Ken Burns criticizes McCain's vp pick

Filmmaker says Sarah Palin is 'supremely unqualified'

NEW YORK -- Count filmmaker Ken Burns as someone who isn't enamored of GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

The maker of "The Civil War" and "The War" didn't flinch from criticizing GOP presidential candidate John McCain and Palin when asked at a panel discussion Monday at Fordham University's law school.

"He (McCain) selected someone who is so supremely unqualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency and he has turned the selection process into a high school popularity contest and an 'American Idol' competition," Burns said. He said that McCain made a "cynical" pick in what he said was the most important decision of his presidential candidacy.

Burns, whose lifelong work is in American history, said that "in the whole history of the Republic there has been no one with as thin a credential" as Palin. He said it was, for McCain, a "Hail Mary pass" that will be decided in November.

Burns was being honored, along with CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer and the late newsman Tim Russert, with lifetime achievement awards at Monday night's News and Documentary Emmy Awards. The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, along with Fordham, sponsors a panel with the winners the morning before the ceremony.

Schieffer didn't take a stand like Burns did, but he did defend the mainstream media's coverage of Palin after she was named McCain's running mate.

"Sarah Palin is a 72-year-old heartbeat away from the presidency. The presidency is the most powerful office in the world," Schieffer said. "It seems to me that some would suggest we should just accept on faith that Sarah Palin is qualified."

Schieffer paid tribute to Palin and her remarkable and compelling life story but said that the mainstream media -- not the blogs that spread rumors that the MSM ignored -- didn't mistreat her. Schieffer called Palin's selection a "true game changer" that allowed the GOP to seize the momentum coming out of the conventions earlier this month.

"But the game changer that Wall Street presented last week has trumped that, and now this campaign is no longer about Sarah Palin," Schieffer said. "It is about which of these candidates is going to come up with the right answers on what has happened on Wall Street."