elements of Palin’s life story, there are disquieting discrepancies between what actually happened and Palin’s version of events. Her capacity for deceit simply knows no bounds, and this duplicity has contributed significantly to the atmosphere of doubt regarding the details of Trig’s birth. Contrary to Palin’s contention otherwise, the rumours that Trig was not her son originated long before she was named as John McCain’s running mate, commencing immediately upon her public acknowledgment, in March of 2008, that she was pregnant.
Palin, by her own account in Going Rogue, did not tell anyone but her husband Todd that she was pregnant with what would be the couple’s fifth child. She kept the news from her parents, siblings, children and her closest staff–odd behaviour under any circumstances. Moreover, she did not tell members of her family that the child she was carrying had been diagnosed with Down syndrome. So when Palin announced being seven months pregnant–to a handful of reporters in Juneau on March 5, 2008–the rumour mill went into overtime.
Hoping to disprove the conspiracy theory when I initiated work on my book–and to put the story to bed once and for all–I interviewed several close associates of Palin’s, including her friends and political allies. I was anticipating, perhaps even hoping, that they would tell me conclusively that Trig was her child.
I was shocked by the response. One close friend of Palin’s–a widely respected woman who had given birth to several children as well and who had close contact with Palin in Juneau up until the time of Trig’s birth–told me that “Palin did not look like she was pregnant. Ever. Even when she had the bulging belly, I never felt that the rest of her body, her face especially, looked like she was pregnant.” When I asked her point-blank if she was certain the baby was Palin’s, she said, “No. I don’t know what to believe.”
The news of Palin’s pregnancy came as a complete surprise to Palin’s State Trooper security detail Gary Wheeler, a well-liked, 26-year veteran of the Alaska State Troopers who worked under several administrations in Alaska state government, both Republicans and Democrats. Only two weeks earlier, in late February of 2008, Wheeler had accompanied Palin back to Washington, D.C. for a Republican Governors Association Conference, where she had just met John McCain and his campaign manager Rick Davis, who was to be in charge of the vice-presidential nomination selection process. Wheeler remembers that Palin had changed into jeans upon her arrival in Washington, with no apparent revelation of pregnancy.
Wheeler also said that his wife, Corky, actually made fun of him when the news came out because he was supposed to be a “trained observer.” Wheeler simply shakes his head: “I had nary an idea she was packin’.”
As Wesley Loy of the Anchorage Daily News reported it at the time, Governor Palin “shocked and awed just about everybody around the Capitol” with her announcement.
This is at seven months.
More significantly–and thus begins the troubling nature of even Palin’s own account–according to Wheeler, Palin did not tell the Alaska State Troopers who were assigned to protect her that she was pregnant, even though her age and the fact that she was carrying a child with Down syndrome presented potential health complications. All of this both foreshadows and serves as an important prelude to Palin’s troubling journey from Texas to Alaska, during which she was experiencing–again by her own account–early signs of childbirth, including the so-called breaking of her waters.
Palin was scheduled to make a speech at an RGA energy conference in Dallas on April 17, slightly less than eight months into her pregnancy. At the last moment before her trip to Texas–which involved a stopover in Seattle–Wheeler says that Palin made an “out-of-the-ordinary” announcement that she wouldn’t be needing a Trooper to accompany her on her junket, and that her husband Todd would be travelling with her instead. An email written by Palin–obtained through a Alaska Public Records Act request–confirms Wheeler’s recollection. At 9:26 on the morning of April 14, 2008, only a day before her scheduled departure, Palin sent the following email to her administrative assistant, Janice Mason:
J- instead of rga paying for staff, and/or rga (or state) paying for Security on this Texas trip, pis let them know First Spouse is available to travel instead – they can pay for Todd. Pls chk on flt availability for him (on my flts). [sic] Thanks
I cover the ensuing details of Palin’s so-called “wild ride” from Texas back to Alaska in considerable detail in my book, but in short–according to information she gave at a news conference immediately following her return–Palin claimed that she called her physician in the middle of the night from her hotel room in Texas to discuss what Palin referred to as “amniotic fluid leaking.” Despite the presence of this fluid–a strong indicator of impending birth and which potentially exposed Palin and her child to infection–Palin stayed in Dallas and delivered her speech later that day.
