Yes, I'm supposed to be working this weekend on my book project, but I am so distracted by Sarah Palin that I can't concentrate. Last-ditch attempt to grab female Clinton supporters? Well-timed splash to distract from the fact that McCain just turned 72? Strategic move to suck the momentum away from the DNC and all the speech analysis clogging up the media and internet? But Palin herself is pretty good news fodder, not just because of these political motivations for thrusting her into the spotlight. A young, powerful working mom in line to be one short step from the presidency? Definitely caught my attention.
There's an interesting discussion going on at urbanMamas right now about Palin going back to work three days after delivering her baby. Personally, I didn't have the brain power to go back to work and edit a magazine four months after having a baby, a failing I chalked up to (1) sleep deprivation, (2) lapsing into my default state of perpetual laziness, and (3) Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls marathons on TV. (#3 especially was an IQ suck.) Not to mention, I had no work clothes that fit me postpartum, mainly because I'd trashed or hidden all the maternity clothes I owned and borrowed on one hormone-induced morning about eight weeks in when cabin fever a la Jack Nicholson had set in.
Which brings me to the most gossipy, unfounded, but still intriguing part of the Palin buzz on the internet today: the accusation that Palin did not actually have a fifth child earlier this year, because the child was born to Palin's teenage daughter instead. In the pictures I found online, she does look pretty good at seven months pregnant and again a few days postpartum--no maternity clothes for her to trash and hide!
No reputable news outlet is picking up this story, and ultimately, the truth doesn't matter much because this sort of Puritanical "save the family name" thing happens all the time (in my extended family, even, more than once). But to some people it matters very much because if the rumors are true, she is a liar--but not just any liar: a public liar, and this is a sin for which many others seeking high posts have been punished.
The fact that much of this gossip is going to play out online before being vetted by "reliable" news media again tests the wisdom of the crowds conceit of Web 2.0: Should a bunch of people with perhaps a reasonable level of common sense, average powers of observation, and, most important, access to the Internet have as much sway as traditional "gatekeepers" of information? (Keep in mind that many of these gatekeepers are going through layoffs and buyouts the likes of which we've never seen in the history of journalism.)
In a recent review of the book Reinventing Knowledge on Salon.com, author Laura Miller asks, "Without a doubt, we've entered an era when the official truth is easier to challenge than ever before, but do we really want to live in a world without any established truths at all, or where every fact must be democratically elected by a horde of individuals whose judgment may not be informed or trustworthy?" Not sure I want to live in a world with stone tablets declaring certain truths as established, because even those based in science (putting aside the more humanistic tools of logic and reason) regularly fall. Nor do I want to have to yield to what the majority believes is true: everyone thought those Magic Eye painting from years ago were amazing, and I thought, and still think, they're incredibly stupid. (But I was never successful in seeing a single hidden image, so maybe that's just sour grapes.)
Yes, in the Palin case, someone, at the very least the OB who delivered the child, knows whose uterus he came from; the horde of individuals, even armed with the best photos culled from the best websites on the internet, have no bearing here. But until that person steps forward, it's hard to ignore the larger point: technology has empowered so many of us to be truth seekers (let's not call them conspiracy theorists just yet) rather than passive receptors who wait for information to trickle down to us from on high. For the most part, I think we wear this new role well.