Note to nation: Palin rhymes with Van Halen

National news organizations get a few things wrong while learning about AK governor

Posted: Friday, August 29, 2008

Alaskans awoke Friday morning to the surprise news that Gov. Sarah Palin had been picked to be John McCain's Republican running mate.

But they weren't the only ones surprised. After the news broke that she was the V.P. pick, you could almost hear the rest of the country ask: "Who the heck is Sarah Palin?"

"No one knows anything about her," the Web site Politico quoted an anonymous GOP strategist as saying. "I don't know anyone who has even met her."

And while news organizations quickly put out a brief biographical sketch of Alaska's first female governor, a few details came out wrong in the wash.

The most notable gaffe was the mispronunciation of her last name on television and radio. Several pundits called her PAL-IN, instead of PAY-LYN (rhymes with Van Halen) as Alaskans call her. Even McCain's spokesman, Tucker Bounds, got her name wrong.

Some media outlets, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, said she was mayor of a small town directly prior to her being elected governor in 2006. Palin's term as mayor of Wasilla ended in 2002.

One television commenter said she had four children. Palin gave birth to her fifth child in April.

The campaign of Barack Obama, McCain's Democratic opponent, said Palin was in the pocket of big oil, likely a surprise to the oil companies executives in Alaska that have been at odds with the governor over a proposed natural gas line.

The level of cluelessness about Palin's past on a national level stands in contrast to how well known she is in Alaska, where many residents can recite Palin's biography almost by heart.

The favored narrative goes like this:

The glamorous guv was once a beauty queen, star point guard and mayor of Wasilla. She's a mother of five, including a son in the Army and a new baby boy born with Down syndrome. Her husband wins snowmachine races and works on the North Slope. And as a pol, she's fought the oil-entrenched interests of the state's old Republican guard and won.

An assistant at Palin's press office said she'd received 20 to 30 media requests for information or interviews in a little more than two hours Friday morning. That trend will likely continue as Palin takes a starring role in the presidential race.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or

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