The straitjacket express

The Baltimore Sun

Ten days and counting since Sen. John McCain introduced his vice presidential running mate to America, and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin still isn't talking to the press. Not only isn't she taking questions, but the wise-cracking, finger-wagging hockey mom has refused national media interviews - until yesterday.

The governor who favors moose burgers and high-powered rifles should be able to muster a little face time with the fourth estate. If she's on board Mr. McCain's "Straight Talk Express," the bus has taken a U-turn.

Senator McCain used to pride himself on his relationship with the media; he could tell it like it is and fear no consequences. But he's working off a script now from a Karl Rove protege, Steve Schmidt, and that playbook has shifted the McCain campaign into attack mode. Veering off message doesn't fit the bill. Heaping blame on the media is a worn-out, if predictable, ploy to change the subject, and there was enough about Mrs. Palin's personal life that came to light in the past week to warrant changing the subject.

But Mrs. Palin's continued snipes against the national media are misplaced; bloggers, not reporters, blew the lid off her teenage daughter's pregnancy. The mainstream media's follow-up centered on the McCain campaign's vice presidential vetting process. But it also was in keeping with coverage of other political offspring, such as the marijuana bust of Al Gore's son last year and the underage drinking arrest of Jenna Bush in 2001.

When CNN anchor Campbell Brown pressed a McCain aide about Mrs. Palin's experience as commander of the Alaska National Guard and its relationship to foreign policy - a legitimate line of questioning for a vice presidential candidate - the campaign canceled Mr. McCain's appearance with Larry King, cable television's Mr. Softy. How chivalrous. But Mrs. Palin can't claim a mantle of leadership and true grit and then hide behind Mr. McCain. That doesn't sound like the fearless feminist she claims to be.

The McCain campaign can try to control her every move and convince her to hammer away at the same talking points. But the American people deserve to hear what she thinks about the loss of American jobs, the United States' role in the world, the price of gas and the state of health care in the country. Once the cheering crowds pipe down, Mrs. Palin's stump speech is going to get old. The campaign has portrayed Mrs. Palin as a chief executive who is her own woman, and as such, she should be able to say what she thinks.

Mr. McCain's political strategists must have realized the mixed message they were sending in muzzling their pit bull, because yesterday the campaign confirmed that Governor Palin will sit down "sometime later this week" with ABC's Charlie Gibson. That should be a ratings bonanza for Mr. Gibson, because we believe most Americans want to see a potential vice president with Mrs. Palin's newfound celebrity status up close and personal - and, one would hope, unscripted.

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