As has often happened with Gov. Sarah Palin during the campaign, we've had a battery of headlines from a single report, putatively based on an unnamed source, and only later do we get the facts. Let's look at some of the McCain and Palin aides now going on the record to respond:Let's start with Meg Stapleton, one of the few people on Palin's staff who wasn't originally a McCain aide:
Stapleton told ABC News the Fox News report on Africa and NAFTA was taken out of context. She explained that during a briefing session, someone asked Palin to explain the McCain-Palin stance on an issue, and as she was responding, "in the middle, she said 'country of Africa' and somebody instantly wrote it down and said, 'Oh, my God, she thinks it's a country.'"
But "she knows it's a continent," Stapleton said. "It was just a human mistake, just like Obama saying 57 states. I don't think anyone ever doubted that Obama knows there are 50 states."
Regarding the $150,000 worth of clothing, Stapleton claimed it was the campaign that said, "This is what you need as a VP candidate, and it was the campaign and/or the RNC [Republican National Committee] -- but it wasn't the governor -- saying this is what she needs."
Stapleton added that a New York stylist was told to go and make Palin look presidential, that Palin was simply presented with her wardrobe and staff and told, "Here's your people, here are your clothes."
The only items Palin remembers requesting from staff are toothpaste and coats for cold weather, Stapleton said.
Palin even saw a price tag of $3,500 on one suit jacket and said she didn't want to wear it, Stapleton said -- but she was told to wear it anyway.
Stapleton claimed there also was a directive to buy any and all clothes before Sept. 4, the day the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., ended, so that it could be buried as part of other convention costs.
Then we have McCain foreign policy adviser Steve Biegun:
He says there's no way she didn't know Africa was a continent, and whoever is saying she didn't must be distorting "a fumble of words." He talked to her about all manner of issues relating to Africa, from failed states to the Sudan. She was aware from the beginning of the conflict in Darfur, which is followed closely in evangelical churches, and was aware of Clinton's AIDS initiative. That basically makes it impossible that she thought all of Africa was a country.
On not knowing what countries are in NAFTA, Biegun was part of the conversation that led to that accusation and it convinces him "somebody is acting with a high degree of maliciousness." He was briefing Palin before a Univision interview, and talking to her about trade issues. He rolled through NAFTA, CAFTA, and the Colombia FTA. As he talked, people were coming in and out of the room, handing Palin things, etc. She was distracted from what Biegun was saying, and said, roughly, "Ok, who's in NAFTA, what the deal with CAFTA, what's up the FTA?" - her way, Biegun says, of saying "rack them and stack them," begin again from the start. "Somebody is taking a conversation and twisting it maliciously," he says.
Scheunemann suggested the Africa and NAFTA incidents were inaccurate.
"I was not present for all of her sessions, so I can't disprove that," he told ABC News. "I severely doubt that it is accurate. It's certainly not accurate in any of the sessions I had with her."
Steve Schmidt, the campaign's chief strategist, defended Mrs. Palin in an e-mail exchange with The Times concerning, among other articles, a Newsweek report that at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., Mrs. Palin had greeted Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Salter in her hotel room while "wearing nothing but a towel, with another [towel] on her wet hair."
"The towel story categorically is not true," Mr. Schmidt told The Times in the course of telephone and e-mail exchanges over the weekend.
(The Washington Times report has more quotes from people properly noting, in any event, that the informality suggested by that story isn't exactly unusual on the campaign trail).
Charlie Black, on the NAFTA and other specific stories:
"Answer to all of this is no, except she was victim of hoax perpetrated by Canadian talk radio re Sarkozy," Mr. Black said. "Even then, she said nothing wrong in the call. We think she did an excellent job and added a lot to the ticket. 'We' includes John McCain."
And here, of course, is Gov. Palin's own response:
Believe what you want, but in my book when you have multiple named sources standing by specific accounts, and on the other side you have reporters making vague allegations purportedly based on the word of unnamed and unidentifiable sources, the people going on the record and giving specifics have the better argument.
You can watch more of Gov. Palin's most recent press conference back home in Alaska here.