On August 29, 2008, John McCain announced that Sarah Palin would serve as his Republican Presidential running mate. The campaign claimed the Alaskan governor, virtually unknown to the Lower 48, had been fully vetted. This assertion was viewed warily by media and citizenry alike, given her seemingly hasty ascension to Vice Presidential candidacy. However, less than a week later, almost all aspects of Palin’s life had become nationwide water-cooler talk. Her phenomenally fast transition into a household name was prompted by coverage on major news networks—but it was begun by an anonymous figure, armed with only a keyboard and a desire to make not just waves, but tsunamis.
On August 30, 2008 at 1:12 P.M., someone, somewhere, published this diary on the blogging community Daily Kos. This previously unknown blogger, identified only by the username ArcXIX, had never posted to the site before, but his diary caught the attention of the community and subsequently set the Blogosphere on fire. The diary labeled Sarah Palin a liar and declared that “Trig Paxson Van Palin is not [her] son. He is [her] grandson. The sooner [she] come[s] forward with this revelation to the public, the better.” His story alleged that Palin’s daughter, Bristol, was the real mother of Trig, and that Sarah Palin faked her pregnancy to protect her daughter. To back up his claim, ArcXIX provided little more than a slew of carefully selected photos showing Sarah Palin considerably thinner than the average pregnant woman. This evidence might have sufficed for the National Enquirer, but would never get through the newsrooms of reputable media companies and onto television screens.
The blogosphere, however, is run by considerably different rules. One might expect a post with no hard evidence from a new and unproven user to fall into relative obscurity, considering the size and self-respect of Daily Kos. The community, however, in an overzealous crusade against all things Republican, quickly approved this story to its front page, where it captured the attention of people outside the small ultra-liberal community. Soon the story was being talked about everywhere, without the filters or fact-checking of traditional news media. The internet was flooded with posts about this controversial diary entry. While the photos provided in the diary were compelling to some, one could also find plenty of other pictures in which Palin is clearly pregnant. The flimsy story did not make national headlines at this stage, but it was receiving enough attention to worry Republicans.
On September 1, to put an end to the allegations, the campaign was forced to disclose that while Bristol Palin was not the mother of Trig, the 17-year-old was currently pregnant. This information was announced through traditional media outlets; conservative commentators began to slam the Daily Kos and online communities as places of “defamation and hatred at a level never before seen in the United States,” and Barack Obama dismissed the story’s newsworthiness, stating that “…people’s families are off-limits, and people’s children are especially off-limits. This shouldn’t be part of our politics.”
Outrage at ArcXIX’s diary certainly holds some validity; after all, his claims proved to be untrue. That said, for every case of false reporting, there are cases where citizen journalists bring important information to light. And although ArcXIX’s diary turned out to be untrue, its importance is still considerable. It is unknown if the Palin campaign would have mentioned Bristol’s pregnancy had it not been for these allegations, and—for better or worse—this piece of information influenced voters.
The motives behind ArcXIX’s diary entry remain unknown. Did he really believe Bristol was Trig’s mother? Did he post the story to slam the Republican ticket and its policies? Or did he post this diary in anticipation of what the Palin campaign would be forced to reveal? In blogging communities, intentions may remain unknown and sources may be shrouded, but results of idle talk are very real.