Professor Thinks Sarah Palin "Pregnant" Photo Was Staged And She Was Wearing Fake Pillow Belly

The following is an intervew that Laura Novak conducted with Northern Kentucky University professor Brad Scharlott, who wrote “Palin, the Press and the Fake Pregnancy rumour: Did a Spiral of Silence Shut Down the Story?

Brad Scharlott: The most consequential pregnancy photo of Palin ever to appear is what has come to be known as the Gusty photo, because it shows Palin being interviewed by Andrea Gusty of KTVA-TV on April 13, 2008, five days before Palin allegedly gave birth to Trig.

The picture shows Palin in profile so that her very large belly is obvious. What made the photo so significant is that it appeared online in late August 2008, just in time to help quash rumours that had blazed across the Internet saying Palin had faked the birth of Trig.

The problem is, the photo appeared under mysterious circumstances. It was posted to Flickr on August 31 by “Erik99559”, who has never been identified, and key questions about it, and a second photo taken immediately afterward, have never been answered.

So, Laura, in light of what we have been talking about the past few weeks – how Palin sometimes did not look or act pregnant in the early spring of 2008 – this photo looms large. One major question: Is that large protruding belly real? And as our last few conversations have shown, there is good reason to suspect she was wearing a fake pregnancy belly.

Just as important: Was this picture, and the related one taken a few minutes later, staged to show Palin looking pregnant? Or were the two photos just a result of happenstance, of people taking pictures for reasons unrelated to Palin’s pregnancy?

Laura, you recently began trying to explore this subject with the people involved. To no avail, it appears.

Laura Novak: As I wrote in the previous post, I tried to contact everyone involved in these photos with the exception of the unidentified cameraman in the white shirt, and Mrs. Palin herself. Dan Carpenter and Gusty didn’t respond to my multiple and repeated requests. Bill McAllister and I went back and forth on four sets of emails until he outlined requirements for me that I would not meet. So, here we are.

BS:  Can you tell us what those requirements were?

LN:  I cannot. I assured him that our emails were private and confidential, and I have to honour that.

BS: OK, so let’s get down to facts. The Gusty photo, which the McCain campaign people pointed to as definitive evidence that Palin had truly been pregnant, did a marvellous job of silencing most critics who claimed Palin faked the birth.

When questions about its authenticity arose, two “investigators” (graduate students, I imagine) of FactCheck.org, an offshoot of the Annenberg School of Communication, looked into the matter by calling Andrea Gusty. And Gusty told them that the picture was real, not “Photoshopped”, that she thought she had the only copy of it (implying it was taken with her camera), that she was surprised to see it on the Internet and that she had no idea how it got there. What do you think of the investigation conducted by FactCheck, Laura?

LN:  If this is fact checking, then tell me anything you want, Brad, and I’ll tell the world that you told me and therefore, it is true. Apparently they did not ask why the picture was taken in the first place, whether anyone else had access to her camera, or whether Palin’s pregnancy had advanced dramatically in the previous month, as publicly available photos would suggest.

Gusty did say she saw the baby a week later, which she said she took as proof that Mrs. Palin gave birth to it. And perhaps at the time, it was enough proof. But I wonder how they all feel now in retrospect.

BS: The FackCheck report, which ridiculed people who questioned Palin’s pregnancy, did not convince everyone – a couple of blogs continued to question the authenticity of the two photos. One blogger even paid a Photoshop expert to analyse the photos.

Apparently in reaction to those blog sites, Gusty did a report for her TV station on January 12, 2009. She showed that the picture of her and Palin was taken during an interview she conducted on April 13. She said that Dan Carpenter, a cameraman for KTUU, took that picture as a favour to her. And she said that immediately afterwards she took this picture of Palin standing next to Carpenter and Bill McAllister (on the right), chief political reporter for KTUU:

Gusty Photo

Photo: Laura Novak’s Blog

BS: Before we analyse these photos, it’s important to note the following: Palin’s own calendar for this date had two entries:

“2:45pm-3pm GOV Press Availability (JNU – 2nd Fl Capitol)”

[at 5pm] “Gov Live Shot w/Channel 2 Andrea Gusty re: Session (JNU-Governor’s Office)”

BS: What do you make of these pictures, Laura?

LN:  Let’s start with the first photo. The calendar indicated that only Gusty would interview Palin. But it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine KTUU might be added after the calendar entry was made.

