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Covering Palin

By Jonathan Bernstein

Should the press pay attention to Sarah Palin?

In the wake of yet another Palin fiasco -- what Dave Weigel called a "strange and, frankly, immature" attack on the author Joe McGinniss -- Greg Sargent asks:

At what point do Sarah Palin's attacks and smears become so vile and absurd that they no longer merit attention? Is there such a point? ... Despite the ever-mounting ridiculousness of her claims, she continues to get attention. This isn't so with other figures. Frequently those who traffic in absurdity and smears to get media attention keep upping the ante until their assertions become so grotesque and self-parodic that they are no longer newsworthy.

Good question, easy answer: As long as she's a leading candidate for the presidential nomination of a major party, the press should be covering what she does.

The problem is that we're currently in the murky time period when no one has announced their presidential intentions, but there's no question that the nomination battle has begun; in fact, it certainly had begun by November 2008. Probably sooner. Candidates such as Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney are currently contesting the Republican nomination for president of the United States in the 2012 election cycle. Now, whether they will still be doing so by the time of the Iowa caucuses in 2012 is impossible to know. Some candidates drop out because they're doing badly, and others probably do decide, as Walter Mondale said in 1976, that they don't have the "fire in the belly" for it, at least this time around. For many, it's probably some combination of those things. But we know the kinds of things that candidates do, and Sarah Palin is doing enough of them (endorsing candidates, giving speeches to activists) that it makes sense to say that at least for now, she's running. (As Josh Putnam puts it, candidates are running for 2012, regardless of whether they'll be running in 2012). And if she's running, she clearly has at least a realistic chance of winning the Republican nomination.

And that's pretty much it. She should be covered because, as a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president, what she says is newsworthy. The same goes for the other leading candidates. They are newsworthy to the extent that they are leading candidates, and in my view editors and producers should try to assess as best they can who those leading candidates are (using polls, endorsements and comments by informed observers and participants and evidence of campaign activity).

Now, that doesn't mean that the press should be in the business of just transcribing whatever Palin and the other candidates say. Also, coverage should certainly be in the context of a candidate's history. Because Palin is well known for getting things wrong -- death panels! -- and for launching personal attacks cloaked in self-pity, her new claims should be assessed and reported on a different basis than those of a candidate without such a history. I also think it's reasonable for reporters to emphasize in Palin's case that she doesn't take questions from the press, unlike virtually all other pols. It's hard, of course, for the press to cover a candidate who doesn't tell the truth without inadvertently just amplifying falsehoods or smear attacks, but it can't be correct to try to solve that by just ignoring her.

Jonathan Bernstein blogs about American politics, political institutions and democracy at A Plain Blog About Politics, and you can follow him on Twitter here.

By Washington Post editor  |  May 26, 2010; 1:15 PM ET
 
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Comments

If there was any doubt about Weigel credibility as a conservative before, it should be painfully obvious to the Post that they dropped the ball big time by giving him the conservative beat. The post likes to pretend he is the new conservative blogger, but the reality is the guy attacks the right as much or more than he defends it. The guy should be fired and sent back where ever he came from. The post already has too many liberals spewing hate towards the right.

Posted by: Natstural | May 26, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

The question is, how many angsty, immature, and passive-aggressive Facebook posts does one have to make before one is no longer considered a viable presidential candidate?

Is this how she'd conduct foreign policy? Writing juvenile Facebook posts about foreign leaders that describe her "tank top and shorts" gardening outfits and accusing them of being peeping toms and spying through her daughter's bedroom window?

There are many attributes that I'd hope a US president would have. I took it for granted that "not acting like an adolescent" was one so universally acknowledged that it could go without saying. Apparently not.

Posted by: nylund | May 26, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

RUN SARAH RUN!

The day she announces, I'm going to the Orville Redenbacher factory and buying a long ton of popcorn, because this is going to be a show for the ages. The meltdown will be freakin' EPIC.

Posted by: dustyrhoades | May 26, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Please - let's be honest here. It's all abotu the ratings, revenues, and eyeballs. It has nothing to do with real journalism. 2012 candidates - that's bunk.

Call it as it is - Sarah Palin is her own reality show garnering attenion like those on TV.

