Bloggers and cyberspace quickly pushed Palin daughter’s pregnancy into public view

Pregnancy rumors swirled with such force online — thoughts skipping wildly, dots left unconnected — that McCain aides felt compelled Monday to announce 17-year-old Bristol Palin’s premarital pregnancy.

And they did so with no small amount of derision for those mud-slinging, left-leaning bloggers.

“The 17-year-old unmarried daughter of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is pregnant, Palin said on Monday in an announcement intended to knock down rumors by liberal bloggers that Palin faked her own pregnancy to cover up for her child,” read the lead of Steve Holland’s news-breaking Reuters story.

“McCain officials said the news of the daughter’s pregnancy was being released to rebut what one aide called ‘mud-slinging and lies’ that have circulated on liberal blog sites,” the story continued.

It quoted senior McCain adviser Nicolle Wallace saying: “There’s no doubt that liberal blogs such as one called and some in the mainstream media were pushing a false story about Gov. Palin’s most recent pregnancy with fervor.”

The initial pregnancy rumor was a strange one, characteristic of the way a wild, unverified story can catch fire online. The story: Gov. Palin was only pretending to be the mother of 4-month-old Trig Palin, who was actually her daughter Bristol’s child. Supporting evidence: close staff members were unaware of Gov. Palin’s pregnancy for an unusually long period, while Bristol missed months and months of school, supposedly because of mono. And why else would Gov. Palin fly to Alaska after her water allegedly broke?

“Trig Paxson Van Palin is not your son,” ArcXIX wrote in an Aug. 30 post on the well-established liberal blog The Daily Kos. “He is your grandson. …Sarah, I’m calling you a liar. And not even a good one.” 

The post elicited 1,958 comments, ensuring the theory a well-lubed place in the blogosphere. Soon viewers were engaged in the baby-bump game, assessing digital pictures to see if Gov. Palin didn’t look unusually slim for a pregnant woman and if Bristol didn’t look unusually plump for an active teenager. Photos fly so fast online.

The rumor was linked to other sources but never officially verified. In fact, one of the Daily Kos posts about the theory was tagged “unsubstantiated rumor.”

That rumor mutated online. One blogger claimed that Gov. Palin’s firstborn was conceived before her wedding. Countless others weighed in.

“I think that the McCain campaign has an interesting problem on its hands,” the author of “Barack Oblogger” wrote with a chipper tone. “Let the story fester on the Internet, or address it directly. There’s risk in both approaches.”

Finally, the force of the cyber speculation broke the flood levees, and Gov. Palin’s statement was released. It spurred another, bigger round of blogs and tweets, pokes and jabs. Some took offense to charges that pregnancy rumors were dug up by insensitive liberal bloggers. “You are blaming us?” read the headline of a post on one blog.

Whatever their ideology, the bloggers get both the blame and the credit.

Christina Capecchi writes about culture and the social impact of technology. Capecchi can be reached at ccapecchi [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 09/02/2008 - 09:52 am.

    The rumors that Palin’s child was really her daughter’s child originated with rival Alaska Republicans several months ago. This is even mentioned in one of the links to the story. Yet, instead of doing some actual reporting, Capecchi simply repeated the right wing talking points and blamed it on the easy target of liberal bloggers. This is a new low for MinnPost.

  2. Submitted by Jon Miners on 09/02/2008 - 09:06 am.

    I think the bloggers are getting either too much credit or too much blame, depending on the point of view.

    Obviously, this news had to be announced at some time. The blog reports gave the campaign an opportunity to do it in such a way that they could blame the bloggers as if they were responsible for either the news itself, or the fact that it was reported.

  3. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 09/02/2008 - 04:54 pm.

    Here is a link to a Media Matters story calling out Diane Sawyer for not challenging the McCain campaign’s claim that liberal blogs had forced the disclosure of Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy.

    As you can see, the source that claims the disclosure was done as originally planned was also the McCain campaign, apparently before it figured out that it could change its story and use lazy media members (like Sawyer and Capecci) to take a shot at liberal bloggers.

    As you can see from this link, the National Enquirer is claiming that it is responsible for the timing of the disclosure.

    Obviously, once Palin was announced as the VP candidate, lots of people were going through her dirty laundry and a pregnant 17-year old daughter of a socially conservative candidate wasn’t going to stay secret for very long.

  4. Submitted by Christina Capecchi on 09/02/2008 - 07:06 pm.

    I appreciate the spirited debate, but I think my article isn’t being closely read. One of the purposes of my piece was to point out that liberal bloggers were blamed for the rumors — not to blame them. There’s a big difference.

    I just tried to describe the tone of the accusations: “And they did so with no small amount of derision for those mud-slinging, left-leaning bloggers.” That’s not me taking a shot at lefty bloggers, Dan. That’s me saying others have taken shots at them.

    Also, I never suggested the rumors originated on liberal blogs this past week. That’s why I posted the link re: the Alaska Republicans, so readers could look into it. I just focused on the more recent online rumors, which forced out the announcement.

  5. Submitted by Peter Frost on 09/02/2008 - 02:18 pm.

    That’s funny, Dan. What was the previous “low” for MinnPost?

  6. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 09/02/2008 - 02:40 pm.

    Actually, I think the reporting on MinnPost is generally very good. What I should have said that this article is a rare exception to that general rule, rather than a “new low.”

  7. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 09/04/2008 - 09:49 am.

    The “big difference” you point out is between blaming liberal bloggers, and posting the allegations of others blaming liberal bloggers without providing any fact checking or critical analysis. That distinction is important if you want to show that you are simply lazy and a poor reporter, as opposed to being biased, but your story still conveys a false impression of what occurred whatever your intent may have been.

    Your purported response to the McCain campaign allegations was state that “[s]ome took offense to charges that pregnancy rumors were dug up by insensitive liberal bloggers” and then to post a link. Or how about instead of saying “some took offense,” actually explaining why they “took offense” – which was because the McCain campaign allegations were false.

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