Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Palin and the Press: A Failing Marriage?

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat characterizes Sarah Palin's relationship with the media as a failing marriage. In "Scenes From a Marriage," he writes:
In every twisted, wretched, ruinous relationship, there are moments so grim, flare-ups so appalling, that they offer both parties a chance to step back, take inventory, and realize that it’s time — far past time, in fact — to go their separate ways.

For the American media and Sarah Palin, that kind of a moment arrived last week. ...

... The whole business felt less like an episode in American political history than a scene from a particularly toxic marriage — more “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” than “The Making of the President.” The press and Palin have been at war with each other almost from the first, but their mutual antipathy looks increasingly like co-dependency: they can’t get along, but they can’t live without each other either

For their part, the media manage to be consistently unfair to the former Alaska governor — gossipy and hostile in their reportage, hysterical and condescending in their commentary — even as they follow her every move with a fascination bordering on obsession. (MSNBC, in particular, should just change its name to “Palin 24/7” and get it over with.) When commentators aren’t denouncing her, they’re busy building up her legend — exaggerating her political acumen, overpraising her communications strategy, covering her every tweet as if she were the Viceroy of Red America, and spinning out outlandish scenarios in which she captures the White House in 2012.

Palin, meanwhile, officially despises the “lamestream” media. But press coverage — good, bad, whatever — is clearly the oxygen she craves. She supposedly hates having her privacy invaded, yet her family keeps showing up on reality TV. She thinks the political class is clueless and out-of-touch, but she can’t resist responding to its every provocation. Her public rhetoric, from “death panels” to “blood libel,” is obviously crafted to maximize coverage and controversy, and generate more heat than light. And her Twitter account reads like a constant plea for the most superficial sort of media attention.

It’s a grim spectacle on both sides, and last week’s pointless controversy was a particularly low point. So let me play the relationship counselor. To the media: Cover Sarah Palin if you want, but stop acting as if she’s the most important conservative politician in America. Stop pretending that she has a plausible path to the presidency in 2012. (She doesn’t.) Stop suggesting that she’s the front-runner for the Republican nomination. (She isn’t.) And every time you’re tempted to parse her tweets for some secret code or crucial dog whistle, stop and think, this woman has fewer Twitter followers than Ben Stiller, and then go write about something else instead. ...

Douthat divides those obsessed by Palin into Palinistas and Palinoiacs. This morning, the Times' 538 blog attempted to refine Douthat's classifications. There, Nate Silver considers Douthat's Palinistas and Palinoiacs to be people with strong opinions about Palin, and he compares the strong opinions people have about Palin with their opinions of other politicians.

Douthat's characterization of last week's controversy as "pointless" may depend on the definition of "pointless." That it continues speaks volumes. To the extent that the "controversy" was about rights and responsibilites, it was not and will never be "pointless." Sarah Palin has a right to put rifle sights over a congressional district, but should she? Some believe that with rights come responsibilites.

It's interesting that Douthat considers praise of Palin, as though she were "The Viceroy of Red America," to be unfair to her. That is a different take on her over-the-top supporters. It never occured to me that comparing Palin to Reagan (or any other president) is unfair to her. It just seemed wrong. Of course, it is unfair to her, in the sense that she isn't comparable to any president; she cannot possibly live up to the expectations created by the comparison. Sarah Palin isn't presidential, at all.

It is very gratifying to read Douthat's words on Palin's prospects and his advice to the press: "Stop pretending that she has a plausible path to the presidency in 2012. (She doesn’t.) Stop suggesting that she’s the front-runner for the Republican nomination. (She isn’t.) There are no truer words than those.

Now, for a shameless plug: Don't forget to visit our new blog, Blogging towards Bethlehem. It's about a lot of things -- whatever we find interesting -- but not about Sarah Palin, unless it's a post like this one or snowbilly's last post, just below this one, which are high altitude views of all things Palin. And it won't be non-stop comic books and films; I promise. At times a brief respite from all things Palin can be a relief.

3 comments:

theperilsofpalins said...

"For their part, the media manage to be consistently unfair to the former Alaska governor — gossipy and hostile in their reportage, hysterical and condescending in their commentary..."
I do take exception to this version of events. The author, while getting it that Palin is not, nor has ever been, presidential material, he has not been on the inside Alaska track as far as Palin's record. This is where many of us diverge in our opinions. Those of us who had enough stake in Alaska to actually keep tabs on Palin's disastrous political career there, as well as her personal style of dealing with people and lying about the most insignificant thing, we are the ones who do not think it is unfair or beside the point to focus on WHO Sarah Palin is. It goes to her lack of character, and is therefore as important as any of her more mainstream lamenesses.

Hsin-yi said...

"It's interesting that Douthat considers praise of Palin, as though she were 'The Viceroy of Red America,' to be unfair to her..."

It is clear that Douthat does not think much of Palin. But like many of the conservatives, he has the mindset of "It is true that Sarah is a bitch. But she is OUR bitch, so don't you dare criticize her!"

Joie Vouet said...

Oh! I didn't know that Ross Douthat is a conservative. I did, however, realize that his article needed a little rebuttal, particularly the part about the "controversy" being pointless.

What was really interesting was the idea that the media has been unfair to Palin by praising her.

**

I understand your point, theperilsofpalin.

**

Hsin-yi, thanks for giving me a clue about Douthat's political orientation. Yes, I do believe that Douthat is not a "palinista."