Posted by: AD1971 | May 26, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

A conservative former politician lying about President Obama or public policy isn't newsworthy. Palin shouldn't be covered for every piece of garbage she spews on Facebook or Fox News any more than any other random wingnut in the conservative media bubble would. It's just as likely Dennis Kucinich will challenge Obama from the left in 2012 as Palin will run for the GOP nomination yet nobody thinks they have an obligation to report everything Dennis says. Until Palin formally announces her candidacy she should be treated by the mainstream press like the nobody she is.

Posted by: redwards95 | May 26, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

I've never seen a losing VP-nominee covered the way she is.

Her comments and views are as quickly and widely reported as the President's.

I would prefer to see her lunacy excluded from the public discourse, but I'm not sure that would be good for Democrats and serious-minded Republicans.

Posted by: Lomillialor | May 26, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

--"Because Palin is well known for getting things wrong -- death panels!"--

You're not keeping up.

“The decision is not whether or not we will ration care--the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open.”

“The social budget is limited—we have a limited resource pool. It makes terribly good sense to at least know the price of an added benefit, and at some point we might say nationally, regionally, or locally that we wish we could afford it, but we can’t.”

“The complexity and cost of healthcare delivery systems may set up a tension between what is good for the society as a whole and what is best for an individual patient”

--all quotes from Donald Berwick, Obama's man nominated to oversee the ostensibly revamped Medicare.

http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/66465

Sure sounds like Death Panels to me.

Posted by: msoja | May 26, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

--"The question is, how many angsty, immature, and passive-aggressive Facebook posts does one have to make before one is no longer considered a viable presidential candidate?"--

Can you count the Washington Post news hounds and bloggers drooling over the story? Bernstein, Sargeant, Marcus, Weigel, and others (Klein himself will no doubt check in soon from some outer Chinese province to offer his usual Palin pith) are all on it, most of 'em decrying it in one way or another, wallowing in the easy certitude that they're serving their voluminous idiot readers without having to pretend, for once, to be the slightest bit intellectual.

Posted by: msoja | May 26, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

It's true, she does have the power to make or break in some Republican primaries (see South Carolina), so she should certainly not be written off (though it's laughable to think she actually wants the presidency. She quite obviously wants to lose the nomination and blame it on somebody else, that's how she can stay on the gravy train).

However, people who make reckless allegations of pedophilia and who have a record that ranges from incoherence to outright lies on major policy issues do need to be treated differently from mainstream politicians.

And msoja, Don Berwick has literally saved hundreds of thousands of lives by preventing infections and medical errors. He has spent decades researching and teaching hospitals and doctors how to deliver care better, and relentlessly pressuring them to do more every single day to improve healthcare in America. He's an absolute zealot for better quality healthcare, and a missionary for patients.

It's disgusting for you to use out-of-context quotes to suggest he'd compromise the health of patients. The "death panels" you so smeared were actually end of life provisions originally proposed by Republicans. This smear on Berwick is yet another baseless hit job in the catalogue of right-wing lies.

No matter how you twist his words, Don Berwick can go to bed every night knowing even if he does nothing else with his life, he has saved thousands of people's lives in his professional career.

There's no smear-meister who can say the same.

Posted by: theorajones1 | May 26, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Oh, so that explains why they're all over Tim Pawlenty twenty-four seven . . . because he's a potential Republican presidential candidate. Not.

There are several explanations for the media's nonstop coverage of Palin--freak show fascination; juvenile fantasies about sexy secretaries; diabolical reverse psychology ploys; Alaskamania; sheer mendacity--but the fact that she's a potential candidate is NOT one of them. Otherwise, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty would have their mugs in the press every five minutes.

I think it's pretty much understood that the former half-governor with the book contracts, the HGTV reality show, and the high-priced speaking fees is not going to be a candidate. But I could be wrong. Would personally love it to be her. I'll just fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures as they fly through the air.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | May 26, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Watch Sara Palin talk herself to death. I delight in hearing her spout lies, nonsense and sophistry. By November, she will be an anvil carried by those she supports as far as reasonable people are concerned. Talk Sara talk.

