Vanity Fair Reporter’s Palin Misstep Is Minor, Not “Yellow Journalism”


In the middle of the week, Vanity Fair made the massive profile, “Sarah Palin: The Sound and the Fury,” available online. Like anything related to the ex-governor and former vice presidential candidate, the article proved to be a lightning rod for for supporters and detractors alike, with Palin even chiming in on Twitter and alluding to the unflattering portrait on the radio with Sean Hannity. Also not surprisingly, Palin and her loyal followers have managed to steer the conversation, latching onto small mistakes to all but discrediting the entire piece of journalism. Michael Joseph Gross, the author of the profile, which Palin predictably refused to participate in, is being manhandled.

The biggest point of contention in the piece — which details Palin’s temper, poor tipping, fashion choices, and inner workings of her business arrangements — stems from the intro, in which Gross admittedly misidentifies a child with Down syndrome as Palin’s son, Trig. A glaring error, to be sure, but also egregiously mischaracterized in the subsequent coverage.

From Vanity Fair:

When the girl, Piper Palin, turns around, she sees her parents thronged by admirers, and the crowd rolling toward her and the baby, her brother Trig, born with Down syndrome in 2008. Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, bend down and give a moment to the children; a woman, perhaps a nanny, whisks the boy away; and Todd hands Sarah her speech and walks her to the stage. He pokes the air with one finger. She mimes the gesture, whips around, strides on four-inch heels to stage center, and turns it on.

But Ben Smith of Politico reports:

The problem: Trig wasn’t at the event, according to its organizer, Karladine Graves, a 61-year-old Kansas City physician…

A great catch, until he attempts to provide context. Introducing the section, Smith writes:

One of the themes of the opening anecdote is a familiar criticism: that Palin uses her children, and particularly her disabled son, Trig, as props:

In fact, the introduction of the Vanity Fair article has little to do with Trig at all. The anecdote unfortunately does contain an error, but works without Trig, still accurately demonstrating Palin using her children as props. That time, it was Piper:

Behind the curtain, Piper plays with other children, oblivious to the speech. She runs in circles, plays hide-and-seek, poses for snapshots, and generally acts as if she were in another world — until she gets the signal to do her job: march to the podium, pick up Palin’s speech, and allow Palin to make a public display of maternal affection.

On cue, Piper parts the curtain. As the child appears, a loud and doting “Awww” melts through the crowd.

The article is over 10,000 words long. It is, of course, easier to latch onto inaccuracies in one sentence at the beginning than to parse the entire thing for larger implications. But failing to even properly identify the context of the mistake fuels Palin’s journalism witchhunt and disdain for the truth.

Yes, the article is largely sourced anonymously and built around gossip. Smith himself has
other issues with specific anecdotes. But to uncritically and inaccurately characterize mistakes, as made easier by Smith and continued in this Daily News follow-up, merely lends legitimacy to Palin’s media strategy: lie, dismiss, insult.