In the span of two and a half weeks, the 2008 U.S. presidential election has earned a major page in the history books. The Democratic Party has elected the first ever black presidential nominee, Barack Obama, and the Republican Party, a few days later in Minneapolis, Minnesota, put forward a woman as their vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. This will be the first time in an American general election where both a black nominee and a woman candidate face off.
Sadly, this has been accompanied by another event that causes the mainstream media great embarrassment and shame: below-the-belt journalism.
Governor Sarah Palin is an ex-housewife, the former mayor of Wasilla and currently the governor of Alaska. The marathon runner hockey mom of five children is an inspiration to women of all stripes trying to break through the glass ceiling. Perhaps it is for this reason that her main address at the Republican convention garnered 37.2 million TV viewers, only 1.2 million less than presidential nominee Barack Obama.
Prior to John McCain selecting Palin as his running mate, the Governor of Alaska was virtually unknown to the American public. The media, whose job it is to inform, pounced on the opportunity to report on the real Sarah Palin. Instead of discussing her record as a government executive, they ran headlines about her teenage daughter's pregnancy. Worse, they spread horrible rumours suggesting that Palin's baby daughter-- who suffers from Down syndrome-- is actually her other daughter's baby, which is categorically untrue.
During employment interviews, which we all experience, it is generally expected that potential employers ask us questions to determine what kind of person we are. Depending on the position we apply for, background check intensities vary. When seeking the second highest office in the United States of America, it is unsurprising that no stone goes unturned. The media and opposing parties regularly dig through every bit of the candidates past to make sure the employer, the American public, is fully informed.
All background checks have parameters and surely, there are lines to be drawn when reporting on political candidates. Before deciding whom to vote for, is it really necessary to know the school grades of the candidate's children, information on the candidate's spouse's dating history prior to their marriage or extremely personal information such as a candidate's daughter's relationship status?
Yes, it is true, Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant and planning to marry the father. But how is that information supposed to help anyone decide whom to vote for? It doesn't. All this irresponsible journalism serves to accomplish is embarrassing a teenage girl who has nothing to do with the electoral process.
The pregnancy is completely exogenous to a vice-president's credentials to serve office, but the story has still dominated news cycles. Palin's daughter did nothing to warrant such despicable treatment from the media. It is her mother who is running for vice-president, not her. Likewise, Palin is running for the position of vice-president, not mother of the United States.
Independent of political parties, the mainstream media has a duty, although not binding, but one of common decency, to respect all public officials private lives. All who seek office sacrifice much of their privacy, but they shouldn't have to surrender all of it. Unless events at home will dramatically affect their performance on the job, it should be exempt from publication. Public officials deserve better.
This irresponsible journalism on Palin's mothering skills is a good refresher for the Canadian media, embarking on the upcoming election: report on the relevant, abstain from the unnecessary, be critical, not disrespectful and most importantly, leave innocent family members in peace.