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Tilting at Windmills

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December 23, 2009

MEDIA MANIPULATION AT ITS MOST INANE.... You've probably noticed the phenomenon. Former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin will say something ridiculous on Facebook or Twitter, which immediately becomes "news," regardless of merit. There's a problem with this that goes beyond news outlets' comically poor judgment on what constitutes a noteworthy political development.

Take the "death panels" garbage. Palin made the insane claim on Facebook, which effectively became a press release that outlets were only too happy to embrace, without scrutiny. When reality huggers noted that the argument had no connection to the truth, Palin had another Facebook entry, which was effectively another press release, which generated a new round of coverage. Now that the nonsense has been labeled the "Lie of the Year," Palin has published another Facebook message, which has again generated a new round of coverage, despite being completely inaccurate.

It's a familiar pattern. Indeed, it happened just last week when the former governor relied on Facebook entries to "argue" with those who accept science, reason, and evidence on climate change. Palin didn't actually do any real interviews with journalists, but she, or someone she pays, kept writing little messages online, each of which garnered scrutiny-free news stories. Indeed, a few weeks ago, NBC News' Andrea Mitchell interviewed Al Gore, asking questions about global warming by simply reading from Palin's Facebook page.

Dave Weigel has a very smart piece today, describing the entire journalistic dynamic as "a humiliating exercise."

The problem is that Palin has put the political press in a submissive position, one in which the only information it prints about her comes from prepared statements or from Q&As with friendly interviewers. This isn't something most politicians get away with, or would be allowed to get away with. But Palin has leveraged her celebrity -- her ability to get ratings, the ardor of her fans and the bitterness of her critics -- to win a truly unique relationship with the press. She is allowed to shape the public debate without actually engaging in it. [...]

I think what Palin's doing here is incredibly savvy. She knows that anything that goes out under her name will be accepted as fact by conservatives ... and she knows that liberals despise her and will pick apart everything that goes out under her name. It was liberals, after all, who obsessed over the "death panel" claim, because for whatever reason they thought it was vitally important to prove that Palin was misleading people about what was in the health care bill.

At the same time, I think that the media's indulgence of Palin's strategy -- which often results in pure stenography of press releases that may or may not have been written by her -- is ridiculous, bordering on pathetic.

It's a very compelling point. I'll admit, I'm often torn on this. While I've largely blown off most of Palin's post-resignation nonsense, occasionally, I'm so overwhelmed by the stupidity of her poorly-written missives that I find them noteworthy. It's hard not to marvel at the fact that the conservative movement has made a hero out of (another) dim-witted clown. Indeed, I'm often concerned that if some of her more unhinged policy claims go unchallenged, people may not realize how absurd they are. (A key difference between blog coverage of Palin and, say, CNN's coverage of Palin is that we tend to do fact-checking.)

But Weigel's observation is an important one -- outlets need not treat barely-coherent Facebook messages from an unemployed politician as major developments. She's playing the media for fools, and too many major outlets are only to pleased to be the sucker.

Steve Benen 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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Comments

(A key difference between blog coverage of Palin and, say, CNN's coverage of Palin is that we tend to do fact-checking.)

Exactly! The difference between mainstream media and new media is fact checking. That's what the mainstream media have been saying all along!

Posted by: Grumpy on December 23, 2009 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

It does not speak to anything in any way, shape, or form about Palin's intelligence. She has none. This speaks more to the stupidity of many Americans. And to the complete collapse of what use to be called journalism.

This is nothing more than people watching soaps or reading tabloids at the grocery store checkout line and believing what they read.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on December 23, 2009 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Sarah Tweets

naive2say tweets dirct news. newsie ions go warever they will. i just afect poltics outside gov like i said. care4 a sined book perhaps?

Posted by: Sarah Palin's ghostwriter on December 23, 2009 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

This is nothing more than people watching soaps or reading tabloids at the grocery store checkout line and believing what they read.

I disagree. Bat Boy would make a much better President than Palin.

