Democracy Soup

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Sarah Palin can learn something about reacting to Internet rumors from Barack Obama

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Originally published on on Fri, 09/12/2008 – 1:53pm

Imagine if you were a candidate for high office in the United States, and your supporters were shocked, shocked that there were Internet rumors about the candidate.

Sarah Palin fans, welcome to Barack Obama’s world.

Seriously, Republicans act as if there were no Internet rumors until Sarah Palin was selected by John McCain on August 29.

Now, it’s unfair that these rumors exist for any candidate, but the reality is that people love to spread rumors, and the Internet is an efficient way to do so. There was the rumor that Al Gore claimed he invented the Internet – this one was extremely visible, and extremely untrue.

To cite the extensive list of rumors involving Barack Obama requires more space than we can fit. But it’s fair to say Obama felt the need to launch a Web site to battle this issue.

The “secret Muslim” rumor, to name one, may serious prevent people from otherwise voting for Obama. I joked that Russ Feingold would have made a good VP, because if you are running a “secret Muslim,” it’s good to have a Jewish candidate alongside. But the joke plays to legitimate concerns that Internet rumors matter.

Now some of the Sarah Palin rumors aren’t true: there was an Internet rumor of a fake list of books she tried to ban from the Wasilla library. But there were strong hints of truth: Palin did try to have books banned from the library. If you notice the response from Palin supporters, they say something like, “no book was ever banned from the library when she was mayor.” This is correct, because people stopped it from happening. And Palin’s retaliation against the librarian, firing her a few weeks after the council meeting where the topic was brought up, speaks volumes (to use a library word) about her intent toward the library’s books.

Now to the biggest rumor about Gov. Palin — whether she or her daughter Bristol gave birth to Trig. Perhaps Sarah Palin is the mother of the child, but the circumstances and behavior involving Sarah and Bristol Palin are part of how those rumors got started.

Bristol was kept out of school for five months with mono — heard that is true but not denied. Sarah Palin didn’t announce her pregnancy with Trig until she was 7 months pregnant — fairly certain this is true. Do these and countless other observations mean Bristol is the mother? No.

Then there are two elements not only confirmed by Gov. Palin but also said with pride and bravado: the “going back to work 3 days after giving birth” and the “giving the speech after the water broke and then flying back to Alaska.” These aren’t rumors, these are stories eagerly offered by the candidate. But those stories can lead people to believe that the motherhood is in dispute.

By contrast, some of the attacks against Obama extend to his childhood in alleged circumstances that would be totally out of his control.

What Gov. Palin should also consider is how you react to Internet rumors also says something about your leadership. Barack Obama has been calm and cool, even when being told time and time again some of the nastiest rumors. Contrast this with Sarah Palin, who after the motherhood rumors reached a boil, announced that Bristol couldn’t have been the mother of Trig because she was 5 months pregnant. Gov. Palin thought that explanation would end things, but the oddity (why throw your unwed teenage daughter under the bus unless you are hiding something) only enhances the Internet rumors.

One tacky way of dealing with rumors is to blame your opponent for the rumors, as John McCain has done against Obama. And like most of the rumors, the McCain attack was a false one. Or when Palin issued a fundraising letter saying: “the Obama-Biden Democrats have been vicious in their attacks directed toward me, my family and John McCain.”

Gov. Palin needs to realize that Internet rumors are very anonymous, and associating them with a specific group without any proof shows a recklessness to the process.

The McCain-Palin campaign’s harsh reactions to the rumors gives the impression that some of the rumors are true, further deflating the credibility of the campaign.

The percentage of rumors against Palin is tiny compared to the rumors against Obama, and the press is working much harder to refute the Palin rumors.

If you are a serious candidate for higher office, Internet rumors are a part of life. But what you do with those Internet rumors speaks to leadership qualities. Throwing your teenage daughter under the bus was a really bad start. Gov. Palin might try having an ounce of empathy for Sen. Obama, who has been dealing with this for almost as long as she has been governor of Alaska.


Written by democracysoup

September 12, 2008 at 1:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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