Phase One: A Palin Incident
This silly tale started with an incident in Homer, Alaska, which Sarah Palin was visiting for her reality TV show. A resident, Kathleen Gustafson, put up a banner declaring Palin the "worst governor ever." Palin stopped to protest. Here's the video of the encounter:
Gustafson's main objection seems to be that Palin quit halfway through her term, a fairly common, mainstream criticism, whatever her other views. Alaskan blogger Shannyn Moore, who's from Homer, gives much more background. Palin's bodyguards trying to block the filming is obnoxious (apparently one man might be her husband). According to Moore, they later tore the sign down. The oddest moment is Palin's grimacing shtick when Gustafson mentions she's a teacher.
Phase Two: Palin Defends/Attacks
Palin generally makes the news, and in this case she was criticized. Palin predictably manned her Facebook parapet to complain about the reaction to her behavior:
The LSM has now decided to use this brief encounter for another one of their spin operations. They claim I – wait for it – “appear to roll my eyes” when the lady tells me she’s a teacher. Yes, it’s come to this: the media is now trying to turn my eyebrow movements into story lines. (Maybe that’s why Botox is all the rage – if you can’t move your eyebrows, your “eye rolling” can’t be misinterpreted!) If they had checked their facts first, they would have known that I come from a family of teachers; my grandparents were teachers, my father was a teacher, my brother is a teacher, my sister works in Special Needs classrooms, my aunt is a school nurse, my mom worked as a school secretary for much of her professional life, we all volunteer in classrooms, etc., etc., etc. Given that family history, how likely is it that I would “roll my eyes” at someone telling me that they too work in that honorable profession? Stay classy, LSM.
If you're not fluent in Palinese, "LSM" stands for "lamestream media." As Roy Edroso comments:
I'm actually sympathetic toward her on this score. But you know what would have really won me over? If she'd compared this attention to her facial expressions with the attention also absurdly paid to the facial expressions of Al Franken by wingnut shit-stirrers.
But that would never happen. Not only because -- to use a phrase traditionally employed by gomers -- it doesn't fit the narrative, but because it would require Palin to show sympathy for someone other than herself.
And I've never seen her do that.
She does defend her kids, but only when she fantasizes that they've been attacked by the media -- which isn't really a sign of interest in their welfare, but of an interest in the exploitive possibilities of one's own family that would have embarrassed Richard "Checkers" Nixon.
In other people's families, she's less interested...
He's got more (and head over for his links). But yeah, Palin is hardly pushing for substance in the political discourse, and never has. She hides behind her Facebook screeds (some of them surely ghost-written), allowing her to throw crap at others, make news and rarely answer questions from a reporter or citizen. It's the classic right-wing model, perfected by Ann Coulter – seek credit for saying something "provocative," but refuse any accountability for what you say. Palin lives for the cheap political attack herself, and loves media attention, even if – hell, especially - when it's negative (from a non-Fox News source, that is).
While the Homer incident was trivial in the grand scheme, Palin's rebuttal remains unconvincing. Hey, who are you going to believe, her or your lying eyes? She comes off as pretty snide and obnoxious in the video. It's far down the list of reasons not to vote for her, but it smacks of the same "mean girl" persona many female writers identified in Palin back during the 2008 presidential campaign. After Gustafson says she's a teacher, Palin seems to be playing for the audience, mostly her daughter, something along the lines of "Figures" or "Oh, we all know what commie liberals those teachers are!" There are a few different interpretations of her reaction (read the post and comments here, for example), but it sure looks like Palin is disparaging teachers as a general group and/or Gustafson personally. While I have no doubt that Palin dislikes teachers' unions - a lamentably common conservative position, and one cited by some of Palin's defenders on this - she doesn't mention them during the incident, nor in her Facebook post. (By the way, did you know who's in teachers' unions? Teachers.) Palin mentioning the teachers in her family in her Facebook post isn't an exoneration; it's further condemnation, because she should know better.
