Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sarah and Greta and John: The Scientology Connection - Part 1/3

While I was perusing one of the many ethics complaints filed against Sarah Palin while she was Alaska’s governor, I stumbled upon an interesting bit of news that I hadn’t heard before. Among the many charges in the complaint filed by  fellow Republican Andree McCleod, there was the a familiar name, Greta Van Susteren, host of Fox News’ On the Record. 

Intimate Relations
The Palin- Van Susteren relationship is strikingly more intimate than most political figures have ever had with journalist.   At times, it seemed as though Van Susteren was more of a press agent for the former governor, rather than a “fair and balanced” journalist. As Andrew Halcro writes:   
Van Susteren landed Palin's first interview after she returned home from her Vice Presidential run in November and this past week Van Susteren landed the first public media appearance by the governor's daughter and grandson.From snowmobiling and cooking moose hot dogs in Wasilla, to greeting racers at the end of the Iron Dog in Fairbanks, Van Susteren has had more one on one face time with Palin than most State commissioners.Perhaps even more that Todd.
In a competitive industry like cable news broadcasting,  in which exclusive access is like hitting a home run in the ninth inning, Greta’s relationship with Sarah is a definite advantage. For Palin, it is just as much of an advantage. Media Matters supplies an example regarding Palin’s memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life :
Van Susteren hyped Palin's memoir throughout the first segment of her November 13 program, saying that the "entire country is buzzing" about the book and that "no one -- and we mean no one -- can stop talking about her." She also asked, "What is it about this governor that's got everybody talking?"
Even in our hype-filled age, that sounds a bit over the top. Although, when Greta’s gushing finally subsided, the guest makes some very interesting observations,  it’s hard not to read a bit of sarcasm in the guest’s remark, “Nobody has been more fair to her than you, Greta.”
In an online article, Think Progress lists the many not-so special specials that Van Susteren has hosted on Palin.
During the presidential campaign, Van Susteren had perhaps the best access to Palin of any journalist, hosting a one-hour “documentary” on “Governor Sarah Palin — An American Woman.” She also scored an exclusive interview with Todd Palin, in which she grilled him “on everything from the story behind the name ‘First Dude’ to how he feels about the name ‘First Dude.’”After the election, Palin chose Van Susteren for her first national television interview. Since then, Van Susteren has consistently covered Palin, keeping an eye out for any potential slights to the governor and gushing over her popularity.
It appears that Van Susteren, as Palin’s private cheerleader for Fox News, has decided that it is her job to keep the entire country buzzing about Palin, even when no one- and we mean no one- really finds her as enthralling as Greta does.  If Greta isn’t interviewing Palin then she is interviewing somebody who is talking (favorably) about Palin, her potential run for the presidency, and all things Palin. On  Aug 18, 2010,  When Fox News devoted three days to a Van Susteren hosted a special on oil drilling in Alaska, Greta was able to turn the “inside story” into a piece about Palins. The broadcast was summed up in this way by Media Matters, the special “basically boil[ed] down to a three-day infomercial of Palin touting her positions on ANWR and her record of ‘play[ing] hardball’ with oil companies as governor.”
Of course, this is what most people have come to expect from Fox News, really just business as usual. Still, such intimate relations might explain why comments highly critical of Palin made by Karl Rove on Van Susteren’s show were censored
During the Van Susteren interview, Rove was responding to a remark made on her SarahPAC site condemning professional pundits with so called “inside information” about her decision to run or not to run. The statement concluded with, “This is more of the "politics-as-usual" that Sarah Palin has fought against throughout her career.”
Rove, taken aback somewhat, defended himself and then observed,
Well look, it came from her PAC and I assume that since it’s a small group of people who run the PAC and run her operation and I assume that she was aware that they were going to go out there and say things in her name, SarahPAC, that basically said ‘Don’t speculate about me and if you are then you are an establishment elitist with no inside information.’
He continues with this comment,
And I mean I just thought that it was a very odd way to react and and frankly you know - OK fine: If you don’t want us to speculate about you, don’t be doing the things you are doing. By showing up in a surprise appearance at the Iowa State Fair and running a television ad saying “I’m looking forward to being back in Iowa” and then going and speaking at a big rally in Iowa. I thought that part of that was that she wanted to get more attention to herself but I guess, I guess that’s wrong. I guess that she wanted less attention so she did those things. I don’t know. It’s weird. Very odd.
Mind you, these statements by Rove were deleted in the official transcript. In any case, there is, in this dialogue, a bit more than meets the eye and a bit more to the story than the usual unbalanced news reporting so typical of Fox News.

