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ON THE MEDIA / JAMES RAINEY

Palin is talking more, but if she's lucky, few are listening

September 26, 2008|JAMES RAINEY

A global financial crisis and a not-quite-suspended presidential campaign dominated newspaper front pages and television reports over the last couple of days.

Bad news for America. But good news for Sarah Palin.

The economic crisis and John McCain's surprising response have drawn attention away from the Republican vice presidential nominee just as she has started to answer more pointed questions from the media.

Her third nationally televised interview, with CBS anchor Katie Couric, found Palin rambling, marginally responsive and even more adrift than during her network debut with ABC's Charles Gibson.

In a 40-minute session with Couric that aired Wednesday and Thursday nights, the Alaska governor defended her puzzling claim that geographic proximity makes her some sort of expert on Russia; went nearly blank when queried about McCain's achievements as a big-business regulator; agreed America "may find itself" on the road to another Great Depression; and, promoting a troop surge in Afghanistan, casually suggested that it "will lead us to victory there, as it has proven to have done in Iraq."

The last statement couldn't help but conjure an image from 2003 -- President Bush beaming in that green flight suit before the infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Palin's unblinking certitude gave way at other times in the interview to a striking imprecision, as when she struggled to respond to Couric's suggestion that the $700-billion bailout might be better funneled through middle-class families instead of Wall Street firms.

"That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, we're ill about this position that we have been put in . . ." Palin began, before meandering off in fruitless pursuit of coherence.

But I'll let the governor speak for herself:

" . . . where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh -- it's got to be all about job creation too. Shoring up our economy, and putting it back on the right track. So healthcare reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade, we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, um, scary thing, but 1 in 5 jobs being created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that."

That mind-bender prompted Couric to muse, almost charitably, on "The Early Show" that Palin is "not always responsive when asked questions, and sometimes does slip back to her talking points."

It didn't go much better for Palin when she tried to clarify the mystery of what her state's proximity to Russia has taught her about that nation. Anyone south of the Arctic Circle would have seen this question coming and had a ready answer. But seemingly not the governor.

"We have trade missions back and forth," Palin told Couric. "We, we do, it's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to, to our state."

Certainly, Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, has demonstrated his willingness to invade its small neighbors. But have I missed news of recent provocations by Russian bombers over Kiwalik or Aleknagik? And if Palin has been intensely interested in her neighbor across the Bering Strait, that also has escaped the reporters who follow her most closely.

In fact, a veteran reporter from her home state, Hal Bernton, reported in the Seattle Times this month how Russian politicians had sought more contact with Palin, but in vain. The governor cut funding and her office's participation, it seems, in the Northern Forum, which promotes relations between regional governments in the Northern Hemisphere.

A Palin spokeswoman e-mailed that she would provide more detail about Palin's trade activities with the Russkies. No word by deadline.

But wait. Certainly the issue dominating the news would provide the governor with a respite from these maddening demands for, you know, facts.

With McCain now depicting himself as the doctor ready to deliver tough medicine to Wall Street, Couric asked Palin to explain what measures he had pushed in the past.

Palin raised McCain's support of revamped oversight for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two mortgage giants that are on life support. Fine.

But when the network anchor pressed for other examples, given that the Republican has been in Congress for nearly three decades, Palin came up blank.

"I'll try to find some" -- Palin smiled at Couric -- "and bring them to you."

Palin at least kept her answers shorter during a Q&A with reporters Thursday morning, her first such session since McCain unleashed her on the national scene four weeks ago.

Although she didn't really answer two of the four questions, many Americans won't hold that against her. They see someone who understands what it's like in a small town.

Common sense has its value, and commentaries like this one, suggesting Palin's shortcomings, will only confirm to her fans that she is not a pet of the media elite. But it seems only sensible to wonder whether charm and pluck will be enough the next time Putin rears his head.

--

james.rainey@latimes.com

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