Rather than getting checked at a nearby hospital in Dallas before her departure (Baylor Medical centre was less than 10 minutes away), Palin and her husband commenced on their return flight home to Anchorage via Seattle. They did not tell flight attendants of Palin’s medical situation. The failure of the Palins to inform airline personnel of her impending medical situation not only put her infant and herself at risk, it also potentially put all passengers and staff on the two flights at risk as well. As The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan (who deserves a commendation for keeping this story from being buried completely) dubbed it, Palin’s decisions were “reckless beyond measure.”
Once returning to Anchorage late in the evening of April 17, Palin claims to have bypassed the Providence Hospital in Anchorage (which has a neonatal intensive-care unit and is located only a few minutes from the Ted Stevens International Airport) for the roughly hour-long drive to the Mat-Su Regional Medical centre, located just off the Parks Highway, roughly seven miles outside of Wasilla (and which has no neonatal intensive-care unit).
Three days after Trig’s birth, Palin and her husband held a news conference in Anchorage, with Trig joining them. The audio recording of the news conference provides a fascinating glimpse into the Palins’ mindset at the time of Trig’s birth and their chafing at criticism of their decision to fly back to Alaska. Again, I cite several passages from the press conference in my book, but what follows are some highlights:
Sarah Palin: Well that was again if, if I must get personal, technical about this at the same time, um, it was one, it was a sign that I knew, um, could lead to uh, labour being uh kind of kicked in there was any kind of, um, amniotic leaking, amniotic fluid leaking, so when, when that happened we decided OK let’s call her [her physician, Cathy Baldwin-Johnson].
The answer was classic Palin–evasive, circuitous, garbled and indirect. In fact, The Anchorage Daily News story the following day, by Kyle Hopkins, reported that Palin had not asked her physician “for a medical OK to fly.”
Hopkins also contacted an obstetrician in California, Dr. Laurie Gregg, active in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who said that “when a pregnant woman’s water breaks, she should go right to the hospital because of the risk of infection. That’s true even if the amniotic fluid simply leaks out.”
As for the distinction that Palin was trying to make between “breaking” and “leaking,” Gregg was not buying into it. “To us, leaking and broken, we are talking the same thing,” Gregg asserted. “We are talking doctor-speak.”
The Palins were clearly irritated by the direction of the questioning. “There’s a lot of new doctors out there on the streets in the last couple of days,” Todd Palin asserted irritably.
An aide to the Palins decided it was time to wrap things up. One final question was allowed.
Reporter: Was it important to you to have the baby in Alaska?
Sarah Palin: It was very important that we have…it was more important that, that Trig arrive safely and healthy and um, and that is exactly what happened. The extra blessing was that Trig was able to be born into this great state, you know, kind of like, I feel like this extended Alaskan family, that he was here, for that.
Todd Palin: Can’t have a fish-picker from Texas.
That became the family mantra.
There have also been a number of discrepancies in Palin’s story. In Going Rogue, for instance, she makes no mention of her waters breaking. At a speech delivered in Waco, Texas, last year, Palin claimed that she delivered Trig in Anchorage. (Note the passage at 16:55 into her speech.)
The response to Scharlott’s paper has been both troubling and predictable. On the one hand, those who continue to subscribe to the “hoax” theory have championed it as a work of academic brilliance. On the other hand, Palin’s former flack Bill McAllister threatened to “slap” Scharlott and said that in “a different era,” he’d have challenged Scharlott to “a duel.” Salon’s Justin Elliot used the occasion to take a cheap shot at Andrew Sullivan by describing him as a practitioner of “Trug Trutherism” — the belief “that Sarah Palin faked her 2008 pregnancy because Trig is actually the son of Bristol Palin”–when, in fact, all Sullivan has ever asserted is the absence of “easily available and definitive” evidence that Palin is the mother of Trig.