Indeed, the entire GOP should know better. Earlier this month, House minority leader John Boehner attacked the bill to help states keep teachers, police officers and firefighters employed, because he claimed it was "a pay-off to union bosses and liberal special interests." Republican opposition was near-unanimous. The bill finally passed, and as Steve Benen points out, it was both "good policy and good politics" – but Benen also notes that now some Republicans are charging that it was some grand Democratic Party-schoolteacher conspiracy. Seriously. It's become increasingly common to see the Republican Party run against the middle class, which amounts to horrible policies and shouldn't be good politics, but that's the reality. Arnold Schwarzenegger has attacked teachers, nurses and firefighters out here in California, and George Will and other conservatives have attacked teachers (as well as teachers' unions) for decades now. (On a related note, I agree with Digby that this article is one of the stupidest I've ever read.) In any case, it's predictable rather than implausible that a conservative, especially one with Palin's anti-intellectual shtick (and history of bullying librarians), would attack teachers in some fashion.
Phase Three: Right-Wing Bloggers are Go!
Here's where it gets interesting (if both odd and familiar) for me. If you check out memeorandum, the initial incident got a surprising amount of coverage – but then things just kept on rolling. Right-wingers sought to defend Palin, which is fine, but those defenses became increasingly nutty. Palin's fans are pretty zealous, and it's a right-wing blogger standard that their "citizen journalism" actually means "mobilizing to slander innocent people who don’t share your political views." (The right-wing crusade against Graeme Frost is still the nadir.) Sure enough, right-wing bloggers quickly set out to dig up dirt on Gustafson.
Phase Four: Right-Wing Smears Repeated Uncritically
A few outlets, including Yahoo, uncritically passed on right-wing attacks against Gustafson. The three big attacks were that Gustafson wasn't really a teacher, that she confronted Palin as a stunt for a local radio show, and that she was a singer in a drag queen band. (Follow the links at the bottom of the Yahoo post.)
I happened to see the Yahoo piece, and was mildly curious about how they'd cover the incident. I followed their links, and saw that one of bloggers attacking Gustafson was Jim Hoft, a.k.a. GatewayPundit. He claimed the teacher that Sarah Palin mocked wasn't really a teacher. My first reaction was, "So what? That doesn't change that Palin mocked the teaching profession." My second reaction - knowing Hoft's track record on accuracy about, well, anything - was "I wonder how long it will take for Hoft to be disproven?"
Guess what's coming next, kids?
Phase Five: Reality-Based Bloggers Debunk the "Scandal"
Jim Hoft's post title at First Things blared, "THAT WAS NO TEACHER… Unhinged Leftist Who Confronted Palin Is a Singer in a Drag Queen Band (Photo)." Oh, he had the goods, all right:
The leftists were outraged that Sarah Palin had the nerve to confront this angry “teacher.” Teachers should be respected.
It’s just too bad she’s not a teacher. Kathleen Gustafson is a singer in a drag queen band.
(HOMER TRIBUNE/Randi Somers) – Director Kathleen Gustafson (left) steps in to provide harmony as Hedwig (Atz Lee Kilcher) polishes up his performance at Pier One on Aug. 28.
Kathleen Guftafson is not a teacher. She’s a theater tech… And a liar.
You just can’t make this stuff up.
Most of Hoft's links went to a post with running updates by conservative blogger Macsmind –this being the key one:
UPDATE: Here’s a story about her singing abilities with a drag-queen band. Whoohoo!
That's where Hoft got the photo. The thing is, if you bother to, y'know, actually read the linked story, it's a about a one-man show/musical with a cult following called Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which was made into a 2001 film. So Gustafson isn't a singer in a drag queen band (not that there's anything wrong with that), and teaching theater tech is, um, teaching. Obviously the queer stuff gets them all excited, but Hoft, Macsmind and other conservative bloggers who pushed these charges were inaccurate, whether through malice, ineptitude or some mix of both.
