When Ethics Alarms last left Sarah Palin, she had delivered a description of Paul Revere’s famous ride on the evening of the 18th of April in 1775 that would have earned her an F in speech class and, at best, an Incomplete in American History. Incredibly, however, Palin and her indomitable supporters have tried to turn the tables on her critics, aided by several history pedants, by claiming that her collage of words and thoughts was really a sophisticated account of Paul’s evening that her historically ignorant critics failed to appreciate.
Uh huh. Let’s revisit her statement, shall we? She said:
“[Revere] warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells and making sure as he was riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”
This was, by any standard, an eccentric representation of Paul Revere’s ride, and a spectacularly inarticulate one. In assessing whether Palin’s statement can, by any stretch of the imagination, be said to indicate that she either said what she meant to say or has the vaguest idea of what Revere’s ride was all about, we answer these questions:
- Was warning the British part of Revere’s mission as a currier that night? No. He was dispatched, as he himself wrote, to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British army was coming to arrest them, and to alert the towns to have their militia ready for combat.
- Was “taking away our arms” the objective of the British that Revere’s ride was supposed to foil? No. As it happens, once he alerted the country side our arms were secured in anticipation of the British advance.
- Did Revere ring any bells? No.
- Did the British ring any bells? No.
- Did Revere warn, or say anything to, the British while he was “riding his horse”? No.
- Was Revere’s message to anyone directed at sending warning shots or ringing bells? No.
- After he was captured (though Palin gives no indication that she knew that this was the context of the supposed “warning”), did Paul Revere warn the British that they weren’t going to “be taking away our arms”? No.
Can Palin’s account, then, fairly be called accurate, or anything but garbled half-facts and confused events?
Historians are among the worse attention-hounds of all academics, and sure enough, several used the opportunity of Palin’s typical shoot-from-the-hip slop-speak to grab some ink by claiming that she wasn’t really wrong. Boston University history professor Brendan McConville, for example, said “Basically when Paul Revere was stopped by the British, he did say to them, ‘Look, there is a mobilization going on that you’ll be confronting,’ and the British are aware as they’re marching down the countryside, they hear church bells ringing — she was right about that — and warning shots being fired. That’s accurate.”
But that’s not what Sarah said. Calling her mangling of history “accurate” is academic malpractice, but the silliness of McConville and others was enough to provoke Palin into choosing to bluff her way out of the embarrassment, just like Paul Revere bluffed his way out of the hands of the British on that fateful evening in 1775.
“Part of his ride was to warn the British that were already there. That, hey, you’re not going to succeed. You’re not going to take American arms,” she told Fox News Sunday. No, that wasn’t “part of his ride.” He was dispatched to warn the British “that were already there”? What sense does that make? Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that Sarah’s minions were dispatched to try to edit the Wikipedia entry on Paul Revere to match Palin’s fractured history.
It is ironic that a watershed example of Sarah Palin’s epic irresponsibility, holding forth on an important historical event without possessing adequate knowledge to do so, has had beneficial results, but indeed it has. The incident has taught America much, provided they are inclined to learn:
Lesson One: Thanks to the frenzied effort to prove Palin less ignorant than she seemed, many Americans were introduced to Paul Revere’s own account of his April 18th, as well as to the little-known episode of his capture by the British.
Lesson Two: We saw a wonderful dual example of confirmation bias and subsequent bias correction, all leading, as bias often does, to an absurd result. The people who are certain Palin is a moron interpreted her gaffe as proof positive that she is mentally deficient. Those who believe that Sarah Palin is being persecuted by the press immediately perceived the attacks on her eminently attackable puree of the Revere story as unfair, and set out to defend her. When some historical trivia surfaced that could be spun into a defense of Palin’s nonsense, her fans immediately accepted uncritically the unlikely theory that Palin was basing her bizarre representation of Paul Revere’s ride as an act of gun-control opposition because she was familiar with the minutiae of Revere’s 1798 account. Panicked that Palin might be able to claim that they were the ignorant ones and that journalists had perhaps acted rashly out of reflex Palin-hatred, many in the news media rushed to accept the absurd claim that Palin knew what she was saying all along. This is what happens with extreme bias: a clear mind is literally unattainable.
Lesson Three: Because the biased media gleefully attacks Palin whether she actually has done anything wrong or stupid or not, the public is more easily convinced that fair criticism of her is otherwise. (The same can be said, from the other ideological pole, of Andrew Breitbart, whose past indiscretions were neatly exploited by Rep. Weiner in his fib-fest. Surprise! Breitbart was accurate this time!)
Lesson Four: When Palin makes a blunder purely on the basis of her own intellectual laziness, she will refuse accountability, and blame anyone else, usually the press. In her “offense is the best defense” strategy, she referred to the “lamestream media” and their “gotcha questions” about Paul Revere. Here is the question that launched Palin into creative American history:
“What have you seen so far today, and what are you going to take away from your visit?”
Watch out Sarah! It’s a TRAP!!!
Lesson Five: When caught in a mistake, Sarah Palin will engineer a cover-up, and will refuse to confess, apologize or come clean.This is essential information, should she seek higher office.
Thank you, Sarah Palin. All of this is good to know.