Snobby Airs: NPR's Terry Gross Goes After Palin's 'Extreme' Religious Views

On Wednesday, the NPR talk show Fresh Air with Terry Gross aired an interview about Sarah Palin with Michael Carey, columnist and former editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News and public broadcasting host (of a political talk show called Anchorage Edition). Gross aggressively went after Palin on every front, including her "extreme" religious views:

GROSS: Sarah Palin's religious views strike some people as extreme. For example, in 2005, she attended a service at her former church, the Wasilla Assembly of God, where a bishop from Kenya prayed over her, asking Jesus to keep her safe from every form of witchcraft, and he had claimed to have driven out a witch from his village in Kenya. In June, she told a group that his prayers helped her to become governor. Have her religious views been seen as extreme at all within Alaska?

Mr. CAREY: Here in Alaska, many people would say, oh, the woods around Wasilla are full of backwards preachers. There's just lots of them out there, and the important thing is what did she do as governor for many people, not what did she believe. During the campaign, she's signed a number of conservative questionnaires showing that she was somebody who was interested in the agenda of the far right. That would be on things like teaching creationism in the school, abortion issue, church and state relationship, and so forth. And the question of gay rights will also be in there.

But she did not pursue that when she actually became governor. Those issues did not get on the front page, however, nationally, It's clear that one of the reasons she was picked is her fundamentalism. I've got friend - calls from friends of mine in the east, Boston, New York, and so forth who are worried about Sarah Palin and her religious views, which they categorize as extreme based on what they knew about these various backward preachers in Wasilla. And they were really worried, I think, that in time of stress, of national crisis, if Palin was a president of United States, she would call up some backward preacher in Wasilla and ask him what to do and he'd say, 'just a minute, I'll get back to you. Let me look at the book of Revelations.'

And that's sort of a caricature, but what's important about it is, her religious views didn't seem to be matched and don't seem to do matched by a depth of knowledge about other subjects, about complex international matters, until the question would be, would she in a time of stress fall back on what - the little she know and what the little she knows is the biblical. Let's put it that way.

It’s clear that Carey isn’t wild about the Wasilla Assembly of God, but he is telling liberal journalists that the way a governor governs his state offers a decent expectation of how they would govern on the national scene. Palin’s answers to national journalists on social issues – insisting she would never punish a woman seeking to abort her baby, displaying how she’s tolerant of gay people and has a gay friend, who she doesn’t think of as her gay friend, if anyone was asking – display more of an effort to meet the media’s hard line rather than the Bible’s. Carey did seem to resent the way Easterners are tarring all Alaskans (even the sophisticated ones in public broadcasting) as yahoos:

GROSS: How do you think your state, the state of Alaska, is being changed by all the attention Sarah Palin is getting?

Mr. CAREY: Well, I don't know. If you sort of - if you believed only Maureen Dowd, you'd think we were just hillbillies who - the only thing we knew how to do was shop at Wal-Mart and talk. But I think, nationally, people are taking a closer look and sort of wondering. And here's a whole caricature of the place, and it's sort of like, you know, Sarah Palin riding the moose, the cartoon version of this, right. Everybody's an outdoorsman and hunter. I think what - it's a really good thing for the reporters that come up from all over the world to get a much realer sense of what this place is about and how it operates, and it's less of a kind of fictional construct in people's heads.

Gross walked Carey through the idea that it’s not hard for Palin to be popular in Alaska when she’s handing every family a $1200 check from all the oil business. She then elbowed Carey about how that money could have been better "invested" (as Obama would say) in government programs:

GROSS: What could she have done that she didn't do?

Mr. CAREY: Well, I mean, there would be - we have enough money that you could undertake healthcare initiatives that would be tremendously beneficial to families. That would be the first thing that would come to my mind.

GROSS: Day care?

Mr. CAREY: Yeah, and that kind of thing, too. The state could get much more active. I mean, there are programs up here, and she didn't fight them. But it's clear that we have enough money in the bank that if this was really important to somebody, in other words, having this kind of insurance policies and care for children policies, that she would have pursued them. I guess you would say, and in fairness, to back up a little bit, that she's tried to bring forth some policies that would help rule Alaska and people who need - for example, protection under the law in bush parts of Alaska.

GROSS: Let me ask another question about the Alaska Permanent Fund, and again, this is the fund in which a percentage of oil revenues are stored, and some of it stays in the fund is invested and is used by the state, and some of it is divided in checks to every men, women, and child who qualifies in Alaska. There's billions of billions of dollars in this fund.

Mr. CAREY: It was 40 billion the other day, then it went down to 30, and that's probably back up a little bit. But it is billions, there's no question.

GROSS: Yet Alaskans get more money per person from Washington than any other state, at least that was a case in 2005, according to the Tax Foundation. And so ear mark projects like, you know, the Bridge to Nowhere, and I know that bridge never got built, but the Palin administration kept the money for it and invested it in other projects.

I guess the question for taxpayers in other states is, if Alaskans have so much revenue, billions and billions of dollars in the Alaska Permanent Fund, why should taxpayers from other states, particularly other states, you know, that are in the hole because times haven't been as good and revenues haven't been big like that, why should they be paying for Alaska infrastructure projects? Is that a fair question to ask?

CAREY: Sure it is. And it's a heck of a racket, isn't it? That we can have no sales tax. We have no state property tax. Ee have no state income tax. We get, I think, this year, we're second behind Virginia, maybe it's for the last year, in federal dollars coming into Alaska. And that we expect this as our due.

Ted Stevens has made it clear. And how he was able to do this, by becoming that dominant figure of the Republican Party on the Appropriations Committee in Washington, D.C. And the viewers who are unhappy about this, and, of course, the Bridge to Nowhere really highlighted the problems and the issues, need to ask their own legislators, why do you let Alaska do that? And so far, the answer seems to be, because they can.

You can bet that Terry Gross hasn’t asked that question about the New Orleans area, that taxpayers should ask why they should be paying multiplying billions of dollars for a city that couldn’t build levees that worked. But maybe she would have – if John McCain had picked Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal instead of Palin.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis