CNN has displayed a double standard in its coverage of the difficulties involving the extended family of Sarah Palin versus that of President Barack Obama. Two programs on the network on Thursday evening used multiple soap opera references to describe recent occurrences in the “Palin family saga.” This contrasts with two incidents involving the aunt and half-brother of the president, which have received minimal coverage from the network.
Anchor Roland Martin began the soap opera imagery in his promo for a segment about Palin on the No Bias, No Bull program: “Folks, talk about ‘The Young and the Restless’ -- these days Governor Sarah Palin must be feeling like she’s living in a soap opera. It’s everything from her daughter’s unplanned pregnancy, to a family member ending up behind bars, and it’s not over yet. We’ll catch you up with all the real-life Palin family drama.” After a commercial break, a CNN graphic referenced another daytime TV title at the beginning of the segment: “Palin: The Days of Her Lives.” The anchor also used a similar line, speaking of the “days of the Palin lives.”
CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin continued from where Martin left off as she introduced her report about the Alaska governor: “Sarah Palin....a politician with a meteoric rise, a picture-perfect family, and a made-for-TV story -- daytime TV, that is. First, Palin’s daughter, Bristol, and her baby daddy, Levi Johnston, split up. Then the teenager’s sex life became the talk of ‘The Tyra Banks Show.’”
After a playing a clip from Johnston’s now infamous appearance on the supermodel’s program, Yellin continued with the soap opera imagery in describing other dramas involving the governor’s extended family: “And like the sands through an hour glass, so are the other dramas in Sarah Palin’s life. Just since the election, her half sister-in-law, seen here in the yellow jumper, was charged with felony burglary for allegedly breaking into a house and taking her four-year-old child with her. And then there’s Sherry Johnston, Levi Johnston’s mom -- she has been charged with six felony drug counts. She pled not guilty, and told the media it's been a rough couple of months.”
Near the end of the segment, Martin shifted away from the daytime TV terminology and borrowed a slogan from a sister TV channel: “You know, our sister network TNT has a slogan called ‘we do drama.’ That might be a new campaign slogan.” About two hours later, CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley briefly revived the imagery during a segment on Anderson Cooper 360: “Personally and professionally, it’s been a rough road for the governor since the Republican ticket was defeated in November. Her relationship with Levi Johnston, the father of Palin’s grandson, has been the stuff of soap operas.”
Near the end of the 2008 presidential race, Zeituni Onyango, the half-aunt of President Obama, and her trouble with immigration authorities became a minor campaign issue. However, CNN gave it scant coverage. On November 1, 2008, anchor Don Lemon gave an news brief about Ms. Onyango: “CNN has confirmed a report that Zeituni Onyango, his late father’s sister, is living in the United States illegally, four years after she was ordered to leave by an immigration judge.” He asked Crowley, then on the campaign trail covering Obama, for the Democrat’s response to the report. She replied that “Barack Obama was asked about it by one of the pool reporters. He ignored it.”
The following day, the network reported that there was an investigation into a “government leak” of the Onyango case. However, it would not give an update on the situation until April 1, 2009, or five months later. During the 9 am and 10 am Eastern hours of the Newsroom program, anchor Frederica Whitfield reported that “President Obama’s aunt is in immigration court in Boston this morning....Zeituni Onyango was ordered deported in 2004. Instead, she stayed and has been living in public housing, in Boston. Her asylum request is being reconsidered under a little-used provision. It allows denied asylum claims to be reheard if applicant can show something has changed to make them eligible. Her reasons for seeking asylum have not been made public.”
The second Obama family incident involved Samson Obama, one of the president’s half-brothers. As he was traveling to his sibling’s inauguration in January, the U.K. denied Mr. Obama a visa for entry “after immigration officers noticed one of his documents was false.” The BBC also reported that “fingerprint tests linked him to an alleged sex attack on a British girl. He was questioned but not charged over the incident in Berkshire, it added.” CNN devoted no air time to reporting the story of this denial when its details emerged months later in April.
One would guess that the troubles of these two Obama family members, along with the fact that another half-brother lives in a shack in Kenya, doesn’t warrant the use of soap opera imagery, at least in CNN’s view.