In one sense, Day Three of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul was about the new and unprecedented, Sarah Palin, the first Republican woman ever to be nominated as vice presidential candidate.
But Day Three was also just the latest chapter in what is an old, old story: the GOP conflict with the news media, a clash the Republicans seem to revel in.
The Alaska governor dominated the night with a combative, folksy, strikingly personal and occasionally sardonic address to the delegates.
Even in this age of “the personal is political,” it was a speech very much focused on her family, with references to her baby son, Trig, born in April with Down syndrome and cradled in her arms on stage after the speech, and her oldest son, Track, who is in the Army and being deployed to Iraq.
On the convention floor, where I stood near the Tennessee delegation, the most exuberant reaction came when Palin mocked Sen. Barack Obama’s work as a community organizer — a phrase she tinged with wryness, not quite the vintage sarcasm former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani had used a few minutes earlier in his speech.
Mocking 'community organizer'
Just utter the words “community organizer” before a GOP crowd now and you’ll get a good laugh.
The convention hall crowd also loved Palin’s remark that “the American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of ‘personal discovery.’”
The Barack Obama portrayed by Giuliani and Palin was a self-important elitist, who once had what they regard as a fake job of community organizer.
“In small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening,” Palin added in a reference to an early Obama gaffe — drawing a huge roar from the crowd.
But the real excitement in the crowd in the Xcel Energy Center came as soon as Palin said of herself, “And I've learned quickly these past few days that if you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone.”
Members of the Tennessee and Illinois delegations stood up and turned around to face the NBC booth a few feet behind them and started jeering and pointing their fingers at NBC’s Tom Brokaw, who genially smiled back.
The remarkable thing about this is that it exactly re-enacted what happened in 1964 (the year Palin was born) at the Republican convention in San Francisco. (Had some Republicans read the old newspaper clips?)
Exact replay of 1964 convention
At that 1964 convention, GOP nominee Barry Goldwater’s supporters burst into a spontaneous anti-news media demonstration on the convention floor when former President Dwight Eisenhower gave a speech urging them to “scorn the divisive efforts of those outside our family — including sensation-seeking columnists and commentators who couldn’t care less about the good of our party.”
Goldwater delegates shook their fists in anger at the television anchormen up in the glassed-in booths above the convention floor.
“There was considerable amount of hostility from the media against Barry Goldwater,” recalled California delegate Dr. Tirso Del Junco, 83, who was at that 1964 convention (his first) and has attended every Republican convention since then.
“I believe the media in this election has been more biased than ever before,” Del Junco added. “Even during the course of the Democratic primary there were signs of the biased media between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton. That support, that ultra-protection of Obama, continues now going into the general election. It’s so obvious how prejudiced it is that it could very well backfire.”
The accusation of media favoritism has long been a motivational technique for Republicans.
“Annoy the media, vote Republican,” goes the slogan on bumper stickers sold by vendors at conservative gatherings.
“In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism,” Vice President Spiro Agnew declared in assailing the news media in 1970. Like Palin, Agnew was relatively little-known governor before becoming the vice presidential candidate.
'Fraternity of privileged men'
The news business, he said, was controlled by a “tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one.” Agnew’s attacks on the media elite made him a hero to GOP audiences.
“We’re not going to have this foolishness,” Renee Amore, deputy chairman of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party, said at a press briefing at the convention Wednesday as she and other McCain supporters denounced rumors circulating on the Internet, which include accusations that Palin faked a pregnancy.
“You can do what you want to do, but we’re going to keep coming back at you,” she vowed to reporters.
Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., said to me on the convention floor a few hours before Palin spoke, “Republican leaders like me are holding the news media to account the same way you would hold me to account if I were to ask an illegal question of a job applicant. I was asked both by CNN and the Lehrer News Hour, ‘Can Gov. Palin be vice president and a mom at the same time?’ Was John Kennedy ever asked that question about being president and a dad?”
She added, “It’s being driven by news media folks talking to each other.”
Former GOP presidential contender Mike Huckabee also lashed out Wednesday morning.
Palin, he said, was “under this relentless attack by the media, which I think America's very angry about.”
Accusation of sexism
Americans, he said, “know that these are questions that have never been asked of a male running for president. Never. Never would be. People are seeing a sexism that is really, really disgusting and embarrassing.”
Huckabee decried the stories about Palin’s 17-year old daughter, Bristol, who is pregnant.
Americans are “rallying around Sarah Palin, even people that don't necessarily vote Republican, but they're saying that this is so blatantly and obviously a vicious attack on somebody who is not even on the ballot. Her daughter!”
He added, “They never did this to Chelsea Clinton.”
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, McCain spokesman Steve Schmidt denounced news stories on the background check done by McCain’s team on the Alaska governor.
“This vetting controversy is a faux media scandal designed to destroy the first female Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States who has never been a part of the old boys’ network that has come to dominate the news establishment in this country,” Schmidt fumed.
It was if Agnew had come back to life to condemn the “tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one.”
And Eisenhower’s analysis remains pertinent: Republicans now as in 1964 believe that most people in the new business “couldn’t care less about the good of our party.”
All the more reason, some Republicans feel, to vote and “annoy the media.”
NBC News/National Journal's Carrie Dann contributed to this report.