I wouldn’t bother with this subject except for the fact that Sullivan is both very widely read and published on the Atlantic’s web site, so he’s sort of kosher from the viewpoint of what “counts” as a mainstream media source.
Sullivan has become obsessed with the idea that the McCain-Palin campaign is obligated to release documentation proving that Trig Palin is actually Sarah Palin’s child. He comes back to the subject several times a week, and has made some querelous posts about how the McCain campaign won’t even respond to his requests for some documentary proof. He’s also stuck on the idea that he has some kind of professional obligation as a journalist to keep pursuing this story, that he owes to his readers etc.
The whole thing seems fairly nuts, but it does raise some potentially interesting questions.
The less interesting question is why someone like Sullivan thinks this is such a big deal. One possible answer is that if Trig really isn’t Palin’s baby then that proves she’s a liar. This rationale for getting hung up on the question is absurd on its face. Palin is a proven liar on all sorts of subjects of vastly greater public importance than the maternity of Trig Palin.
Indeed of everything Palin lied about, lying about who Trig’s mother is might be the most defensible lie she’s uttered, assuming it’s a lie, because her motivations (I suppose) would be to protect her daughter. Which brings up the question of what Sullivan’s theory of the case is at this point. Does he not believe Bristol Palin is pregnant? Does he think Bristol is pregnant but got pregnant a few weeks after giving birth to Trig? Journalists can’t just go about demanding that public figures “prove” things unless they have some genuine basis for doubting the official story. If I started demanding that Obama “prove” he’s the father of his daughters I would quite properly be treated as a crazy person.
For a variety of reasons (Palin’s behavior at the time of the child’s birth, her non-pregnant appearance, Bristol Palin’s disappearance from school) the Trig isn’t Sarah’s baby theory had some superficial X-fileish plausibility before Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was revealed. At this point it seems quite wacky, and it isn’t surprising the McCain campaign is ignoring Sullivan’s increasingly unhinged-sounding demands for “proof.”
Which raises the one really interesting question in all this: What theory of knowledge do journalists like Sullivan hold? I’m happy to stipulate that it’s not inconceivable (snicker) that Trig isn’t actually Sarah Palin’s baby. Maybe Bristol isn’t pregnant and she’ll have a “miscarriage” right after the election. Maybe she somehow got pregnant a few weeks after giving birth to Trig. Maybe we’re all just brains in a giant vat and our beliefs are being manipulated by scientists from the planet Chryon in the Andromeda galaxy.
But . . . here’s the thing. If it’s possible at this point that the McCain-Palin campaign has successfully hidden the true maternity of Trig Palin (and again, I’ll admit that this is possible, if, in my view, extremely unlikely), then we live in a world where the powers that be have the power to control the apparent evidence in such a way as to potentially fool the entire American media about the true answer to a question like this. And of course we do live in such a world. Which means that Sullivan’s request for “documentary proof” of Trig Palin’s true parenthood is both extremely naive and more than a little nutty. What, given what’s already transpired, would qualify as “proof” under circumstances like this? Official-looking documents? Testimony of witnesses? High-definition video of the miraculous moment of birth?
If Sarah Palin has to this point gotten away with lying about the “fact” that she really isn’t Trig Palin’s mother, then that would be somewhat similar to the claim that the US government has gotten away with the “fact” that it actually carried out the 9/11 attacks. Both things are actually possible.
But what doesn’t make sense is to demand that the US government “prove” it didn’t carry out the 9/11 attacks. Because if it actually managed to carry them out and cover them up, then nothing would be easier than for the government to subsequently “prove” (in terms of the conventional media understanding of what “prove” means) that the people who believe the government brought the twin towers down by remote demolition are a bunch of lunatics.
Sullivan wants to play the role of the straight journalist, while still asking X-file type questions of the powers that be, and then expecting that those questions will actually be answered by those same powers. On many levels, that does not compute.