Palin admits truth on Bridge to Nowhere

In an interview, Sarah Palin essentially admitted to the real story -- so will she keep lying on the trail?

Published September 12, 2008 11:27PM (EDT)

I wasn't nearly as impressed with tonight's segment of Charlie Gibson's interview with Sarah Palin as I was last night. But he did get one key admission out of her.

The two were discussing the Bridge to Nowhere, and Palin's having claimed repeatedly in recent days that she told Congress "Thanks, but no thanks" and killed the project, when Palin finally came out with this:

Obviously, Charlie, with the federal government saying, "No, the rest of the nation does not want to fund that project," you have a choice: you either read the writing on the wall and understand, "OK, yeah, that project's going nowhere" and the state isn't going to fund that project, so what good does it do to continue to support something that circumstances have so drastically changed? You call an audible and you deal with reality and you move on.

And Charlie, we killed the Bridge to Nowhere, and that's the bottom line.

What Palin said during the interview was actually the truth about what happened to end the Bridge to Nowhere. (Though, of course, she didn't acknowledge that there was a wide discrepancy between the truth and the story she's been telling voters.) As my colleague Mike Madden has ably documented in this space before, what Palin "killed" was a dead bridge.

In November of 2005, after the backlash against the bridge -- and the $230 million in federal money that was originally intended to go to its construction -- Congress redirected the money, giving the Alaskan government the choice of how to spend it. The next year, as Palin campaigned for governor, she still supported the bridge. When she then "killed" the bridge in September of 2007, the writing was on the wall, as she now finally admits. As PolitiFact notes, "much of the federal funding for the bridge had already been diverted to other transportation projects," leaving the Alaskan government $329 million short of the estimated cost of construction.

It is true that Palin put the last nail in the dead bridge's coffin, but in a statement announcing the decision she made the rationale very clear:

Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398-million bridge is not the answer. Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329-million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it's clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island. Much of the public's attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened.

Now that she's admitted to the truth, the question will be whether Palin and the McCain campaign at large acknowledge that, or continue to play fast and loose with the facts. Clearly, being called out by the press and by nonpartisan watchdogs hasn't stopped them yet.

Which brings me to my complaint about Gibson's performance on Friday night. Palin ended that answer by saying, "And Charlie, we killed the Bridge to Nowhere, and that's the bottom line." But that's not the bottom line -- the bottom line is that she's been telling a very different story on the trail. Gibson should have asked her why. If he did, and it was cut out, it shouldn't have been.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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