In the critical early days of September 2008, after Sarah Palin was nominated as the Republican Party’s candidate for Vice President, the National Enquirer ran a cover story alleging that the Alaska governor had an adulterous affair.
Palin, and Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, immediately and unequivocally denied the story. “The smearing of the Palin family must end,” said McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt, as quoted at the time. “The allegations contained on the cover of the National Enquirer insinuating that Gov Palin had an extramarital affair are categorically false. It is a vicious lie. The efforts of the media and tabloids to destroy this fine and accomplished public servant are a disgrace. The American people will reject it.” The campaign also threatened legal action.
The Enquirer was hoping that the newfound credibility it had earned by exposing Democratic Sen. John Edwards’s affair — in the midst of his presidential campaign — would carry it through. Not so, in this case. The Smoking Gun revealed that one of the key claims on which Palin’s detractors had relied — namely, that Palin had been mentioned in a messy divorce proceeding in Alaska that her associates had attempted to have sealed — turned out to be untrue.
In a statement to the Huffington Post, the Enquirer defended itself rather poorly, claiming that its coverage of the Palins “includes several newsworthy revelations,” and citing the Edwards story as proof of its own credibility. As even Gawker noted at the time, the Enquirer was behaving in a “wishy-washy” manner, “addressing its charges [against Palin] only in the context of other allegations, rather than backing them head-on.” The story quickly died.
Notably, neither Palin nor the McCain campaign took the additional step of accusing Barack Obama’s presidential campaign of planting the story, though Obama and political adviser David Axelrod were not above such tactics. They focused, instead, on “discussing the issues that Americans care about.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), facing similar allegations but even flimsier evidence, may have turned a two-day story into a far longer saga by accusing rival Donald Trump of creating the Enquirer story without providing any evidence he had done so. Now, the Daily Mail’s David Martosko has accused Cruz of “dodging” questions about whether he has been faithful to his wife in general.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new e-book, Leadership Secrets of the Kings and Prophets: What the Bible’s Struggles Teach Us About Today, is on sale through Amazon Kindle Direct. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.