Palin told WMAL-AM that her criticism of Obama’s associations, like those with 1960s radical Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, should not be considered negative attacks [bold mine-DL]. Rather, for reporters or columnists to suggest that it is going negative may constitute an attack that threatens a candidate’s free speech rights under the Constitution, Palin said.
“If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations,” Palin told host Chris Plante, “then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.” ~Political Radar
If they’re not negative attacks, what are they? Charming compliments?
Having hidden behind every P.C. shield her defenders could think to set up around her (i.e., criticism of Palin is sexist, elitist, etc.), Palin has now adopted the most extreme victimization pose that equate criticism and news reporting with oppression and violations of her rights. This just seems silly at first and increasingly irrelevant as the election approaches, but since we are being informed on a regular basis that Palin is the future of the Republican Party it seems worthwhile to consider what this remark means. It seems to me that this dresses up contempt for accountability as zeal for free speech, and it remarkably makes the press the enemy of freedom of the press when the press has the gall to report accurately that a candidate is engaging in negative campaigning. There is an old tradition of “working the refs” in political campaigning, and it is actually a bipartisan practice, but here Palin is implying that accurate reporting of a candidate’s activities should be considered illegal. This is an elected public official saying that the press violates politicians’ rights by characterizing negative attacks as negative attacks–just imagine how oppressive it must be when journalists point out that you lie about or distort your record!
Of course, there is nothing necessarily wrong with negative campaigning, which is not the same as making false and dishonest claims about one’s opponent. Palin wants us to identify the two and then wants to claim that she is not engaging in negative campaigning, by which she means to say that she believes she is not launching scurrilous or misleading attacks. Even this latter point is debatable, but it is instructive that Palin’s instinct when confronted with media scrutiny and bad coverage is to wrap herself, the public official, in the First Amendment that is supposed to protect a free press from intimidation by and interference from the government. If that does not worry her admirers, particularly those who are journalists, it should.