Republican National Convention

ST. PAUL — In the spring of 1857 a handful of men, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, met at Boston’s Parker House Hotel to discuss the founding of a new magazine that would bill itself as a “journal of literature, politics, science, and the arts.” Later that November, The Atlantic Monthly premiered and has since become a venerable institution of thought and journalism.

The Atlantic Monthly was the first to print stories from Mark Twain and Henry James, and it was the magazine Martin Luther King Jr. chose to send his handwritten notes from Birmingham, Ala., in 1963. Those notes would become known as King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” The Atlantic also has a deep history of reporting from the battlefield, including the publication of dispatches from Nathaniel Hawthorne during the Civil War and Frances Fitzgerald from Vietnam in the 1960s. Some Atlantic journalists have even paid the highest price for their ideals. In 2003, Atlantic editor Michael Kelly was killed while traveling in a Humvee with the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq.

Supposedly, The Atlantic still aspires to the best of journalistic ideals. The Atlantic’s Publication Overview explains: “The Atlantic is a brand founded upon and dedicated to ideas. At our core, we aspire to challenge and engage the nation’s thought leaders by presenting new ideas and varied perspectives on major issues.” Unfortunately, The Atlantic has recently chosen to turn its back on this commitment.

Yesterday the Republican National Convention was dominated by discussion of Hurricane Gustav and news that Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. How did a 17-year-old’s private life end up dominating the national stage? As soon as candidate John McCain announced Palin as his running mate last week, fringe leftist websites like Democratic Underground and Daily Kos began pushing vicious and outlandish attacks on Palin. The most disgusting of these stories accused Palin of faking her fifth pregnancy in order to cover up “the fact” that her eldest and unmarried daughter was the real mother of 4-month-old Trig Palin, who has Down syndrome. There was simply no reason any respectable institution should have dignified these lunatic ravings with a response. But The Atlantic did. And far worse, it tried to further the story.

Stooping into the gutter, The Atlantic published pictures of Palin’s 17-year-old daughter and baby Trig and then proceeded to demand that the McCain campaign release the family’s medical records. The Atlantic made no attempt to call anyone from Alaska in order to verify these disgusting and false rumors. Instead, The Atlantic chose to slander an entire family and then demand that the victim prove the accusations were false. Does this behavior demonstrate “a brand founded upon and dedicated to ideas” that aspires to “challenge and engage the nation’s thought leaders by presenting new ideas and varied perspectives on major issues”? Thankfully, Barack Obama still has the decency to reject The Atlantic’s disgusting tactics. He told an audience yesterday:

This shouldn’t be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin’s performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president. I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories. That shouldn’t be a topic in our politics.

The Atlantic has not followed Obama’s dignified example. Even after the networks and major papers carried the story, and even after Palin announced that her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant now (thus refuting the rumors that she could have been Trig’s mother), The Atlantic continues to demand that the Palin family produce medical records. The Atlantic is not the only print publication trying to find its way in the new online media world. The difference is that most have managed to do so without sullying their reputation.

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