Where Coverage of "Going Rogue" Goes Wrong

For male politicians, it’s always been a rule of thumb in politics and the media that once you were on a presidential ticket, you were automatically elevated onto the short list of contenders for future races

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Sarah Palin's memoir "Going Rogue" goes on sale Tuesday.

    WASHINGTON - Sarah Palin hardly needs defending.

    She prides herself on being a supportive hockey mom, but she can lace on skates and deliver hard checks into the glass with the best of them.

    Still, while watching and listening to a lot of the media discussion of the rollout of her book, I can't help noting that some of the coverage is more than a little selective, and hypocritical.

    No, Sarah Palin’s new book, “Going Rogue” is not, as Rush Limbaugh described it, “one of the most substantive policy books I’ve read.”

    On issues, it’s full of conservative platitudes and seemingly Googled philosophical wisdom. It’s mostly a work of self-mythologizing — Annie Oakley gets her political gun — mixed with bitter political dish.

    These days, the best way for a political figure to get a fat book contract is to promise to unload on enemies and rivals.

    Palin obliges. In her best-selling tome, she takes on John McCain's aides she says mishandled her. In particular, she field-dresses top strategist Steve Schmidt like an Alaskan moose.

    Historians may just be getting to work on the 2008 presidential race. But for Palin, revenge is a dish best served warm.

    Seeking payback on the bestseller list may or may not be smart politics. But reporters who covered the McCain campaign should at least acknowledge how understandable her anger is on a personal level.

    Americans had barely finished voting a year ago when anonymous sources in the campaign (who were widely assumed to be Schmidt and fellow adviser Nicolle Wallace) were calling the Palin family “Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus.”

    [Since the publication of this story, Schmidt called to refute that either he or Wallace were the source of anti-Palin leaks.]

    In any event, there were leaks about Palin’s lavish spending on clothes, unwillingness to stay on message and demand that she deliver her own concession speech on election night.

    John McCain, who to this day chivalrously refuses to speak ill of Palin, may have deserved better from her in this book.

    But aides who so quickly sought to shift attention from their own responsibility for his bungled campaign by dumping on his running mate did not. 

    On her presidential aspirations, Palin predictably played coy in her interview with Oprah Winfrey and insisted that 2012 is “not on my radar screen right now.” 

    Still, the widespread suggestion in some of the media commentary that she simply isn’t qualified enough to be considered a viable presidential candidate is ridiculous.

    For male politicians, it’s always been a rule of thumb in politics and the media that once you were on a presidential ticket, you were automatically elevated onto the short list of contenders for future races.

    If George H.W. Bush had lost in 1988, does anyone think Dan Quayle would not have been talked about as a potential candidate for 1992, even with all the political flaws he revealed in that race? Would the media have taken John Edwards as seriously in 2008 if he hadn’t been John Kerry’s running mate in 2004?

    Call it sexism or what you will, but why should the media only compare ambitious women to impressive men, when so many ambitious but underwhelming men get so far in this world?

    Media debate about why Palin is getting all this attention is also pretty laughable. Cable and network news producers cover her on television to boost ratings, print editors put her on their front pages and magazine covers to sell newsstand copies, and then everyone turns around and tsk-tsk’s: “What’s all the fuss? Is she good for the GOP? Is she good for America?”

    At least in the having-it-both-ways department, Palin is a good match for the media. She is milking all the attention for book sales and political exposure while simultaneously using it to appeal to her base of rural, working-class Americans who feel neglected and disrespected by media elites.

    Mocking Katie Couric as “the perky one” in her interview with Oprah? Cheerfully dismissing Oprah herself by saying that “it didn’t even register” with her that the queen of talk and fervent Obama supporter hadn’t asked for a sit-down during the campaign? Who says Palin is just a publicity hog and doesn’t know what market she’s really playing to?

    Does Palin have a right to settle scores in her book? Of course she does. It's a free country and she's entitled to the same First Amendement rights that protect members of the press.

    Is she qualified to be President? If she decides to run, that’s a judgment for voters to make, not us in the media.

    Politics always comes down to the question: “compared to what?” When the current competition in the Republic Party is Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee, it’s hard to dismiss Palin out of hand, at least as a contender for the GOP nomination. 

    The media industry is a “compared to what?” business too, as reporters and editors and producers make judgments about what stories are compelling, and what stories will not only inform, but also entice, their audiences.

    When it comes to Sarah Palin, the media have already bought in, and the rest is just getting that purchase through customs.