Saturday, September 8, 2012

Did Sarah Palin Hoax the Country About Trig's Birth?

By Brad Scharlott, PhD

            While living in Washington, DC, in February 2010, the now-deceased British intellectual Christopher Hitchens wrote in The Spectator: “An astonishing number of well-informed people tell me that Sarah Palin is not in fact the mother of baby Trig, but that she is ‘covering up’ for another family member whose child he really is.” It took an Englishman writing in a British newspaper to openly say what many knowledgeable Americans have shared on the sly but never publicly: that Sarah Palin faked the birth of Trig, her purported fifth biological child.
            If so many Americans with whom Hitchens rubbed shoulders  including many of America’s top-tier journalists  think Palin faked Trig’s birth, then why has the hoax rumor been virtually taboo in the nation’s media the last four-plus years? (It’s true that Andrew Sullivan, a lone voice among nationally prominent bloggers, repeatedly questioned Palin’s birth story, and was flayed for it; but even a popular blog like Sullivan’s The Dish reaches only a tiny portion of the public.) The mainstream media blackout has likely been due to various factors, but perhaps the No. 1 reason is that the hoax rumor seems so crazy on its face  it’s stunning to think Palin, the sitting governor of Alaska at the time, might do such a thing. Journalists perhaps have felt they could not question her birth story without ironclad proof of a hoax.
         This article raises questions about Sarah Palin’s incredible birth story that the nation’s mainstream press have largely ignored. The questions are important because if she lied about Trig's birth, then a claim central to her political identity and popularity  that she personally "choose life" for a Down syndrome baby  was a sham. And if that was true, then a person of astonishing dishonesty had a chance of ending up a heartbeat from the presidency.

The Hoax Rumor Hits the Fan
            On August 29, 2008, the day John McCain named Sarah Palin his running mate, someone named ArcXIX wrote at the Daily Kos blog site: “Well, Sarah, I'm calling you a liar. And not even a good one. Trig Paxson Van Palin is not your son. He is your grandson.” [i] The author quoted an Anchorage Daily News article by Welsey Loy from March 6:

JUNEAU -- Gov. Sarah Palin shocked and awed just about everybody around the Capitol on Wednesday when she announced she's expecting her fifth child.…
       Palin said she's already about seven months along, with the baby due to arrive in mid-May.
      That the pregnancy is so advanced astonished all who heard the news. The governor … simply doesn't look pregnant. [Italics added]
      Even close members of her staff said they only learned this week their boss was expecting.

Nearly six months later, on August 31, a Daily News columnist wrote:

OK - the Palin baby speculation is inescapable at this point. The left-leaning Daily Kos posted an item Friday … a version of a rumor – long simmering in Alaska – that Palin's daughter Bristol was pregnant and the governor somehow covered it up by pretending to have the baby (Trig) herself.

The columnist quoted a Democratic strategist as saying, "Guys, it’s a loser. Can we not do this?"  the point being even if the rumor was true, Democrats might hurt themselves by pursuing it.
            In late August, journalists must have heard the rumors and wondered where the truth lay. If any of them had read the ArcXIX post at the Daily Kos site a few days earlier, they would have seen this AP photo, which originally appeared on the Anchorage Daily News on March 14, 2008:

On the left is the picture as it appeared on the newspaper’s web site and also in the ArcXIX post. On the right is the same photo lightened.[ii] The original makes Palin look remarkably trim for a woman in her seventh month. The lightened one, in which details are clearer, shows an unbelievably flat stomach for 44-year-old mother of four who supposedly will give birth in 35 days to a 6 pound, 2 ounce baby. 
         But then, on August 31, a different photo appeared that showed Palin looking quite pregnant: Someone who has never been positively identified, but most likely was Dan Carpenter, an Anchorage TV cameraman, posted the following photo at Flickr:

