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 BarackOblogger.com 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.