Last night, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and Lauren Stephenson reported that the veterans group Rolling Thunder had not invited Sarah Palin to their annual ride taking place this weekend and were dumbfounded when Palin announced her participation as the start of her bus tour. Under the headline “Stealing Their Thunder,” Mitchell suggested that Palin was hijacking their “very serious purpose” with her participation. The piece hinges on an interview with Rolling Thunder’s Ted Shpak, who called Palin’s announcement “a big distraction”:
One day after Sarah Palin announced her bus tour, a group sponsoring a Memorial Day weekend event she plans to attend said they never invited her.
“She wasn’t invited. We heard yesterday she came out with a press release she was coming to Rolling Thunder,” Ted Shpak, national legislative director of Rolling Thunder, told “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” Shpak is one of three members of Rolling Thunder’s current leadership who says he had no idea Palin was coming until it was posted on her website.
On Thursday, the former governor of Alaska and potential GOP presidential candidate announced her bus tour on her political action committee’s website, Sarahpac.com. The tour is to begin in Washington, D.C., where Palin plans to participate in the Sunday motorcycle rally sponsored by Rolling Thunder Inc., a group that raises awareness of prisoners of war and those missing in action.
“She’s not invited to speak. We’re not endorsing her … (but) we can’t stop her from coming to ride, if she wants to ride,” Shpak continued.
There’s a problem with this story, but to be fair to everyone, it seems to be an honest case of an internal miscommunication at Rolling Thunder. After I read this story last night, I got in contact with Christine Colborne, who handles the media for Rolling Thunder. She explained that Shpak didn’t know that Palin had been indeed invited to ride at the event. The invitation came from a retired board member, Michael DiPaolo, who had connections in Alaska and got Palin to agree to attend.
Requests for high-profile personalities to attend the event are not new. Colborne mentioned that actor Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) attended at least one of the Rolling Thunder events, as have other celebrities, usually just to ride with a lower profile. Most times, though, those requests don’t even get responses, let alone acceptances. That’s a shame, because the Rolling Thunder event highlights the issues surrounding American POWs and MIAs from the Vietnam War and later conflicts, as well as providing support to their families, who really need the emotional support they get from this group of volunteer veterans.
Colborne spoke with me on the phone in the middle of an all-night car ride to Washington DC, and explained that the last-minute RSVP didn’t get communicated through the echelons of Rolling Thunder. Everyone is either in transit or already in DC, and internal communication broke down as often happens before a major event. Shpak (and Colborne) were taken by surprise by Palin’s announcement. Shpak does have the authority to speak for the organization, Colborne says, but he had no idea that Palin was invited by DiPaolo, and Shpak worried that Palin’s arrival might be a “big distraction” from the issues on which Rolling Thunder wants people to focus. Obviously, Shpak — a Vietnam veteran himself — feels passionate about defending the organization, but went on NBC with faulty information. Shpak, Colborne, and almost everyone else at Rolling Thunder are volunteers, just ordinary people doing extraordinary work, and that means they get the occasional hiccup.
Palin will indeed be welcomed to the Rolling Thunder event. It’s a good organization with a worthy mission, so don’t let a miscommunication distract people from its purpose, either. Be sure to check out the web site, the merchandise that helps support the group, and other ways in which we can all assist them in that mission.