The January 11th New York Times has reported that former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska has signed on to become a contributor to Fox News:
Ms. Palin will not have her own regular program, one person with knowledge of the deal said, though she will host a series that will run on the network from time to time. This person would not elaborate, but the network does have a precedent for such a series. Oliver L. North is the host of an occasionally running documentary series on the military called “War Stories.”
Palin has signed onto a multi-year deal; financial details have not been disclosed. The Examiner notes that Palin is “no stranger to TV news cameras” and cites a passage from Going Rogue: An American Life in which she talks about interning at a “couple of sports desks” during college and in the summers in Alaska.
During the 2008 Presidential Election when Palin was running mate for Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, Palin—whose youngest child, Trig, has Down Syndrome, said that, if elected, she would focus on the concerns of special needs children. Indeed, in her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in September of 2008, Palin stated that families with special needs children would “‘have a friend and advocate in the White House’”
while the cameras panned over Trig, who was born in April of 2008.
This statement, the New York Times noted, came as a surprise to disability advocates in Alaska. During her 20-month-stint as governor of Alaska or her campaigns for office, Palin did not make such issues a “centerpiece.” “I never heard Governor Palin say as governor, ‘You have an advocate in Juneau,’ ” Sonja Kerr, a lawyer specializing in disability law in Anchorage, was quoted as saying in a column by Patricia E. Bauer.
Since the election, Palin has spoken about “‘[choosing] life’” after receiving a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome in an interview on 20/20 with Barbara Walters on November 20, 2008. From ABC News:
“I thought, ‘God, unless you know more than I do about all this, how in the world would I handle this?’” she told Walters.
Palin said she knew abortion was an option but was able to overcome the fear of the unknown to go ahead with the birth.
“I knew that the option was there. … I thought again, for that split second, ‘OK, now I know, too, why, when that fear strikes you, because of the unknown,’” she said. “I understood then, too, why a woman would consider [abortion] an easier path to perhaps, if you will, do away with the problem, instead of understanding that every child has purpose. There is destiny for every child. And it can be good, in our world. And that’s what I held onto.”
When asked by Walters if her “right to life” stance on abortion dictated her choice, Palin said her decision was not “politically motivated.”
“My decision certainly wasn’t a political decision. It was a holding onto a seed of …that promise that things will be okay if we choose life. And that certainly has come to fruition in my life,” she said.
In the 20/20 interview, Palin also noted that she and her husband, Todd Palin, struggled about how to tell their other four children that their youngest sibling would have Down Syndrome and, indeed, did not inform them about this until after Trig’s birth. (See this piece on the Huffington Post for more commentary.) Trig, who is not yet two years old, has learned how to walk, but, according to Palin, has vision problems and does not yet eat solid foods. In the interview, Palin and the other members of her family spoke warmly about Trig and their love of him “‘as another kid in the house’” (in the words of Todd Palin). As in many of Palin’s previous statements about disability, extended discussion of the educational and societal issues facing individuals with disabilities over their lifespans does not arise.
Will Palin, who has spoken regularly about her “right to life” stance, make abortion and prenatal genetic testing of her Fox News commentary? (Currently some 90% of parents who find out that their fetus has Down Syndrome decide not to have the child.) Will Palin move beyond such politically charged and very hot topics to look at the real, day-to-day issues facing disabled individuals and their families and those who support them over their lifetimes? Issues like the need for appropriate schools and therapies that can range from speech therapy to medical concerns; like the urgent need for housing for adults with disabilities, not to mention jobs and job training, and—for those unable to work—ways to ensure that they live meaningful lives within the community?
As the mother of an adolescent son who is on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum, I am hopeful that Palin will use her new role on Fox News to bring national attention to these pressing issues. My son is growing up all too fast. While once people smiled and told me “he’s so cute” and that we were “blessed to have such a special child,” the world is not so kindly towards an older child who is so tall that he is regularly mistaken for an adult, who is minimally verbal, and who—due to his neurology—struggles with severe behavior problems. Group homes, job coaches, and disparities in access to health care for adults with disabilities are just some of the issues that other parents, my son’s teachers and therapists, and my husband and I think about all the time, however much others try to change the topic of conversation when we bring them up.
I am hopeful that Palin can bring real attention to these issues. Can she—as she claimed—eally be that “friend and advocate” for those with special needs, with disabilities?
Our latest Care2 Causes blogger, Kristina Chew, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Classics at Saint Peter’s College in New Jersey. Since 2005, she has been blogging about autism, disabilities, and education, previously at Autism Vox and now at We Go With Him, a daily journal about life with her 12 1/2 year old son Charlie.