Posted by: cperrym | May 26, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Palin is great at marketing herself a victim. Remeber when she called out Rahm Emanuel but gas that bloviated gasbag Limbaugh a pass because he does "satire"- which is a crock. Limbaugh just bloviates. Family Guy is real satire. Palin needs to dump the faux outrage she feins on Faux News and actually also give a real interview to someone aside from windbags like Beck and Hannity.

Posted by: Brainny | May 26, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

msoja

You go ahead and hitch your intellectual wagon to Palin and see what that gets you.

I'd rather depend on the random choices of monkeys rather than the ideological ravings of an irrational quitter like her.

Posted by: Lomillialor | May 26, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

We're in a feedback loop out here. She is a "serious candidate" because she gets a lot of media attention, and she gets a lot of media attention because she is a serious candidate.

JJenkins is on the right track with the sexy secretary fantasy bit. There is a huge MILF factor going on here with the largely male political press corps. As Dana Carvey's church lady would say, she gets them all warm and tingly in their naughty places.

Posted by: exgovgirl | May 26, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

She is covered because as a celebrity she is a recognizable "brand", like Brittany Spears, and as such, a cash cow.

Posted by: harold3 | May 26, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,

I have to agree with a lot of your other commenters. Palin is still a leading/viable canidate for a major party in part because the press covers stupid stuff she says/does. Anyone with that much free media could make a run.

If the press dropped all mention of her, I am sure she would fall to Ron Paul status in no time.

Posted by: chrynoble | May 26, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

JJenkins2 has perfectly analyzed the snowbilly stardom of the moronic Caribou Barbie.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 26, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

--"You go ahead and hitch your intellectual wagon to Palin and see what that gets you."--

Sorry, but I have no truck with Palin. I merely note that the way the people at the Washington Post go about covering her is completely dishonest. There are many legitimate criticisms to be made of Palin, but I've yet to read one in this rag.

Posted by: msoja | May 26, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse

--"And msoja, Don Berwick has literally saved hundreds of thousands of lives by preventing infections and medical errors. He has spent decades researching and teaching hospitals and doctors how to deliver care better, and relentlessly pressuring them to do more every single day to improve healthcare in America. He's an absolute zealot for better quality healthcare, and a missionary for patients"--

Well, now he's a missionary for the state, and if the quotes I provided are taken out of context, you are welcome to put them back in context with a link or a search string of your choosing. I say that his quotes paint him for a cheap collectivist ready to sacrifice the lives of the individual for some imaginary greater good, and that he has no understanding of how the state grinds, and what evil the new health care regime will bring. He should stick with saving lives in the private sector.

Posted by: msoja | May 26, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Why does the press cover her? It helps that she's a walking train wreck. The press will stop covering her once she totally implodes, most likely in the Republican primary.

Posted by: skylights | May 26, 2010 9:05 PM | Report abuse

"And if she's running, she clearly has at least a realistic chance of winning the Republican nomination."

Palin's nomination would assure a republican defeat in 2012 and a very entertaining campaign.

So I hope you're right. And given the rate at which the extremer elements of the republican party are purging their lesser extreme elements, it could very well occur.

Posted by: ChrisBrown11 | May 26, 2010 9:20 PM | Report abuse

"The question is, how many angsty, immature, and passive-aggressive Facebook posts does one have to make before one is no longer considered a viable presidential candidate?"

I love Sarah Palin. I'd love to see her as president. But the reality is, she is not a viable presidential candidate, and has never been one. She should be lobbying for a major appointment in the next Republican administration (and I think she may be), not planning on running for any elected office, ever again.

I'll be surprised if she runs. Not super-surprised, but surprised. She can't win the primary. If anything, I think she'd have a better chance in the national election than she'd have in the Republican primary. If she does run, and wins the primary, she's going to have a very hard time unseating a charismatic incumbent president, no matter how the economy is doing.

But I think the reality is she's a pure ideological spirit, like Walter Mondale, and would probably face electoral defeat, just like Mondale did.

"JJenkins is on the right track with the sexy secretary fantasy bit."

Yes, JJenkins is. Repurpose Margaret Thatcher as a backwoods American MILF, and you get Sarah Palin. It's like a conservative dream come true.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | May 26, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

"I love Sarah Palin. I'd love to see her as president. But the reality is, she is not a viable presidential candidate, and has never been one."