The photo shows Palin with a large, round belly being interviewed by Andrea Gusty of KTVA on April 13, five days before the alleged birth. The McCain campaign advisors undoubtedly showed this photo to reporters as proof that Palin had been pregnant. (More on this photo shortly.)
         Then the McCain team aimed to put the hoax rumor to rest on Sept. 1 with a stunning announcement: Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter Bristol was (they claimed) five months pregnant, and she was engaged to marry the father, Levi Johnston.[iii] Reporters were left to do the math: if Bristol was five months along in early September, then she apparently could not be the mother of Trig, who reportedly was born on April 18. Thus, the logic ran, Sarah must be the mother.
       Throwing Bristol under the bus like that to quell the rumors seemed odd and needless since supplying Trig’s birth certificate could have settled the matter. Moreover, the logic that Bristol could not be Trig’s mother depended on the unsupported assertion that Trig was born in April. Still, the revelation of Bristol’s pregnancy plus the Gusty-interview photo clearly had an effect. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters for America would later write that in 2008, “99 percent of people in ‘the media’ did the right thing and ignored the Trig nonsense.” [iv]

Improbable Claims about Trig's Birth
         On April 15, 2008, Sarah Palin flew to Texas for a Republican governors conference. Gary Wheeler, a 26-year Alaska state trooper veteran, formerly had accompanied Palin, plus several of her predecessors, on such trips. At the last minute, without explanation, he was told he would not be needed; Sarah’s husband, Todd, would take his place.
          In her 2009 bestselling autobiography, Going Rogue, Sarah Palin wrote that shortly after 4 in the morning on April 17, 2008, in a hotel room in Dallas, she was awakened by a strange sensation low in her belly – she would later say it was leaking amniotic fluid. She claimed she called her personal physician, Dr. Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, who allegedly did not insist that she seek medical attention immediately. Rather, Palin stuck to her schedule, which called for her to give the keynote midmorning speech at the governors’ conference.
            Palin claimed that, as she gave the speech, she felt strong labor contractions. Upon finishing, she and her husband Todd took off before the conference ended to catch a flight back to Alaska. Todd emailed three of Palin’s top aides and said her speech “kicked ass” but said nothing about her alleged labor nor mentioned that the two of them were returning earlier than expected.[v]
            As to how Palin was able to board a flight while purportedly on the verge of giving birth, a representative of Alaska Air would later tell a reporter, "The stage of her pregnancy was not apparent by observation.”[vi] The flight back to Alaska took more than 10 hours and included a layover in Seattle. After arriving in Anchorage, the Palins got in their car and allegedly drove for nearly an hour to the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center not far from their Wasilla home. Palin reportedly gave birth around 6:30 the next morning. The hospital will not confirm that Palin was a patient that day, citing privacy laws. [viii]
            Palin’s office sent out a press release that day announcing the birth of Trig, saying: “The Palins were thankful that the Governor’s labor began yesterday while she was in Texas … but let up enough for her to travel on Alaska Airlines back to Alaska in time to deliver her second son.…”[vii]
          The press release did not mention where the birth took place. But a crew from KTUU-TV, alone among local media, showed up at the Mat-Su hospital. (Bill McAllister of KTUU would become her press secretary in July.) The hospital did not list Trig among the babies born that day.
            The TV crew videotaped Palin’s parents, Chuck and Sally Heath, in a hospital room with Sally holding an infant the Heaths said was their month-premature new grandson, Trig. (Sarah was not present.) Experts have said the baby lacked characteristics of a newborn preemie.[ix] For example, a neonatologist told former New York Times and ABC News reporter Laura Novak that Trig in the hospital video lacked characteristics of a newborn preemie, such as a plethoric complexion. Novak, at her blog, illustrated that point by contrasting a screenshot of the pale Trig with photos of her own red-faced premature newborn.
         The Mat-Su medical facility lacks a neonatal intensive-care unit, which would make it a poor choice for the delivery of a premature special-needs baby to a 44-year-old woman with a history of miscarriages like Palin. (Palin later claimed she had known from testing that the baby had Down syndrome.) The Palins in their return trip passed several large hospitals equipped with neonatal ICUs, including Providence hospital in Anchorage. Dr. Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, who allegedly delivered Trig, has full privileges there.
         Preemies often need to stay in a neonatal ICU for days or weeks because of jaundice and other issues. Palin’s suggestion that Dr. Baldwin-Johnson agreed to deliver a premature baby at a small regional facility rather than Providence, Alaska’s largest hospital, with a top-rated neonatal ICU – which the Palins had to drive by to get to Mat-Su Regional – seems bizarre. It would suggest neither Palin nor Baldwin-Johnson cared whether they would have adequate facilities on hand to meet a premature newborn’s potential needs. (Notably, in 2005, Palin served on the board of the Valley Hospital Association, which at the time oversaw the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center.[x]
        Palin returned to work two days later, taking Trig with her, and held a press conference. A reporter there asked if her water broke in Texas. She replied:

