The party faithful characterized the media's scrutiny of the vice presidential candidate and her family as 'frenzied' and 'salacious.'
Republicans came out swinging Wednesday against the media scrutiny of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, accusing some journalists and bloggers of engaging in a smear campaign against the vice presidential nominee.
"I'm absolutely incensed, offended and insulted that the media makes so much of this," said former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, one of a half-dozen prominent Republican women who met with the media to criticize the coverage. "I believe Americans are better than that."
The Republican criticism looked to be the opening salvo in an attempt by the party to turn the scrutiny of Palin, who went from small-town mayor to governor only two years ago, into a rallying point for party activists. Much of the mainstream coverage so far of the 44-year-old mother of five has focused on her relative inexperience and allegations that she tried to use her political influence to get her former brother-in-law fired from the State Patrol. But the McCain campaign focused much of its ire on the handling of the news this week that Palin's 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant.
Rick Davis, McCain's campaign chairman, said coverage -- much of it on blogs -- that included photographs of Bristol and speculation that a son with Down syndrome born to Sarah Palin this year was actually Bristol's child, has been "frenzied, and probably could be dialed back a bit.''
He defended the McCain campaign's background work on Palin, and said he thinks much of the week's coverage was motivated by the fact that the media didn't have any idea that Palin was on McCain's short list.
"Certainly her record deserves scrutiny," Davis said. "But we ought to look at her record. The salacious way in which these outlets have tried to throw dirt at our candidate are obviously inappropriate."
McCain himself, on arriving in Minneapolis on Wednesday, appeared eager to demonstrate full support for Palin and her family, embracing his running mate and making a point to hug and chat with Bristol and her new fiancé.
Inside the convention hall, some longtime female leaders of the GOP joined in offering their own criticisms of how the Palin story has been covered.
Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the mother of two grown children, said she was especially surprised that some have questioned Palin's ability to run for higher office simply because she is a mother.
"If you are judging her on traits a man wouldn't be judged on, then that's not fair," Hutchison said. "It's not a level playing field. And certainly, when we're talking about her having children and not being able to do the job, I don't think that has ever been brought up about a man."
Hutchison said Bristol Palin's pregnancy "should be off limits."
Carly Fiorina, chair of RNC Victory 2008, said the coverage has been riddled with falsehoods, including the speculation that Palin faked a pregnancy.
She said it also has been sexist.
"The focus is not to refer to her as a 'cheerleader from the West' but to focus on her accomplishments," Fiorina said. "She is a well-qualified candidate for vice president and well qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency."
Fiorina and others also said Palin's executive experience as mayor and governor makes her more than qualified to be vice president.
In her speech Wednesday, Palin took on the media directly.
"I've learned quickly, these past few days, that if you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone. But here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country."
Staff writer David Phelps contributed to this story. Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425