Still, even if they were accurate – so what? How would any of it exonerate Palin? Even if Gustafson wasn't a teacher, Palin still approached her, was still snide to her, and still disparaged teachers. The same holds true even if Gustafson does some local radio show. I don't think most people are dumb enough to think that every Alaskan adores Palin, who was widely criticized over quitting the governorship, or that every Alaskan hates her, either. So why attack Gustafson? Because some people - in the supposedly liberal media, who conservatives despise anyway - thought the incident made Palin look bad? The facts remain that while the conservative base adores Palin, she's extremely unpopular with Americans as a whole - and mostly, the more they've seen of her, the less they like her. This incident isn't liable to change her ratings much either way. This was just another right-wing smear job, attempted as a distraction – and an unsuccessful, clumsy one at that.
Andrew Sullivan found more:
A Singer In A Drag Queen Band?
Er, it appears she is directing a production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. As one commenter at the theocon First Things notes:Ahem – “Theater Tech” is the name of the class. It teaches highschoolers how to create sets, lighting plans, build props, etc. Her collegue Amy Christenson isn’t a “Music” and Mark Robinson isn’t a “Choir” all by himself. The word that follows their names is most likely the name of the class they teach.
And she’s not a singer in a Drag Queen band, she’s obviously directing the stage play “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” If she was in the Sound of Music, would you claim she was an Austrian au pair?
There's more:The…ahhhh…”drag queen” who is actually the character Hedwig, the star of the play, is Atz Lee Kilcher. We long-time Alaskans know him as one of the musical Kilcher clan whom I watched perform when they were kids. You would know him as Jewel’s brother.
Still: no corrections from GatewayPundit.
Well, that was hardly surprising. The site Sadly, No probably has the most extensive archive on the GatewayPundit Follies, but there was his confusion that different people can have the same names, his confusion about racial slurs, his factually-challenged attacks on the Clintons over Socks the cat, his appalling smears that Education official Kevin Jennings had promoted child porn in the classroom, and (my favorite) his claim that the Taliban was training killer monkeys to shoot Americans. Not only is he not Edward R. Murrow, he's not even Andrew Breitbart.
Phase Six: Parting Shots
Hoft did eventually post an update, though, linking one of Sullivan's posts:
UPDATE: The Palin-haters now claim that “theater tech” is the name of some class they teach in Alaska. Sure it is… Keep spinning libs.
Wow. Just – read that one again. Wow. I sorta envision Hoft, cursed and foiled again, spitting that out hatefully, vowing revenge and disappearing in a cloud of smoke.
Here's the thing. The original incident was pretty minor. You can think Palin's generally a swell person and was the best governor ever, but yeah, she was snide to a citizen and disparaged teachers. It ain't the end of the world, but neither of those moves was surprising. I'd think most Palin devotees would just say, "That Homer woman Palin was talking to had it coming!" and be done with it.
But no, the right-wing smear machine cranked up as usual, and true to form, came up with nothing of substance. Moreover, Hoft and the faithful are so rabidly partisan, so fervent in their defense of the divine Sarah, they're unwilling to acknowledge even basic facts, and refuse to accurately represent the articles they themselves link. They're just denying reality. That's what amazes me (and why I've written this looong post). They're prepared to go to the wall over this?!? I mean, come on, Jim Hoft is really going to claim that the state of Alaska doesn't have a class on theater tech and that teaching it isn't really teaching? Is that supposed to convince anybody who isn't on his side already, not to mention a complete zealot or hack?
At this point, I almost have to believe that Jim Hoft is pulling our legs, because I find it hard to believe that even he is this dim. Even given conservative hostility toward the arts, and the typical dynamics of right-wing, knee-jerk smear campaigns (here in defense of one of the most vapid politicians ever to grace the American political stage), it's pretty bad. And, ahem, as a former theater teacher, occasional director and techie, and vagabond thespian (it's legal now in California), I feel compelled to respond.
Hey, Jim Hoft, did you know? Theater is actually one of several art forms that's been central to Western civilization for over two and half millennia. That's not all! Many high schools and colleges teach classes about it! Theater is so popular, in fact, that it breaks into other classrooms - why, you can find students reading plays by that Shakespeare fellow in English classes! Not only that, some students put on school plays, which gets 'em some culture, and provides many the climatic scene in one of those motion picture thingies (another one of the arts) like Dead Poets Society or Love, Actually. And – shockingly enough – some classes teach students how to put on those plays! It turns out that microphones, speakers and lights don't magically work all on their own. Granted, it does take more effort to put on a real play than spewing inaccurate, intolerant bullshit constantly - but we find it's worth it.