“So that was again, if, if I must get personal, technical about this at the same time, um, it was one, uh, it was a sign that I knew, um, could lead to, uh, labor being, uh, kind of kicked in there, was any kind of, um, amniotic leaking, amniotic fluid leaking, so when, when that happened we decided let’s call her [Dr. Baldwin-Johnson].”[xi]
If Palin’s water indeed broke in Texas, as she seemingly confirmed, and she waited some 20 hours and took a trans-continental flight after contractions started before going to a medical facility, her actions would have been “reckless beyond measure,” according to obstetricians interviewed by Andrew Sullivan, whose blog was then attached to The Atlantic.[xii]

The Press Accepts Palin’s Claims – and her Doctor’s
         The oddness of the McCain team's response to the fake birth rumors – outing Bristol’s pregnancy instead of producing evidence of Sarah’s motherhood – arguably should have prompted reporters to wonder if something misleading had happened and kept them from accepting Palin’s birth claims as established fact. But reporters at top news organizations did not question the birth story.
         For example, on Sept. 8, a flattering article in the New York Times said: “She traveled to Texas a month before her due date to give an important speech, delivering it even though her amniotic fluid was leaking.” Then, continued the article, after giving birth and returning to work, “with Trig in her arms, Ms. Palin has risen higher than ever.” And the Washington Post, on September 7, 2008, in a flattering piece wrote: “The April birth of Trig, Norse for ‘brave victory,’ turned out to be a powerful credential for the national Republican base, delighted that Palin delivered a child who tests foretold had Down syndrome."
         During the campaign, Palin had promised the press she would release her medical records. At 11 p.m. Nov. 3, one hour before Election Day, the McCain campaign released a two-page letter from Dr. Baldwin-Johnson regarding Palin’s health. [xiii] A section on Trig’s birth read:

… She followed the normal and recommended schedule for prenatal care, including follow-up perinatology evaluations to ensure there was no significant congenital heart disease or other condition of the baby that would preclude delivery at her home community hospital. This child, Trig, was born at 35 weeks in good health.…

 Three things stand out about this statement:
1.            While suggesting that the birth might have taken place at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center (Palin’s “home community hospital”), by using roundabout wording the doctor avoided saying where, or when, the baby was born.
2.            Palin had claimed in a press conference that Dr. Baldwin-Johnson had delivered Trig; but the doctor used the passive voice above, thus not saying who delivered the baby.
3.            Nothing in the statement suggests the doctor had firsthand knowledge of Palin’s alleged pregnancy; Baldwin-Johnson may simply have repeated what Palin had told her.
One more thing about Baldwin-Johnson’s statement deserves mention. In it she writes she was on active status at the Mat-Su medical center from 1985 to June 1, 2008 – 23 years – meaning she relinquished her privileges to treat patients there just six weeks after Trig’s alleged birth. She said she stepped down so she could focus more on her private practice, which includes serving as medical director of The Children’s Place in Anchorage, a facility she founded that helps victims of sexual assault and molestation, especially teenagers in trouble.[xiv]
            After the election, Anchorage Daily News executive editor Pat Dougherty assigned reporter Lisa Demer the task of putting the baby hoax story to rest by obtaining proof of the birth. But Demer hit a brick wall – Palin’s office and doctor refused to cooperate. Then Palin fired off an email to Dougherty on January 12, 2009, asking if the paper was “pursuing the sensational lie that I am not Trig's mother?” Dougherty published her email and his response. He wrote:

… the Daily News has, from the beginning, dismissed the conspiracy theories about Trig's birth as nonsense. … In fact, my integrity and the integrity of the newspaper have been repeatedly attacked in national forums for our complicity in the "coverup.”