Big Deal
According to the ethics complaint I mentioned earlier, starting in 2008, Palin, while still governor, received free professional consulting and legal advice on how to deal with lawsuits, ethics complaints and unfair attacks by the media. The complaint charged that these services constituted an gift which were not disclosed, in violation the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. The provider of this gift was none other than Van Susteren’s law partner and husband, John P. Coale.

When a Politico story broke about the Van Susteren-Coale connection, eventually Van Susteren admitted that her husband had indeed assisted Palin, in an article . In a blog post on her website GretaWire, she writes:

Yes, he advised her - after the election - how to set up a PAC (big deal - it is common - routine - for politicians to set up a PAC - virtually every politician has one set up and there is nothing wrong with them.And incidentally, the PAC was created to pay travel bills she had accumulated and would accumulate in the future and to contribute to other candidates .and the Pac was not to be her chief political advisers which is what the article accuses.) And yes, he thought it wrong the way she was attacked in the media.As a matter of fact, so did I think she was treated unfairly by the media (I don't like gratuitous attacks.issues, yes..but not gratuitous attacks) and I am not the only one who thought that in the media. My husband helped with the PAC - I did not - AFTER the election when she was not running for office but trying to dig herself out from lawsuits, ethics complaints and unfair attacks by the media. Big deal.  So he was nice to her and wanted to help her and did help her.
Don’t bother checking the link, though. She apparently had some second thoughts about being THAT open and scrubbed the post not long after this was written. .
The fact that there might be a small conflict of interest involved never seems to cross her mind. By listing other female new personalities with politically active spouses, Van Susteren goes to great pains to show that it is possible to remain objective and ethical. Possible in theory, perhaps. This dismissal rings rather hollow, given the fact that Van Susteren has treated no other politician in quite the same way as she treats Palin. When the subject of favoritism and Palin comes up, Van Susteren like to dismiss the claim by saying “Oh, we’ve had Hilary Clinton here a lot of times too.”

To an outsider, it would appear that the fee for Coale’s  legal advice was access to Sarah Palin. It was a very nice arrangement for all parties concerned.
Other Fox News staff are equally blase, as the New York Times reports:
Bill Shine, the senior vice president for programming, expressed little concern about the ties. “There are always some sort of, let’s just say, unique relationships that happen when you live in Washington,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s the culture of that town.”He said Ms. Van Susteren did “not necessarily” have to disclose on television that her husband had worked with Ms. Palin.
Not what you would call an adamant statement. Other opinions were a bit less bland.
Some critics have accused Ms. Van Susteren of playing favorites with Ms. Palin. David Zurawik, a longtime television critic for The Baltimore Sun, wrote that she had conducted “cotton-candy interviews” of Ms. Palin. In an interview, he called Mr. Coale’s work “an extension of what Greta’s doing on the air.”“They’re her champions or her defense attorneys,” Mr. Zurawik said.

When the subject of favoritism and Palin comes up, Van Susteren likes to dismiss the claim by saying “Oh, we’ve had Hilary Clinton here a lot of times too.” In an interview, Van Sustern said she thought Hilary Clinton was the most powerful woman in the world. Be that as it may, later we shall see the other possible reasons why Susteren and her husband have worked hard to cultivate a good relationship with the Clintons.


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