It’s difficult to say who was more culpable during Charles Gibson’s controversial interview of Sarah Palin: the ABC news anchor who stands accused of throwing a curve ball to the Alaska governor – or Palin being charged with giving Miss America-like answers to some of Gibson’s questions.

To be specific, Gibson asked Palin, “Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?” Her vague response was, “In what respect, Charlie?” When it became clear that Palin was not certain as to what the “doctrine” was, Gibson condescendingly informed her that the Doctrine is the use of military action to prevent anticipated attacks. Well, maybe not.

Republican members of Congress were quick to point out that there are at least six Bush Doctrines, and that the one about preventive action may not be the dominant one. Even so, one can Google to one’s hearts content, and no definitive definition of the Doctrine emerges. Gibson’s question was clearly meant to show, on national television, that the vice presidential nominee of the Republican party didn’t have a clue as to what her president’s professed precepts are.

In an opinion piece for U.S. News & World Report, Robert Schlesinger compared Palin’s responses to this and other questions to “a robot struggling to handle inputs for which it was not programmed.” Another way of saying Gov. Palin hadn’t been handed the right talking points. Schlesinger should have also faulted Gibson for asking a question for which there is no “correct” answer, especially since President Bush’s conveyance of ideas is often scrambled and enigmatic at best.

How many politicians, pundits, or news anchors could define the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo? Why would one need to commit to memory such minutiae when it is readily available on the Internet and scores of other reference sources? Does one need to memorize the list of every president and vice president of the U.S. just in case some arrogant talk show host asks where in the line of succession was Franklin Pierce? If Gibson really wanted to know what Palin’s view was on armed intervention, and under what circumstances it is justifiable, he should have asked that question specifically. The Hidalgo Treaty, by the way, brought an end to the Mexican-American war in 1848 in Guadalupe Hidalgo, a city where the Mexican government fled from U.S. forces. I looked it up on Google – search time about 30 seconds.

Governor Palin is not without fault for resorting to the beauty queen’s strategy of talking around the question, often invoking some aspect of patriotism or devotedness. Palin’s response: “I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell-bent on destroying our nation.”

Then Gibson hurled another fast ball, this time referring to an earlier comment by Palin that because Alaska is but a stone’s throw from Russia, that geographical closeness has given her some foreign policy experience. Palin’s response: “They’re (Russia) our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.” Gibson persisted, by asking whether being able to see Alaska gave Palin an insight as to what the Russians are doing, for example, in the former Russian territory of Georgia. Palin: “Well, I’m giving you that perspective of how small our world is and how important it is that we work with our allies to keep good relations with these countries.”

The losers in such exchanges, of course, are the American public. We gain nothing from loaded questions from an arrogant newsman playing “gotcha,” and nothing still, from a candidate struggling, in a sense, to memorize the entire works of Shakespeare – so daunting are all the “talking points” of world issues today. Sarah Palin can hardly be compared to Miss South Carolina Teen USA and her mangled and rambling answer last year as to why some Americans can’t locate the United States on a map. But Palin can be faulted for needing extensive briefings on just about any topic that falls outside the boundaries of Alaska. And as for Charles Gibson – in the cold-hearted business of television, pride will truly goeth before a fall.

– CHASE HAMIL

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