He said his only purpose in assigning Demer the story was “to kill the nonsense once and for all.” Noting that Demer had received no cooperation, he wrote:

It strikes me that if there is never a clear, contemporaneous public record of what transpired with Trig's birth, that may actually ensure that the conspiracy theory never dies.

Dougherty wrote that Palin never responded to his email. Since that time, all reporters and editors at the paper have given what seems like a scripted answer to questions about Palin’s remarkable birth story: they see no reason to doubt it.[xv]

The Birth of Bristol’s (Second?) Baby
         Bristol gave birth to her son, Tripp, allegedly on Dec. 27, 2008. However, that birth date was not confirmed by any source outside of the Palin or Johnston families. (In an unsettling coincidence, state undercover police slapped Sherry Johnston, Levi’s mother, with multiple felony counts of selling OxyContin just nine days earlier.[xvi])
         The birth announcement was effectively made, via People magazine, by a great-aunt living outside of Alaska who had not seen the baby. Palin family members in Wasilla refused to confirm the birth when contacted by the Associated Press, even though they presumably had been the great-aunt's source. And Sarah Palin's spokesman, Bill McAllister, also  refused to comment on the birth, changing tack only after People came out with the great-aunt's comments, thus perhaps shielding Palin from being the source if the date was later proved wrong. The presumed hospital, Mat-Su Regional again, also would not comment. About seven weeks passed before Tripp was shown to the media.[xvii]
        Why did the Palin clan refuse to confirm the date of birth? Perhaps Bristol was less than five months pregnant at the Republican National Convention, meaning Tripp would have been born later than December.        
        It’s useful to note that Bristol transferred from Wasilla High School to Anchorage West High School in the middle of the 2007-08 academic year, moving in with Sarah’s sister Heather Bruce in Anchorage. Her interrupted schooling suggests something disruptive may have taken place in her life, such as a pregnancy. If she did birth Trig, then she seemingly did so no later than mid-January 2008, because she reportedly was seen, clearly not pregnant, at that time.[xviii] If the baby the Heaths showed the KTUU reporter on April 18 was in fact Trig, then Bristol may have given birth to him quite prematurely.

Was the Gusty Interview Photo Staged?
As noted, the appearance of the Gusty-interview photo must have helped quash the birth hoax rumors. It was one of two photos posted to Flickr by "erik99559" just before the start of the Republican National Convention. The other photo, below, shows, in addition to Palin, both Dan Carpenter, a KTUU cameraman, and (in the glasses) Bill McAllister, chief political reporter of KTUU.