But if KTUU was added, where is the other camera – the other video camera? Typically, cameraman also travel with their “sticks”, meaning their tripods. They set them up, put the camera on for a steady shot, and shoot the interview. OK, so the one cameraman shot this on his shoulder. A little odd to me, but let’s say they were in a hurry and he had to grab and go.

But if there were two reporters or more present, the cameramen usually if not always put their tripods right next to each other. I mean they stand cheek-to-jowl. Why? So that the governor, in this case, is looking in one direction. The reporters, then, stand out of the camera’s way, and extend their microphones. That’s why you often see the station call letters on the microphone boxes in front of the talking head.

What I see here is one reporter and one camera. But…Gusty and the governor are looking somewhere else. At another camera? OK, then where is it?

BS:  Off to the right somewhere? Maybe we just can’t see it.

LN:  But then who is the cameraman? I take it that it’s Dan Carpenter, the man above here in the grey suit. Excuse me, did I just say grey suit? That’s another thing…in all my years I have never, and I do mean never, seen a cameraman – either in still or video – wear a suit! Unless it was to a private function. I mean, what was that all about?  See the guy in the first shot? That’s what they usually look like. Rumpled. They often wear actual flack jackets and battery belts, etc. So, are we to believe that the photographer/cameraman for KTUU wore a suit to cover a regular story – one among many he might have been sent out on that day?

And what, did they wait their turn to interview the governor separately? I’ve never seen it done that way. Never.

If a cameraman has to shoot with the camera on his shoulder, it means they are in a hurry. If they are in a hurry, the governor wouldn’t do two different interviews. If they did one joint interview, where was the other camera?  If there wasn’t one, why were Bill McAllister and Dan Carpenter there?

And if there was a “reasonable explanation” for this, then why not just tell me and stop the speculation.

BS: Gusty did say that she asked Carpenter to take the still picture of her interviewing Palin. I assume when you were a TV reporter, you never asked a cameraman from a different station to take a still picture of you and your subject. Does this picture make any sense to you professionally? Especially if it was Gusty’s personal camera?

LN: I never asked the cameramen from my own station to take my photo with an official. It’s highly unprofessional. It implies some sort of hero worship. It crosses a line. Look, I’ve seen examples of her work online. I understand she’s young and she was even younger then. I get that. And I get that this photo was probably for posterity’s sake, you know, to show her grandmother. But ethics keeps reporters, usually, from mixing it up like that.

BS:  Well, it might have been for Gusty’s grandmother if it wasn’t staged to show Palin looking very pregnant. Let me point something out about the location of that photo: it’s where one hallway ends at another hallway, forming a T-shape. If I wanted to shoot a live interview of Palin from the front and simultaneously get a side shot showing her very pregnant-looking belly in profile, that’s exactly where I would place her.

And if I wanted to get a still shot that I could use in the future to prove that Palin looked very pregnant on April 13, then photographing a live interview would be an ingenious way to do it – because you could always dig up the video to prove the date. Which is exactly what happened. But it would take someone pretty smart and media savvy to work all that out in advance. I’m not sure Palin is that smart herself. But Bill McAllister is apparently a shrewd guy – he became a top political reporter in both Minnesota and Alaska – and has many years of media experience.

As you know, Laura, I wrote a paper in which this sentence appeared, referring to the second picture: “Palin is shown standing to the left of KTUU-TV newsman Bill McAllister, who coincidentally would become her director of communications in July.” And I sent a copy of the paper to McAllister to see if he had any comments.

He certainly did. He emailed me, and copied to many of my colleagues, the following: “If we ever meet, I’ll slap you. In a different era, I’d challenge you to a duel. … The italicized word ‘coincidentally’ makes you a scoundrel …” He thus clearly tried to give the impression, if not saying so explicitly, that he played no role in staging the pictures.

What I did not know then was that McAllister had already given notice to KTUU that he was leaving – and probably had already negotiated his contract with the state to become Palin’s press secretary. Alaskan political blogger Andrew Halco, after reviewing state emails, raised serious questions along those lines in August 2008, writing:

“It appears clear that McAllister was negotiating a job with the administration while he was still covering them as a reporter during the legislative session. In fact, McAllister continued to cover the Palin administration for another three months after the email exchange.”

Well, Laura, I guess it’s not surprising, if McAllister gave notice of leaving to KTUU in early April, that he would have his next job lined up. But are you troubled by the ethical implications of McAllister’s arrangement, given he was KTUU’s chief political reporter?