Anyone who would love to see Palin as President is not a viable voter, and has never been one.

"She can't win the primary. If anything, I think she'd have a better chance in the national election than she'd have in the Republican primary. If she does run, and wins the primary, she's going to have a very hard time unseating a charismatic incumbent president, no matter how the economy is doing."

Are the Republicans planning to hold just ONE primary before they nominate a candidate next time? That might make it easier for Palin, she doesn't take well to sustained effort. Her problem is not going up against charisma, her problem is going up against intelligence and honesty, those traits are both alien to her.

"Repurpose Margaret Thatcher as a backwoods American MILF, and you get Sarah Palin. It's like a conservative dream come true."

Margaret Thatcher just rolled over in her grave. Maggie would have no tolerance for an empty-headed medacious opportunist hick like the Wasilla Hillbilly.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 26, 2010 10:25 PM | Report abuse

@Patrick_M: "Anyone who would love to see Palin as President is not a viable voter, and has never been one."

I'm not sure what the means. I show up at my polling precinct and vote. So, irrespective of your opinion of my decisions, I am actually a viable voter. I've voted dozens of times.

"she doesn't take well to sustained effort."

I think that's a fair statement.

"Her problem is not going up against charisma, her problem is going up against intelligence and honesty, those traits are both alien to her."

I think that's a self-congratulatory fantasy. Or an extremely naive view of the political process. Or both.

"Margaret Thatcher just rolled over in her grave. Maggie would have no tolerance for an empty-headed medacious opportunist hick like the Wasilla Hillbilly."

Interesting, as Margaret Thatcher is alive (she's 84). And, again, phrases like "empty-headed mendacious opportunist hick like the Wasilla Hillbilly" simply seem like the self-congratulatory trash-talk of the political poseur, to me.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | May 27, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

If it's all about her being a leading contender for the GOP nomination, why do I NEVER see coverage of Romney or Pawlenty????? Do they never say anything?

Ezra, be real man, its all about ratings and page views. Palin is polarizing and will attract a large contingent of vocal supporters and denouncers who love to tweak each other. End of story.

It might make you feel better to pretend otherwise, but it's just a rationalization.

Posted by: Tiparillo | May 27, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

You demean the whole idea of political coverage and political discourse by covering this con artist and then not following up to document the truth of her comments--or the truth of the very pillars she's "running" on, like pro-life saintliness. Any of you ever seek a full medical report on her? Ever ask for a birth certificate for this child Trig, the embodiment of her saintliness? You sure didn't during the 2008 campaign and I bet you won't in 2012. That's just a starter on the list of unexamined issues about her Don't just sling criticism, as deserved as it is. Find and report some truths. Dan't leave it all to J McGinnis.

Posted by: melly50 | May 27, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

"Margaret Thatcher is alive (she's 84)."

In that case, medics should definitely check her vital signs following the Sarah Palin comparison. If she became of aware of any such comment, that may have done in the Iron Lady.

"...phrases like "empty-headed mendacious opportunist hick like the Wasilla Hillbilly" simply seem like the self-congratulatory trash-talk of the political poseur, to me."

Strange then that you don't present an argument against any of those adjectives, all of which are all well-documented in the Paris Hilton equivalent gravitas of your tea party half-term governor princess.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 27, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

" ... "she doesn't take well to sustained effort."

I think that's a fair statement."

Yet you think the former half term governor would make a fine President.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 27, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

A great piece published today about the ongoing train wreck that is Sarah Palin:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/26/the-palin-brand

"...the Palin brand: bone-headed, defiant and willfully ignorant."

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 27, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Dear EZRA,

People might take you seriously if you did ONE TENTH of the investigation you do on Palin ON BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA.

You and the rest of your "jourmalists" spent the campaign kissing BHO's READ END and are STILL DOING IT as you cry and moan about Palin.

Here's a hot tip. THIS COUNTRY HATES YOU as much as they do Obama because SHILLS LIKE YOU are the reason we are in this dung heap of an administration.

I look forward to the day when you and your ilk are on playing cards.

Posted by: yetanotherpassword | May 28, 2010 12:46 AM | Report abuse

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