The caption to the picture read, "Myself, Governor Palin and Press Secretary McAllister," suggesting Carpenter posted the picture.[xix] Moreover, he grew up in Bethel, Alaska, whose zip code is 99559.
            Gusty, the KTVA interviewer, has said she took that photo minutes before Carpenter took the interview photo. All three individuals have declined to explain why the photos were taken.[xx] But the placement of Palin in the interview photo – where one hallway ends at another – suggests the point may have been to get a still photo from the side showing Palin's belly in profile, while the video cameraman shot her from the front, mainly from the shoulders up, as the newscast would show. Perhaps it was important that the video cameraman not shoot her from the side, because showing her large belly in profile might have raised questions about her sudden change in appearance, which in turn possibly helps explain why the still shots were not posted till late August: so people might forget how unusually thin she looked during her seeming "six-week pregnancy" – from the date she announced it to the alleged birth.
            Palin promoted the idea that she was unusually trim during the pregnancy. In Going Rogue (page 191), she wrote: “Before we knew it, I was seven months along. I hadn’t put on a lot of weight and ... no one saw my girth or suspected I was pregnant.” Her assertion that she was unusually trim at seven months is incompatible with her appearance in the Gusty-interview photo, unless her stomach ballooned in just over month.
            In the same vein, Lisa Demer of the Anchorage Daily News wrote on April 22, 2008: “Palin never got big with this pregnancy” – a statement also at odds with the Gusty interview photo. (Demer suggested in the sources she contacted and the questions she raised that there might have been a hoax.) It is useful to note that Palin did “get big” in an earlier pregnancy, as the below photo of her (in the red shirt) shows. 
            Perhaps by design, very few people likely saw the live Gusty interview in-person. It was scheduled for early evening on a Sunday after the legislature had wrapped up its business. (Palin had met with the press corps in the afternoon, according to her official calendar.) So McAllister and Carpenter were probably the only individuals on hand to witness the interview. While McAllister still technically worked for KTUU, he had given notice that he was leaving the station earlier that month, and some evidence suggests he had already lined up the job with Palin.[xxi] 
            One might ask: Why would Palin give an exclusive live interview that evening to the young reporter Andrea Gusty? – meaning the veteran Bill McAllister and the competing TV station he worked for would be left out. (Palin’s calendar indicated she was meeting only with Gusty.) If what Palin had to say merited a live interview, it would have made far better sense to allow all TV stations to participate. And since McAllister and his cameraman were clearly on hand, the fact that they took no part in the interview seems especially odd, unless they were there for a non-journalistic purpose, such as getting staged still shots of Palin. 
         The Gusty interview and the still shots from it were possibly a ploy. The stills fulfilled a crucial need for Palin: linked as they were to a newscast that aired the week before the alleged birth, they provided proof that Palin looked very pregnant on April 13 – at least for a while. They thus were perfectly suited to kill the hoax rumors that were sure to reappear after McCain selected Palin for VP. Of course, if the point of the interview was to stage such pictures, then some of the participants seemingly conspired to deceive the American people.[xxii]

Where Does the Truth Lie?
         An example of an earlier photo depicting a less-pregnant-looking Palin shows her leaving the Alaska State Museum on March 26.[xxiii] It is the middle picture below, flanked by cropped versions of the March 14 photo and April 13 interview photo (all adjusted to show detail).

           Palin in the museum picture does seem to have a bulge in her midsection, but it looks unusually high for a baby bump, plus it seems quite small for a woman who will give birth in 23 days. The picture also seems to show, under her shirt, some sort of wrap around her midsection. Taken together, the three photos show that Palin’s belly went from flat to somewhat round to hugely round in just under a month. 
           It's worth noting that news photographs of Palin from the April 17 governors meeting in Dallas showed her with the same very round belly, and even the same outfit, that she displayed in the April 13 interview photo. Which raises this question: If Palin's belly was that large, how could airline personnel have said the stage of her pregnancy "was not apparent by observation" during her flights to and from Dallas? The likely explanation, it seems to me, is that a prosthetic maternity belly was stashed in her luggage during the flights.
           In the end, the sheer number of improbable things that surround Palin's alleged pregnancy – from the seemingly too-thin photographs to the lack of confirmation that she was even a patient of Mat-Su Regional hospital on April 18, 2008 – strain believability. Still, it is up to the reader to decide if the above evidence makes the case, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Palin in fact faked Trig's birth.


[i] “Questions Raised: Does Sarah Palin Really Have a 5th Child? [Photos + Video] UPDATED,” posted by ArcXIX at Daily Kos on August 31, 2008. This update of August 31 includes the post of August 29. [The post is no longer online.] In the update the author backed away from the accusation, perhaps tacitly agreeing that Democrats were likely to hurt themselves by pursuing it. Barack Obama himself, in reaction to the rumors, asked that reporters leave alone questions relating to the candidates’ families. For the quotation at the start, see Christopher Hitchens, “writing from Washington [...],” Daily Mail, Feb. 4, 2010 p. 19.