And in what can be described only as pathetic response to Scharlott’s paper, Anchorage Daily News columnist Julia O’Malley contradicted her own newspaper’s body of work on this matter by invoking a “spiral of silence” perspective and demanding that “someone” should “Make. It. Stop.” She doesn’t say who and she doesn’t say how. What she means is that she doesn’t want the issue even discussed.
Perhaps O’Malley was too high on her horse to recall that in December of 2008, in the aftermath of the national election, the Anchorage Daily News tried to confirm once and for all–as did I–that Sarah Palin was the mother of Trig, only to be rebuffed by Palin herself. The ADN’s executive editor Pat Dougherty assigned his fine reporter Lisa Demer to the task of investigating the rumour. But a story was never published.
On December 31, Palin sent Dougherty an email attacking him for the line of questioning:
And is your paper really still pursuing the sensational lie that I am not Trig’s mother? Is it true you have a reporter still bothering my state office, my very busy doctor (who’s already set the record straight for you), and the school district, in pursuit of your ridiculous conspiracy?
Dougherty’s response should be of particular interest given O’Malley’s commentary. He said that his goal was “to let a reporter try to do a story about the ‘conspiracy theory that would not die’ and, possibly, report the facts of Trig’s birth thoroughly enough to kill the nonsense once and for all.” Dougherty said that Demer received “very little cooperation” from Palin or her family. He killed the story. But he made a telling observation to Palin:
It strikes me that if there is never a clear, contemporaneous public record of what transpired with Trig’s birth, that may actually ensure that the conspiracy theory never dies.
And there’s the rub. O’Malley’s own editor did not Make It Stop because Sarah Palin has never provided sufficient concrete evidence to put the conspiracy theories to bed. She hadn’t in 2009, and she hasn’t now. The problem is rooted not in the wild imaginations of bloggers, as O’Malley would have us believe, but in the calculated obfuscation of the issue by Sarah Palin herself.
A week after her email to Dougherty, Palin issued a formal State of Alaska press release from the Governor’s office. “As a public official, I expect criticism and I expect to be held accountable for how I govern,” Gov. Palin said. “But the personal, salacious nature of recent reporting, and often the refusal of the media to correct obvious mistakes, unfortunately discredits too many in journalism today, making it difficult for many Americans to believe what they see in the media.”
Held accountable? Throughout her political career, Sarah Palin has been the master of the dodge. She has never held herself accountable. At one point she claimed that she had made Trig’s birth certificate public; she did not. The hospital has never issued a formal birth notice. She said that she would make her health records public. She did not. It was another lie.
This past week Palin had the gall to giggle and smirk her way through an interview on Fox News in which she supported Donald Trump’s investigation of President Obama’s birth certificate in Hawaii: “Well, uh, I appreciate that ‘The Donald’ wants to spend his resources in getting to the bottom of something that so interests him and many Americansm,” Palin opined. “You know, more power to him.”
The hypocrisy is staggering. There is one person who can put an end to the Trig matter immediately and instantly, and that is Sarah Palin. Before she takes another step in what has been a hapless bid to position herself for a run for the presidency, the American media should demand that Palin produce full and conclusive evidence of Trig’s birth and parentage. It’s that simple.
Once that step is taken, then the American media needs to break its “spiral of silence” about Palin’s “wild ride” from Texas to Alaska and to demand direct answers from her about the decisions she made, the actions she took and what motivated her to do so. Anyone who examines Palin’s own story closely will come to no other conclusion that she was “reckless beyond measure”–as Andrew Sullivan so succinctly put it–and entirely unqualified to hold higher office in these challenging and demanding times.
Geoffrey Dunn is the author of the forthcoming book The Lies of Sarah Palin.