AP's Tom Raum confuses his fantasies for fact

The longtime AP writer makes up a story line and narrative for an article and then, when pressed, goes on a futile search for facts to support it.

Published September 12, 2008 12:41PM (EDT)

(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV)

Ever since the McCain campaign announced Sarah Palin as its choice for Vice President, they have been attempting to attribute to "liberals" generally and the Obama campaign specifically the plainly offensive and sexist objection that Palin's duties as Vice President would irreconcilably conflict with her obligations to her children (Rudy Giuliani's convention speech: "And how -- how dare they question whether Sarah Palin has enough time to spend with her children and be vice president. How dare they do that. When do they ever ask a man that question? When?"). On September 2, Associated Press reporter Tom Raum substantially boosted the McCain campaign's efforts by writing an entire article based on the premise that "liberals" are voicing that objection:

Liberals sound like conservatives; the right sounds like the left. John McCain's surprise choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate has upended conventional wisdom and brought about a seeming role reversal.

Many liberals are belittling the choice, suggesting that as a mother of five children -- including an infant with Down syndrome -- she has neither the time nor the experience to become vice president.

It's the conservatives now who are now sounding traditional feminist themes, claiming there's no reason why she can't multitask and be a mother and vice president at the same time.

The only problem with Raum's central point: it was plainly untrue. Though right-wing icon Dr. Laura Schlesinger published a brutal attack on the choice of Palin based exactly on this ground ("Couldn't the Republican Party find one competent female with adult children to run for Vice President with McCain?"), not a single identifiable liberal or even Democrat had voiced any such objection. As a result, on that day, Atrios wrote:

Name One

Email and ask, politely, for him to name and quote a single liberal suggesting any such thing.


This blogger did exactly that, emailing Raum four times, asking him to identify even a single liberal who -- as Raum claimed -- had "suggest[ed] that as a mother of five children -- including an infant with Down syndrome -- [Palin] has neither the time nor the experience to become vice president." Raum finally responded by sending him 19 different quotes, which the blogger re-printed here (he sent me the actual email from Raum, and I emailed Raum asking him to verify it came from him and advised Raum I would assume its authenticity if I didn't hear back from him. I didn't).

As Raum's own list conclusively demonstrates, he doesn't have even a single example supporting the assertion around which his entire article was built. As the blogger notes, some of those 19 quotes are arguably sexist. A few of them are unambiguously sexist. But only one of them remotely entails questioning whether Palin can serve as Vice President given her maternal duties. It is this quote:

Children with Down's syndrome require an awful lot of attention. The role of vice president, it seems to me, would take up an awful lot of her time, and it raises the issue of how much time will she have to dedicate to her newborn child?

That is undoubtedly an offensive, inappropriate and sexist objection based on Palin's child-rearing duties. The only problem? It came from CNN reporter John Roberts, not a "liberal" (if anything, Roberts is a reliably empty-headed purveyor of GOP talking points). In addition to the Roberts quote, several of the other quotes Raum offers also aren't from liberals at all (such as Sally Quinn and Maureen Dowd). And, despite the obvious work Raum put into attempting to justify his article (undoubtedly as the result of a substantial number of Atrios-inspired emails demanding such justification), not a single quote constitutes even remote justification for the central claim Raum made. Rather than candidly acknowledge that, he instead pretends as though his claim was supportable.

What Raum plainly did was just invent an anti-liberal narrative that matched the deeply misleading and manipulative claims being made by the McCain campaign in order to parade around as chivalrous defenders against liberal attacks on the rights of moms to work without restrictions. I'm sure that made his boss, overt GOP hack and AP Washington Bureau Chief Ron Fournier, quite happy.

UPDATE: Raum has now emailed me and confirmed that the email reply which the blogger described was, in fact, from Raum.

UPDATE II: Following the suggestion of this commenter, I emailed Raum in reply to his confirmation and invited him to discuss these matters and others on Salon Radio:

Thanks for the reply. I wrote about your email response today at Salon. I have a radio show on Salon that is broadcast 3 times a week there and I'd love to have you on -- today or Monday if you have time -- to talk about your piece, your response to the blogger inquiries, and my critique, as well as issues relating more broadly to media coverage of the campaign. If you are interested in doing that, please let me know and we can schedule something -- Thanks.

I'll post whatever response I get, if any (Salon Radio today will be posted at 2:00 pm EST, with my guest, Matt Yglesias).

UPDATE III: In The Austin Chronicle, Lee Nichols also wrote -- in response to Giuliani's Convention claim: "Please tell me: Exactly who is saying that? . . . I can't recall Obama or Biden or any Democrat or Democrat ally questioning whether she can be." He also noted that National Review's Kathleen Parker -- echoing Raum -- also claimed:

Some also have questioned whether Palin, whose son Trig has Down syndrome, can be both a mother and a vice president? These questions aren't coming from the right -- so often accused of wanting to keep women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen – but from the left.

Nichols writes: "Parker cited no sources. I e-mailed her at kparker@kparker.com and asked her for some." Last week, I noted the same claim in Parker's article and encouraged people to email National Review and demand either examples of what Parker claims or a retraction. There has been no reply from National Review.

The fact that National Review is printing blatant fabrications in order to boost the GOP narrative is way too common to be notable. Though almost as common, the fact that AP is doing exactly the same thing -- using the exact same fabrications -- is notable.

UPDATE IV: Media Matters' Jamison Foser writes about this Tom Raum matter and asks:

It raises an obvious question: Did Raum compile the list himself? Did someone else at the AP compile it? Or was it compiled by Republican operatives? If it was compiled by Republicans, why is Tom Raum simply cutting and pasting from GOP opposition research in support of his articles?

Greenwald has invited Raum to appear with him on Salon Radio to discuss Raum's article. If Raum appears, maybe he'll explain where he got that list.

I must say, given how much work obviously went into compiling it, I was surprised by how extensive the list was that Raum sent to that blogger, even though it wasn't remotely supportive of the claim he made in his article. I, too, would be interested in knowing who compiled it. It's certainly possible Raum did, and I've emailed him the question asked by Foser.

By Glenn Greenwald

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