Sarah Palin Rumor Number Seventy-two

I suppose, at some point in this campaign, there won't be anything that surprises me any longer.  I thought I was already there, but then a Sarah Palin rumor that has been thoroughly debunked shows up in an Op-Ed at the New York Times, and an editorial in the Boston Globe.

Let's just look at this rumor again.  In my list, it's
#72.  The original rumor was first fronted in a left-wing blog Stop All Monsters, and then popularized in Americablog, based on a story in May of 2000 in The Frontiersman, the local paper for the area around Wasilla. It appeared almost instantly in Daily Kos, Feministing, and other left-wing blogs.  It was then picked up in a USA Today news story on September 11th.

Let's start with the original story, which reports on then-Governor Tony Knowles's signing a bill requiring police departments to cover the cost:

While the Alaska State Troopers and most municipal police agencies have covered the cost of exams, which cost between $300 to $1,200 apiece, the Wasilla police department does charge the victims of sexual assault for the tests. ....

"In the past we've charged the cost of exams to the victim's insurance company when possible. I just don't want to see any more burden put on the taxpayer," Fannon said. (Note punctuation added: the online version of the story has lost quotation marks and apostrophes.)

Fannon isn't talking to the press any longer, but plenty of other people are, particularly people associated with the Obama campaign in Alaska.  For example, Tony Knowles: "There was one town in Alaska that was charging victims for this, and that was Wasilla." (Palin defeated Knowles to become Governor.)  The USA Today story quotes Eric Croft, "According to the sponsor, ... the law was aimed in part at Wasilla, where now-Gov. Sarah Palin was mayor."

The problem here is that, well, these rumors are not true.  Or at least no one can seem to find any support for them.  Bob Owens at Confederate Yankee did considerable digging, and found that
no one can find any records of any rape victims being billed.  He did obtain records of rape kits being paid for by Wasilla, although only in the interval between when Knowles signed the bill and when it went into effect.  Jim Geraghty at National Review Online looked into the actual records of the hearings involved, and discovered some interesting things as well.  First, no one actually mentioned Wasilla as an issue -- the one example that was mentioned was a woman in Juneau.  (Juneau is nowhere near Wasilla.)

Second, during the debate of the bill, Del Smith, deputy commissioner at the Department of Public Safety, testified that "the department might have been billed, but he has not found any police agency that has ever billed a victim."  (It's worth remembering that this testimony was long before Palin was anything but a small town mayor.  Smith was not protecting his job from Palin.)  And third, if anyone was charged, it would have been done directly by the hospitals.

Now, no one is defending the idea of charging rape victims for rape exams, but it wasn't just a Wasilla policy, even if it ever was Wasilla's policy.  (In fact, if it was the hospitals doing it, it's worth mentioning that there actually is no hospital in Wasilla -- the nearest hospital is in Palmer.)  It's been the policy to attempt to charge insurance companies in, for example,
Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina (Missouri and North Carolina just passed laws changing that, in 2007 and 2008 respectively.)

It's not as if this hasn't been reported.  Beyond the rumors list, and Geraghty's and Owens's work, the facts have been reported in places as various as
The Boston Herald and Slate.

Somehow, though, these stories keep coming up.  I suppose you could argue that the New York Times editorial was just an Op-Ed, not a Times editorial -- although the example of the
McCain Op-Ed certainly suggests the Times doesn't consider their Op-Ed pages exactly a free-for-all.  But the Boston Globe piece is an unsigned editorial, the opinion of the paper itself.  Wouldn't you think they would want to make sure, at least, that the actual facts were correct?

Well, okay, I suppose that was a rhetorical question


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