COMMENTS: Palin Questioned by Gibson

The Exclusive interview by ABC anchor Charles Gibson with Sarah Palin was the Story of the Day. Gibson anchored from Fairbanks after sitting down with the 44-year-old Governor of Alaska for her first interview since accepting the Republican nomination for Vice President. Gibson's q-&-a on foreign policy issues was edited into two segments that totaled 13 minutes, or 70% of his newscast's entire newshole. This is September 11th, so CBS decided to lead with the seventh anniversary commemoration of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. NBC kicked off with the gathering storm in the Gulf of Mexico, as Hurricane Ike is forecast to make landfall near Houston.

Part one of Gibson's interview concerned Palin's foreign policy expertise and worldview and her specific positions on NATO and Russia, on Iran and Israel, and on Afghanistan and Pakistan. His most aggressive question concerned Palin's position on the Bush Doctrine. Gibson referred to the doctrine by its date of promulgation, September 2002, but not by its content. Palin was clearly unaware of the doctrine's assertion that wars of pre-emption are legal and legitimate. When Gibson relented and informed her of its details, Palin implicitly rejected the President's prophylactic notions, limiting the right of self-defense to imminent threats.

Gibson used follow-up questions most aggressively with his hypothetical about the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran posing a threat to Israel's very existence. Palin was certain that Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would never use nuclear weapons--even if he had them--but she was afraid that such an arsenal might be transferred to terrorists. Gibson asked Palin to imagine a scenario under which Israel decided unilaterally to attack Iran because "it felt threatened." Palin at first said: "I do not think we should second guess" Israel. Gibson probed further: "I do not think we can second guess," was her next formulation. A further follow-up brought an even more generous carte blanche: "We cannot second guess the steps that Israel has to take to defend itself."

Part two of Gibson's interview concerned Palin's view of the Iraq War. It contained the most glaring error in his day's journalism. In Gibson's defense, part of the problem derived from Palin's rambling rhetorical style, in which the start and finish of a sentence tend to lose their connection. Nevertheless, this was the soundbite from a sermon Palin preached on Iraq that Gibson asked about: "Pray for our military men and women, who are striving to do what is right also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God." Gibson interpreted that as Palin's assertion that the occupation of Iraq is "a task that is from God" and that the United States is therefore fighting a Holy War. In fact, Palin was soliciting prayers to ensure that the war should conform God's will. Palin accurately set Gibson straight, citing Republican Abraham Lincoln: "Let us not pray that God is on our side…but let us pray that we are on God's side."

The other two networks covered ABC's newsmaking. CBS' Nancy Cordes (no link) included a clip from the start of the interview about Palin's experience and ability; NBC's Kelly O'Donnell did not use video, merely recounting Palin's response when asked about an expansion of NATO to include Georgia and the potential for war with Russia as a result. "Perhaps so," Palin conceded.


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