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McCain campaign out to protect Palin's image

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. John McCain's campaign launches what it calls "Palin Truth Squad"
  • Campaign fights Internet rumors, media coverage on Sarah Palin's record, family
  • McCain camp also sends staff to Alaska to form rapid response team
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(CNN) -- In the nearly two weeks since Sen. John McCain announced his vice presidential nominee to the world, the Internet rumors about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have been flying.

The McCain campaign is taking these seriously, and it's fighting back as well as rebutting charges in the mainstream media.

The campaign this week hit back over a newspaper report that highlighted some of her travel expense claims as governor and announced the launch of what it calls the "Palin Truth Squad" to fight attacks on the GOP vice presidential nominee.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Alaska governor had billed the state a per diem for 312 days she spent at home and requested reimbursement for plane rides and hotel rooms for her husband and children, including a $707 room when her daughter accompanied her on a trip to New York for a Newsweek forum.

The newspaper noted that officials said the claims were justified under existing state regulations.

The McCain campaign said that Palin had reduced yearly travel expenses by roughly 80 percent of the amount spent by predecessor Frank Murkowski, in part by selling the governor's private jet. Roughly half the $93,000 spent went to cover expenses incurred by her family.

In a post on the campaign's Web site, adviser Michael Goldfarb told supporters that Alaskans were paying "pennies on the dollar" and accused The Washington Post of "hunting for 'scandal.'" Video Watch more on Palin's record »

"As governor of the state, Palin is expected to travel across Alaska to meet her constituents and attend community events. As a mother of five, she occasionally brought her children with her," Goldfarb wrote. "Her travel-related activities have been appropriately documented, are completely transparent, and entirely legal. She also saved Alaskan taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in the budgeting process and hundreds of thousands in cutting waste from her own office."

The McCain-Palin team has made the governor's record on cost-cutting a central element of her vice presidential bid.

But McCain's advisers know that Palin's record isn't what's making her a sensation -- it's her persona -- and they're scrambling to protect it.

The campaign, which has been sending "fight the smears" e-mails, also said staff and major campaign surrogates at the state and national level were forming a rapid response team to respond to rumors about the VP nominee with alerts and campaign statements to voters and reporters.

"We will not allow those on the left and in the media to smear a woman who has always served her constituents with honor," the campaign said in a statement. "We know the truth and are committed to ensuring it as well."

One Internet rumor alleges that Palin tried to ban a list of books from the public library when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, including Harry Potter and several classics.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, Palin asked Wasilla's city librarian in 1996 if she would be OK with removing certain books as part of a larger discussion on policy. The librarian said no, and there's no evidence supporting a book ban.

In fact, some of the books cited on this list weren't even published 12 years ago -- namely the Harry Potter series, which first appeared in July 1997.

Another false claim churning in the rumor mill: that Palin slashed Alaska's special-needs education budget by more than 60 percent.

According to a recent Education Week article, Palin tripled the amount of money each student will get during the next three years.

But some rumors do have a bit of truth.

It's been rumored that Palin wants to teach creationism in schools. While she vowed not to add it to Alaska's curriculum, she has spoken in favor of classroom discussion of both creationism and evolution.

"I don't think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. it doesn't have to be part of the curriculum," Palin told the Anchorage Daily News in a 2006 interview.

The McCain-Palin team so far has campaigned on media coverage that it describes as excessive or unfair.

Part of protecting Palin's image is aimed at trying to sully Obama's. In a new ad, the narrator says, "Obama airdropped a mini-army of 30 lawyers, investigators and opposition researchers into Alaska to dig dirt on Gov. Palin. As Obama drops in the polls, he'll try to destroy her."

Obama's campaign denies deploying anyone to dig up dirt. Video Watch Obama fight back against the accusations »

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Palin is not the only victim of Internet hoaxes. False rumors have been circulating for months that Obama is a Muslim, took his Senate oath on the Koran and even refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

CNN has reported repeatedly that these statements are false.

CNN's Dana Bash, Ed Hornick and Rick Sanchez contributed to this report.

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