[ii] Let me note that I personally copied this photo from the Anchorage Daily News web site and then lightened it. The photo’s authenticity is beyond question.

[iii] Samuel Goldsmith and Clemente Lisi,Palin Admits her 17-year-old Daughter Is Pregnant,” New York Post (Sept. 1, 2008).

[iv] Boehlert, “Palin's now scolding journalists who didn't write about Trig in 2008?” (July 27, 2010), Media Matters for America; also, about two weeks after McCain named Palin as his running mate, Boehlert wrote, “We haven't seen the name of one reporter who pressured the McCain campaign about Palin's pregnancy,” in “We wish The National Enquirer editor would stop lecturing journalists,” (Sept. 11, 2008).

[v] MSNBC Palin Mail Collection, (April 17, 2008); the email is shown also in the YouTube video “The Perfidy of Sarah Palin; Chapter 2. The Wild Ride,” (Sept. 17, 2010). As to Wooten being left behind, see Joe McGinnis’s The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin (Crown, 2011), pages 277-78; in chapter 19, McGinnis lays out much of the same evidence concerning a possible birth hoax that is presented in this article.

[vi] See Lisa Demer, “Palins' child diagnosed with Down syndrome,” Anchorage Daily News (April 22, 2008).

[vii] Governor Palin has new baby boy – Trig Paxon Van Palin, (April 18, 2008).

[viii] Sullivan, “Births At Mat-Su Medical Center In April 2008,” The Atlantic Online (Oct. 8, 2008).

[x] See, which does not show any prenatal ICU at the hospital. On Palin being a board member, see "Palin vs. Obama: Line by Line Resume Comparison," (Sept. 5, 2008). I have personally written to the hospital, its board and its parent corporation seeking information about the alleged birth; those groups have all ignored me – there has never been a single reply, not even a “no comment.” Those entities, however, did send to Palin’s personal lawyer copies of my letters to them; he later sent copies of those letters to my university in an effort to get me to stop my research and writing about Palin.

[ix] Lori Tipton, “Welcome to Alaska, Trig Paxson Van Palin,” KTUU-TV, (April 18, 2008). As to the likely age of the baby, see “Sarah Palin and The Neonatologist - Part Two - POW!” Laura Novak Author, (May 19, 2011). Novak later wrote that three other physicians independently agreed with the assessment of the neonatologist concerning Trig’s age: see Novak, “The Neonatologist: Ear, Nose, and Upper Lip,” (June 6, 2011).

[xi] Audio of the press conference (April 21, 2008).

[xii] Sullivan, “A Fourth Picture,” The Atlantic Online, (Dec. 5, 2008).

[xiii] Andrew Malcolm, “Sarah Palin's physician says she's in 'excellent health',” L.A. Times, (Nov. 3, 2008).

[xv] Pat Dougherty, “Full text of the Palin-ADN email exchange,” Anchorage Daily News, (Jan. 12, 2009). The newspaper’s timidity may stem from the fact that it derives significant income from the state, and Palin’s appointees are still in office. See “The ADN Again,” Laura Novak Author, (June 22, 2011).

[xvi] See “Mother of Bristol Palin's Fiance Pleads Not Guilty to Drug Charges” ABC News online,

[xvii]    The announcement was effectively made via People by a Coleen Jones, Sallie Heath's sister in Seattle; see Lorenzo Benet, “Bristol Palin Welcomes a Son,” People (Dec. 29, 2008):; this article ends with McAllister refusing to confirm the birth: "This office will not be issuing any statements on that [Bristol's baby]." See Fox News (Dec. 29, 2008): "Palin family members, hospital employees and representatives of former presidential candidate John McCain would not confirm the birth or did not return messages from The Associated Press": to the first time the media were allowed to see the baby, see: “Exclusive: A visit with the Palins,” Fox News, (Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009).

