British Press Wrinkles Nose at Palin Pick

The British papers and online commentators are having a field day with the story of Sen. John McCain's vice presidential pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The Times of London ran these headlines: "Mother of five Sarah Palin ignites race for White House," "Gun-toting beauty queen aiming to be the vice president" and "The mum who's running for vice president."

The British press is usually more restrained when characterizing its own politicians. It's not that Brit leaders don't get insulted in the papers, but the editors, in a general news story, which is supposed to be unbiased, are generally careful to attribute the insult to a rival politician.

Yes, British commentators and editorial writers express direct opinions about their politicians, and even insult them, in the nicest possible taste of course. But when it comes to heaping scorn and implied ridicule upon American politics and culture, the old British insecurities about playing second fiddle to their former colony can often rise to the surface in the form of knee-jerk cynicism.

The Times, in its "tiresome supermom" piece, pretty much implied that Palin is too well-rounded as a person. Check out this Times quote: "The U.S. media and blogosphere is calling Sarah Palin a 'brilliant' pick for John McCain's running mate, yet it all smells a bit too cynical.

* Young - TICK

* Female - TICK

* A mum (of five) - TICK

* An outsider - TICK

* Hunts and shoots - TICK

* Against abortion and same-sex marriage - TICK

* Has mixed-race credentials (her husband is Yup-ik Eskimo) - TICK

She is less a running mate, more a collection of polling qualities."

The Guardian played it more or less straight. Their main online headline: "McCain moves to steal Obama's thunder by choosing woman running mate."

By the way, do people really speak that way? Can someone tell me why headline writers still use words like "move" to describe something like "decide" or "tries to steal thunder?" And what real person would say something like "I'm in a 'bid' for that nomination"?

The Telegraph led with this headline: "John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as running mate stuns U.S."

Really? Stunned all of the U.S.? Amazing, isn't it. Strangely, though, the Telegraph story itself presented no evidence that the U.S. is sitting there across the pond in a state of stun. Surprised maybe. Near the top of its story the paper used a source to sort of support its headline. What source? Another newspaper.

Here's the Telegraph's smoking gun of stun: "The Washington Post described her as 'the most unlikely choice of running mate since George H.W. Bush tapped then-Sen. Dan Quayle in 1988, a move as risky as it was bold.'"

Bold journalism? (That's British for maybe not bold journalism.)

The Independent, on its front page, left little doubt about what its sense of balance seemed to be. In fairly large bold typeface, its headline was: "Cool, tough, focused ... a man ready for action."

They were referring to Obama, not McCain. And even though the story was dated Aug. 30, the Obama story was about his speech of two days prior.

Then, farther down the front page, in small, non-bold typeface, the headline was: "McCain woos Hillary's fans with a female running mate" -- a story that was actually a day fresher than the Obama wet kiss.

The actual story about Palin's candidacy was straight reporting. Here's a sample: "John McCain marked his 72nd birthday yesterday by selecting the 44-year-old governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running mate, gambling that her lack of experience and profile on the national, let alone international, stage will be offset by her appeal to women and conservative voters."

The British media, like the rest of us, are scrambling to report a surprise development in the campaign. But because it is not their campaign, they can be more cynical about U.S. politics than they dare in their own backyard.