LN: A longtime Alaskan journalist told me that there is an alarming cross-cultivation of reporters and government officials in Alaska. They seem to float seamlessly between the two estates and yes, one would find that troubling in any situation. Naturally, one wants to have a job lined up before one quits a current job.

But what’s not clear still is that photo: Were the two men in suits working the story at 5 p.m. that day along with Gusty (Where is their on-air version of it? Have we ever seen it?), or were they there on other business? Again, there may be a simple explanation. I just can’t see what it is on my own.

BS: So, Laura, I think it’s time to summarize what we know as to whether the two photos were likely staged. If they were not staged, then we have to surmise (since the folks in the photos won’t talk to us):

1. That, for some reason, Bill McAllister and Dan Carpenter showed up for what Palin’s calendar indicated was to be an exclusive interview with Andrea Gusty.

2. That, by chance, Bill McAllister happened to give notice to KTUU the week before of his intention to resign and, by coincidence, the job he had lined up was to be Palin’s press secretary.

3. That, for some reason, Palin and Gusty chose not to have their interview in the governor’s office, as scheduled.

4. That, for some reason, the KTVA cameraman did not bother to use a tripod as one would normally expect.

5. That, for some reason, Gusty asked Carpenter to take a side-angle picture that showed Palin’s big belly in profile – and that also managed to get the KTVA cameraman in the shot with the camera on his shoulder, making it absolutely clear Gusty was interviewing Palin for a TV news segment.

6. That Palin was indeed pregnant and showing mightily and, for some reason, had decided not to wear her usual scarf “disguise”.

7. That, for some reason, Gusty decided it would be nice to get a picture of McAllister and Carpenter standing next to Palin right after the first picture was shot.

8. That, for some reason, Carpenter was not in his normal work clothes and we don’t see his camera or gear anywhere.

9. That, in some inexplicable way, the above two photos got out of Gusty’s camera and were posted to Flickr by a stranger, Erik99559, several months later, at exactly the right the right moment to squelch rumours of a pregnancy hoax – and, by coincidence, 99559 just happens to be the zip code of Gusty’s hometown, Bethel, Alaska.

Am I forgetting anything, Laura?

LN:  Just that again, in all my years of reporting, I’ve never seen anything like this. Never.

BS:  What can we propose as an alternative explanation if the pictures were staged? Keep in mind that this is just speculation.

1. That Palin was not pregnant that day but instead put on a large fake belly and deliberately did not wear her usual scarf so the belly could be seen in profile.

2. That Bill McAllister showed up to direct the taking of still pictures showing Palin looking very pregnant, just in case they might be needed later.

3. That the interview was held in a hallway specifically so that Carpenter would be able to get a side shot of Palin’s fake belly protruding.

4. That the tableau was organised for the benefit of the still shot: the location was where two hallways came together, allowing a video camera to the front and still camera to the side; and the KTKA cameraman did not use his tripod (which seems visible on the far right side of the picture) because the director, presumably McAllister, wanted the cameraman entirely in the frame along with Gusty and Palin, to make clear exactly what was taking place, should questions arise in the future.

5. That McAllister decided to get two pictures, and hence posed in one himself, on the belief that the appearance of just one picture of Palin looking so pregnant might seem suspicious.

6. That Carpenter was wearing a suit so that he could be in the second picture with McAllister and not seem out of place standing next to the governor in his normal scruffy work attire.

7. That Gusty posted the two pictures to Flickr and put her hometown zip code in the name so she would not forget it.

Writing this has made me very sad because, if the pictures were staged to help Palin hide a hoax, that means a young woman was put in a very difficult position by older, more powerful people, and may forever have a stain on her reputation. Nonetheless, I must say the evidence strikes me as overwhelming that these pictures were taken for the express purpose of showing Palin looking very pregnant.

Your thoughts, Laura?

LN:  I think that if this were all that was questionable about this pregnancy, then I would say we are looking too closely at it. But I’d like to think that if there was nothing to this, that one of these people would have agreed to talk to me, or even returned my messages.

But the curious events around this baby’s beginnings just compound the controversy. I would like to presume doubt that anyone was in on anything here. That this was a green girl reporter who wanted a couple of photos for posterity. But then why does none of the rest of the tableau seem normal? I don’t know. And it’s not for lack of trying.

This post originally appeared at Laura Novak’s blog.

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