Thursday, February 23, 2012

UPDATED: Anatomy of a birth hoax: Palin's transition from flat belly to beach ball roundness in just six weeks in 2008

Sarah Palin's public pregnancy lasted only about six weeks, from the time she announced it on March 5, 2008, to the alleged birth on April 18. And thus she faced quite a problem: how to "grow" a baby bump in such a short time without seeming to defy the laws of physics and human anatomy. The following overview shows just how crafty she was in solving that problem.

On March 3, Newsweek interviewed Palin. The videos for the interview show that for at least 10 minutes Palin held the pose we see in this screen shot:

Two days later she would announce she was seven months pregnant. Of course, a woman that far along would not be able to assume that cross-legged, bent-over position for even one minute, let alone 10. But I believe the photo reveals that Palin had by this time made her decision to go forward with the hoax. By bending over like that, with her scarf hanging down, she was able to obscure the view of her belly – a logical objective if she had not yet started to wear padding. (One has to wonder what the Newsweek interviewer thought when told later of Palin's claim.)

When Palin declared she was seven months pregnant on March 5, Wesley Loy of the Anchorage Daily News wrote, "The governor ... simply doesn't look pregnant." I have not seen a picture from that day, but we can assume Palin wore very little, if any, padding. Her strategy at first seemed to consist of wearing a somewhat oversized dark suit jacket with a large flouncy scarf in front.

That certainly seemed to be the case for this Associated Press photo from March 14:

Look closely at Palin's jacket and note how large and long it is. Unfortunately for her, she left the jacket unbuttoned, which meant the camera caught her flat belly – so flat, in fact, that this picture alone constitutes irrefutable proof there was a hoax. But even if the jacket had been closed, she still would not have looked seven months pregnant. Consider the following picture, shot on March 28:

This is the photo the Anchorage Daily News ran as evidence that Palin had to be pregnant along with Julia O'Malley's embarrassing "Make.It.Stop" story of last April 14, which was a pro-Palin response to a paper I had published about the hoax. The jacket is huge, with pronounced shoulder pads; and by wearing it Palin was able to make herself look quite large – but not convincingly pregnant. Women who are close to giving birth have an arch in their back because of the weight of the stomach – but Palin is standing perfectly straight, and no baby bump is evident. She looks like a linebacker, but not a pregnant one. And this was the most convincing photo the newspaper could come up with!

Then, of course, there are the photos from the Alaska State Museum on March 26. Here's one of the most revealing:

Now here is a blowup of Palin's midsection, lightened and with extra sharpening:

The detail is wonderful. She's wearing a black pullover that's clinging to something underneath, and that something looks very much like a lumbar-support belt – although it looks like it has ridden higher than she would want. Here is an example of such a belt:

There are many such belts on the market, but I'm struck by how much this one that I found on eBay resembles what she seems to have on under her shirt.

There very definitely seems to be a "baby bump" under the belt – most likely consisting of foam rubber – but unfortunately for Palin it had ridden too high during the course of the day, and she almost seems to be carrying the supposed baby in her rib cage. And of course that baby bump is nowhere near large enough for someone just 19 days from giving birth. 

And finally here is the famous shot of KTVA's Andrea Gusty interviewing Palin on April 13:

And here is Palin from the Gusty photo, juxtaposed next to the museum shot:

So now, five days before the alleged blessed event, we see Palin almost certainly wearing a maternity empathy belly. We know she's using some sort of prosthetic because it would be physiologically impossible for a fetus to grow that fast, from the flatness we see in the March 14 photo to the roundness on April 13. To the left below is a fake-maternity belly available on eBay, and to the right I superimpose it over Palin's large belly to show how such a prosthetic could have been used:

A newcomer to this issue might say, "Wait a second – wouldn't the the hoax have been obvious to anyone who saw big-belly Sarah, if they had also seen her so much thinner just days before?" The answer surely is yes, but here's where the trickery comes in: very few in Alaska got to see Palin wearing that big-belly maternity prosthetic.

To minimize the number who saw Palin in that getup, everything relating to the Gusty interview had to be tightly controlled. The interview, which was broadcast live, took place on a Sunday evening, after the legislature had finished its session, thus ensuring that the statehouse would be largely empty. In fact, the entire purpose of the interview certainly was to get still shots from the side showing Palin's large belly in profile. Note how carefully Palin was positioned where one hallway ends at another, meaning she could be shot head on by the video cameraman, but from the side by the still camera. The video cameraman shot Palin from the shoulders up, so the large belly was not in evidence in the newscast.

The Gusty interview was a brilliant ploy. The still shots from it, linked as they were to a newscast that aired the week before the alleged birth, constituted absolute proof that Palin looked very pregnant on April 13. And those still shots could be held in reserve, to be produced later if needed to snuff out hoax questions. And, of course, that is exactly how they were used in the fall. (I explore who the other players were in the staging of the Gusty interview here, on pages 11-13. It is likely that only three people witnessed the interview: the video cameraman, the still cameraman, and Bill McAllister, her soon-to-be-named new press secretary.) 

Because only a few people saw Palin in the big-belly prosthetic, it is not surprising that when Lisa Demer of the Anchorage Daily News put together the newspaper's story about the alleged birth, she wrote that "Palin never got big" during her pregnancy with Trig, which the Gusty photo would contradict. Demer clearly never saw Palin wearing the prosthetic. 

Palin also wore the empathy belly when giving her speech in Dallas on April 17, as press photos reveal. But those photos were shot from a distance, with Palin facing the camera, so the extra-large size of her belly was not so apparent. I imagine Todd and Sarah shooed away any photographer who tried to get a closeup.

It should be noted that when Palin was truly pregnant in the past, she did indeed get as large as a normal woman would, as shown by this picture of a much younger Palin (the woman wearing the red shirt) in one of her first pregnancies:

Thus Palin was able to pull off the hoax during her six-week pregnancy by wearing clothing that disguised how slender she truly was, by using padding, and by pretending that she did not get very big during the pregnancy. On page 191 of Going Rogue, Palin writes: “Before we knew it, I was seven months along. I hadn’t put on a lot of weight and with winter clothes and a few cleverly draped scarves, no one saw my girth or suspected I was pregnant.” The idea that Palin, a 44-year-old mother of four, could have been pregnant for seven months without putting on much weight is an obvious whopper. 

But Palin managed to have her cake and eat it too. In addition to claiming she did not gain much weight during her pregnancy, to explain her small or nonexistent baby bump through most of the six-week pregnancy, she also managed to get pictures of herself looking roundly pregnant by wearing an empathy belly in staged shots with Gusty. And those shots, when posted to Flickr anonymously in September, may have saved her spot on the ticket as John McCain's running mate by snuffing out rumors about the hoax.