Hiaasen: Ifill better be nice to poor Palin during debate

Miami HeraldSeptember 29, 2008 

The vice presidential debate is set for Thursday, and millions of voters will be watching to see if moderator Gwen Ifill of PBS behaves herself.

Most journalists are still getting accustomed to the Sarah Rules, as established and enforced by John McCain's campaign team. The most important is Sarah Rule No. 1: Don't treat Gov. Palin like a male candidate, or you'll be accused of character assassination.

Maybe this is why McCain has kept Palin sequestered from the press -- not because he's terrified she'll pull a Dan Quayle and say something goofy (as she did to Katie Couric), but because he gallantly wants to protect her from all the chauvinist meanies who would ask impertinent questions.

Likewise, the same right-wing gasbags who've trashed Hillary Clinton for 16 years have morphed into sensitive souls when it comes to their own hockey-mom candidate. Each unsettling news revelation about Palin is automatically decried as a sexist smear.

If Palin were a male candidate, Democrat or Republican, she'd be taking heat for ducking reporters when the election is only five weeks away. Yet, except for a few grumps, the media have reluctantly accepted the Sarah snub as the new order of things.

In the big debate it will be interesting to see if the rules are followed, or broken.

If Palin were a male candidate, for example, she would again be asked (as Charles Gibson did) why she took credit for killing Alaska's notorious Bridge to Nowhere, when in fact she supported the $223 million boondoggle until Congress turned against it.

If Palin were a male candidate, she might also be encouraged to discuss why she chose a high-school pal to head Alaska's Division of Agriculture at a $95,000 salary. Among her flimsy qualifications, the woman, a former real-estate agent, claimed an affection of cows.

If Palin were a male candidate, she'd be asked why she put another childhood friend in charge of a money-losing, state-subsidized creamery that was supposed to shut down until Palin reversed the decision. As The Wall Street Journal reported, the doomed dairy cost Alaskans more than $800,000 in additional losses before it was finally closed.

In fact, during her short stint as governor, Palin has appointed several school buddies to well-paying state posts. Her legislative director was in the same junior-high band with Palin. Another old classmate was operating a Mailboxes, Etc. franchise when the governor appointed him head of the state's economic development office.

If Palin were a male candidate who claimed to be a crusading, cost-cutting reformer, she'd be asked what made her any better than other politicians who hand out fat government jobs to cronies.

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