Phase Seven: More Flailing, More Mocking
The nutty defenses of Palin didn't stop there. Over at Michelle Malkin's site, Doug Powers also claimed that "theater tech" meant Gustafson was lying about being a teacher – and again, mysteriously, why this would affect the initial criticism of Palin has never been explained. Powers continued:
When Palin asked Gustafson what she did for a living, and she said she was a teacher, that’s where eyeroll-gate started.
Oh, I don’t know, maybe Sarah somehow knew that Gustafson is also the director/singer in a drag queen band, that it was possibly a radio stunt or that Gustafson is (or at least was) president of the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic — you know how the pro-abortion folks love Sarah.
Uh, how did Palin know any of this? Her awesome psychic powers? It's interesting that Powers is conceding the reaction, but come on, is this remotely plausible? Not to mention, Palin "somehow knew" Gustafson wasn't a teacher and was a singer in a drag queen band - when neither of these is true? It's like George Bush's all-knowing "gut," I guess. Hey, if Powers wants to argue that what makes Sarah Palin special is that she just somehow knows things that aren't true, I'm going to agree with him.
At least one other conservative blogger, Devonia Smith, took a similar tact. After repeating Hoft's charges about Gustafson not being a real teacher and a singer in a drag queen band, she wrote:
Although the liberal opinion seems to be that Sarah appeared to roll her eyes because the protester was a teacher; conservatives are certain that the knowing look exchanged with her family was because Sarah never believed for a minute the protester was a teacher. That Sarah Palin, she's a smart lady - and she was right to suspect that the "teacher" was not your ordinary classroom teacher.
Uh, okay then. Her "Mama Grizzly Sense" was tingling? (The same one that steered her brilliantly through the Couric and Gibson interviews, and so many other debacles, perhaps?) Funny though, Palin herself denied or downplayed that she rolled her eyes, but Smith also concedes this. I'm also guessing Smith's idea of "ordinary" classroom teachers neither teach theater nor dislike Sarah Palin, because come on, who's ever heard of such things? And again, Palin somehow knew or 'suspected' things that a) weren't true and b) wouldn't exonerate her anyway? It's really just a cheerleading "I like Sarah Palin" post (Smith seems to have many of those).
To recap, Palin denied or downplayed her facial reactions. Most right-wing bloggers seem to have abandoned that strategy. Instead, some conservative bloggers claimed Palin was exonerated because... Gustafson was a horrible person somehow, while others claimed Palin was exonerated because... Palin has Sherlock Holmes deductive powers or psychic abilities or something - that furthermore told her things that weren't true. Again, I think just saying "Screw you, liberals!" would be more honest than these elaborate, befuddled machinations.
Meanwhile, if you're more of a mind to mock Palin, here's Kristen Schaal on The Daily Show, some liberal mama grizzlies, and Jacob Weisberg on the qualities that make Sarah Palin special: "Palin's exuberant incoherence testifies to an unusually wide gulf between confidence and ability."
This was a pretty silly non-scandal. It's nothing compared to Breitbart's smear campaign against Shirley Sherrod, or the current loathsome attacks on the "Ground Zero Mosque," which would actually be a Muslim community center with a prayer room, located two long city blocks away (and out of sight) from Ground Zero. But many non-scandals seem to follow this basic pattern.
And surely we can all get along. Remember, implicit in most conservative defenses of Palin, including her own, was the notion that disparaging teachers was bad. That's progress, in a way. So I guess at least we all agree that teachers are wonderful, and we can hug, share a beer or two, and support our local arts scene by buying a ticket to the summer community theater show. Hey, maybe they'll be performing this little number:
Kwahng-Yi on guitar, ladies and gentlemen.
(Edited the last section for clarity. A late night.)