[xviii]  “Bristol Palin: Homeschooler?” May 29, 2009,, Some have argued that Sarah is more likely to be Trig’s mother than Bristol because women over forty experience a higher incidence of Down syndrome babies. But balancing the odds is that a 44-year-old woman (as Palin was) is much less likely to bear children at all. Stated otherwise, Bristol and Sarah were about equally likely to bear a DS child, if you factor in their relative fertility and miscarriage rates. See, for example,

[xix] See, where a screenshot of the original Flickr post has been preserved.

[xx] See “McAllister et al.,” Laura Novak Author, (June 9, 2011), where Novak tries to get McAllister, Gusty or Carpenter to comment on the photos, but with no luck. See also “Andrea Gusty Addresses Controversial Palin Photos,” YouTube, (Jan. 31, 2009). Gusty alleges in this video that she asked Carpenter take the interview photo as a favor. If what she wanted was a memento of her interview with Palin, why did Carpenter frame the photo so oddly, shooting Palin from the side and making the video cameraman the dominant person in the shot? Gusty earlier had told that she thought she possessed the only copy of the interview photo and claimed to believe that Palin gave birth to Trig about a week after the photo was taken; see (Sept. 16, 2008).

[xxi] The Anchorage Daily News had reported on April 6 that McAllister was leaving KTUU; released government emails later showed he likely negotiated his contract with the state in early April; see “Government emails and credibility,”, (July 25, 2008). I sent an earlier version of this article to McAllister seeking comments; in an April 5, 2011, email he denied involvement in any hoax without denying one took place; he also called me an “agent of evil” and threatened to slap me if he ever saw me.

[xxiii] See Laura Novak, “Three weeks before Sarah Palin reportedly gave birth to her fifth child, a six pound boy, Juneau photographer Brian Wallace captured a series of photos of Mr. and Mrs. Todd Palin exiting the Alaska State Museum. Nota bene: Palin is said to be eight months pregnant here - 3 weeks shy of giving birth.” (August 1, 20011),

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Why does Gryphen keep pushing the two-Trigs "Ruffles" theory? Because he is more concerned about protecting his reputation than finding the truth

My greatest mistake as a scholar and researcher was buying into the two-Trigs theory that Jesse Griffin, also known as Gryphen at his blog site Immoral Minority, has been pushing for more than two years now. The original inspiration for that theory was this picture of Trig taken in early May of 2008:

At first glance, what we seem to see is a small, deformed ear, and to the side of it, a hole in the scalp that might be taken for a misaligned ear canal. Griffin showed this photo to some ear specialists, and they said that smallish, ruffled ear could not be the same as, say, this ear below, also of Trig, shot in the fall of 2008:

And Griffin, over and over, has referred to the judgment of those specialists he consulted as powerful proof that that there had to be two different babies presented as Trig (the original came to be known as "Ruffles") – after all, how can specialists be wrong?

Answer? Very easily. The mistake in interpreting that early photo came about because the lower part of the ear was obscured by some cloth. If you rotate the two above photos so the ears are oriented the same way, you can superimpose the second ear over the first, and then what you see is a stunning correspondence of the visible parts of the two ears:

The trapezoid shape in the middle is the real clincher; it's an extremely distinctive shape. In addition, we can now see that the supposedly misaligned ear canal in the first photo is in truth a batwing shape in the lower half of the ear – a shape that is repeated in the second photo. The first photo presents what artists call a trompe-l'oeil (French for a trick of the eye). But the eye deception vanishes when you change the orientation of the picture and note that part of the lower ear is covered by material.

There is, to be sure, some ear deformity in the first photo that is less noticeable in the second, but that is surely due to both the aging process (Trig was much younger in the first photo) and optical factors, such as different lighting, lens types, and angles in the two pictures. 

Why do I say Griffin is more interested in protecting his reputation than finding the truth? Because he absolutely refuses to show his readers the evidence that makes his theory practically untenable – meaning illustrations like the one immediately above that I showed here in a series of seven posts in October aimed at killing the two-Trigs theory. Moreover, I would bet a case of beer that Griffin has not shown the ear experts he consulted the above four-panel composite. If he did, they would almost certainly change their original judgment.

