Rather than deliver a single revelation, the 24-hour cable news channel coughed up a reheated, overwrought and misleading story that seemed designed to yoke Sarah Palin and her husband to the most extreme secessionists in Alaska.
That's how Los Angeles Times's James Rainey characterized an October 14 effort by CNN's Rick Sanchez to portray Gov. Sarah Palin as a shady secessionist who would like to see Alaska break away from the United States. Sanchez even went as far as to raise the specter of Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing.
Rainey began his October 15 column, "CNN bid to tie Palin to secessionists is a stretch," by noting the Geraldo-like melodrama with which the network's Rick Sanchez teased the story of overblown political intrigue:
'Who is Todd Palin? What is his influence?" CNN's Rick Sanchez asked urgently Tuesday afternoon, just before a commercial break. "What is his tie to AIP, the Alaskan Independence Party?"
The anchorman's serious tone and dancing eyebrows -- not to mention a "The Palins and the Fringe" banner across the bottom of the screen -- suggested big surprises. Must-see TV! And all of it coming "right after the break."
But alas, Rainey wrote, "CNN was up to.... no good.":
Yes, Todd Palin once belonged to the Alaskan Independence Party. And his wife, the governor and now Republican vice presidential nominee, has been friendly with some of its members.
But neither CNN nor the other news organizations that have reported on the connection, including The Times, have shown that Sarah Palin embraced the call by some in the party to sever their beloved state from "the Lower 48."
To understand the AIP story, voters need a little background.
In the eccentric world of Alaska politics, the party is not so far out on the fringe. An AIP member won the governorship in 1990.
And party members have been in the thick of the state's public life for decades.
Members run the gamut from states-rights enthusiasts to radical secessionists who have advocated extreme measures to free Alaska from the United States.
CNN centered Tuesday's report on an interview with Salon.com reporter David Neiwert, who acknowledged that Sarah Palin never belonged to the party and that her husband joined but "wasn't active at all."
What's more, Sanchez went off the deep end, hinting that Palin's politics may mirror those of executed domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh:
"Not comparing them to actions [sic] but comparing them in terms of ideology, not actions but ideology, are [members of the Alaskan Independence Party] similar to the group that blew up the [Alfred P.] Murrah building?" Sanchez asked, seemingly apologetic for that stinker, even as he unleashed it.
Even Neiwert, whose reporting makes him no Palin fan, seemed a bit taken aback by that line. "Well, of course, that was an individual lone wolf who was associated with the patriots" movement, Neiwert said of the Oklahoma City attack. "But, yes, they basically come from the same, uh, sort of ideological background. That's correct."
Not only was Sanchez unfair in his reporting, he evinced at best a cluelessness about the McCain campaign's criticism of his bias (emphasis mine):
"CNN is furthering a smear with this report, no different than if your network ran a piece questioning Sen. Obama's religion," said Michael Goldfarb, a McCain-Palin spokesman. "No serious news organization has tried to make this connection, and it is unfortunate that CNN would be the first."
Responding to the reference to Obama's religion toward the end of the segment, Sanchez either ignored or was too dull to understand that the McCain camp was complaining about unfairness. Instead, he turned to the Salon reporter and asked: "Is this in any way a religious organization, the AIP?"