And that makes Griffin an intellectual coward. At one point, I tried to direct his readers to my research by placing in the comments to some of his articles the web addresses to my ear-related posts. In a personal email to me, he mocked me for doing that and let me know he would delete any such efforts on my part. 

So what do we make of that email of Griffin’s? What I conclude is very sad: Griffin will not publish evidence, or even link to evidence, that challenges his own ideas. I cannot overstate how antithetical such actions are to the spirit of the search for truth, which is the animating spirit among true scholars.

I'm a trained social scientist and historian; that’s what my PhD signifies. I have published numerous articles in scholarly peer-reviewed journals in history, psychology, mass communications, and law. "Peer-reviewed" means experts in those fields had read my manuscripts prior to publication to make sure I had taken into account all relevant research; if I failed to do so, my manuscripts would have been rejected. 

Griffin has become the opposite of a scholar searching for truth. He does not seek out all evidence relevant to a theory he has proposed. Any evidence that contradicts his publicly stated ideas gets axed. He has created a bubble of ignorance for himself and his readers. And, here is the tragedy: he has empowered Sarah Palin to paint all Trig Truthers as nut-cases because of his unwillingness to consider evidence or ideas that challenge his own.

I know from personal experience how Sarah Palin makes use of Griffin's theory. As I said, before I looked closely at the evidence, I bought into the two-Trig's idea. (In other words, I foolishly relied on Griffin’s research, which was shallow and unimaginative.) And I incorporated that theory into a version of a magazine-type article about the birth hoax that I sent to various publications last summer. I also sent a copy to Sarah Palin in August to give her a chance to respond to my charge that she faked Trig's birth.

Palin did not respond directly to that article. But in February, months after I had tried to kill the two-Trigs theory, Palin's attorney sent a six-page letter to my university, in an effort to get my employer to force me to stop writing about Palin. In that letter, he ignored the fact that I had very publicly rejected the two-Trigs theory, and instead emphasized that I had advanced it in the article I sent Palin. And thus he was able to make me look like a gullible idiot in that letter he wrote, twice referring to my views as "insane." 

Our university's attorney, who has had no reason to follow the Palin birth hoax, clearly bought some his arguments, in large part because of the implausibility of the two-Trigs stuff. And I had to suffer the slings and arrows of her withering skepticism about my research in a meeting she held with me and my two immediate superiors.

And that background helps explain why I practically went ballistic when Griffin revived the two-Trigs theory a week ago Saturday. He published this composite:

And he argued that the far right photo, taken last month, showed that the child known as "Ruffles" had finally returned, since the helix (or rim) of the ear has a wavy appearance  but that the child shown in the two middle photos must be a different child who is now unaccounted for.

And I just wanted to scream IT'S THE SAME CHILD! Unfortunately, in the most recent photo, Trig's hair covers part of the distinctive trapezoid shape in the middle of his ear – but the lower half of the ear shows the batwing shape, making clear it's the same child.

As I explained in my June 30 post, the ear differences in the four photos result mainly from the different angles, lighting conditions, and lenses used to shoot the photos. Different lenses in particular would have caused the degree of ear "ruffledness" to appear variable in the photos: telephoto lenses flatten features, and wide-angle lenses exaggerate them. 

Whether corrective surgery or ear splints may have been used to improve the ear's appearance – once a topic of much discussion – now seems irrelevant; all we really need to know is that the child presented as Trig has in fact been Trig.

In his last email to me, Griffin referred to himself as a "famous blogger." He has a large readership, so he is famous in a sense. But the fact that he thinks of himself in such terms perhaps reveals part of the problem: being "famous" in his own mind, with many acolytes effectively telling him in comments that he is practically infallible – but remember that he he nixes the dissenting voices  he may have convinced himself he is indeed infallible, and cannot bring himself to admit he made a mistake. 

And who else do we know who can’t admit a mistake?