Posted by: Cap'n Chucky on December 23, 2009 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

palin's utilization of it, is great at disclosing the depths of nihilism afflicting our society, the media, the public discourse, etc.

palin's textuality is kinda at the other end of the spectrum from this blog's -- in explicatin' and analyzin' it.

Posted by: neill on December 23, 2009 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

How, exactly, are MSM outlets being 'played for suckers?' They are in the business of selling eyeballs to advertisers, and Palin is the best candy going, a sure draw on both sides of the spectrum.

Journalism? What the hell has that got to do with the media?

Posted by: al-Fubar on December 23, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Palin benefits greatly from reverse-sexism: Journos (mostly male) are so afraid they'll be called sexists (by Sarah and her fan base) if they tell the truth about her and her sayin's and her doin's, that they pretend she's a serious person worthy of attention.

No male politician would be treated with such kid gloves; more likely, he'd receive the inattention he so abundantly deserves. In the name of equality, doesn't Sarah at least deserve being ignored?

Posted by: K in VA on December 23, 2009 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Governess Palin's statements ARE compelling news.

Note how even liberals like Benen are drawn into the discussion of her views.

Posted by: Al on December 23, 2009 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

You realize that the discussion we're having over how seriously to take Sarah Palin's facebook page directly follows a discussion about how seriously we should take the political views of some fictitious characters from the 23rd century.....

Posted by: Paul Dirks on December 23, 2009 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Palin is more conservative than Picard because, although she paints a convincing portrait of ethical uprightness, there is no actual substance behind it.

Posted by: Mike Potemra on December 23, 2009 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

... and those she can't manipulate, she bans, outright:
http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/12/bloggers_on_palins_banned_list_ejected_from_going.php#more

Posted by: exlibra on December 23, 2009 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Palin herself is of secondary importance. The story is that American conservatives are incredibly ignorant and openly opposed to democracy, and are strongly drawn to leaders like Palin who share their "values." Palin is merely the latest avatar of hatred and fascism around which the wingnuts are flitting. If The Media wanted to cover the real story, Palin would appear as just one of a mass of demagogues beloved by the stupid and the terrified.

Posted by: Mark on December 23, 2009 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

"Outlets need not treat barely-coherent Facebook messages from an unemployed politician as major developments." Why not? They do essentially the same nonsense with little Newtie all of the time.

Posted by: -syzygy- on December 23, 2009 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

I've been saying this for more more than a year now- If folks would just ignore her, Palin would go away. The woman has no substance, no intelligence or depth of knowledge, no character, and certainly no integrity. She represents no policy; she's nothing but an attention-seeking phoney who has learned that she can get by with a wink and a smile. It's all about Sarah. We all just need to stop talking about her.

Palin is playing the role of distractor and provocateur. Like clown GOP chairman, Michael Steele, the GOP has left her a role to play. She's the token conservative woman- God-talking, gun-toting, flag-waving, attractive, smiling, dim-witted former beauty queen, wife, mother. She failed in her role of governor and VP candidate, but she's a survivor who can get by on her looks, pre-written rhetoric, and pure snarkiness.

Palin's handlers are keeping her out in front to provoke, annoy, aggravate, distract, gin up anger, fear, and incite hate among conservatives. That's been her role all along. Had McCain won, Graham or Lieberman would have been the defacto VP. Once Palin has served her purpose, the GOP will cast her aside like yesterday's newspaper.

Posted by: Carol A on December 23, 2009 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen, et al, have any of you actually interviewed the elite of the MSM and gotten statements from them in re Sarah Palin and others who make ridiculous and false statements and represent them as facts? Until they are held to account and made to explain their incompetence as journalists, this whole discussion is moot.
What say you?

Posted by: st john on December 23, 2009 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

?I think what Palin's doing here is incredibly savvy"

I think Sarah Palin is an idiot being used by the corporate ownership of our media. She's the look-over-here-at-the-shiny-object. By giving undue attention to her, her idiotic pronouncements and her fans the corporate owners of the media can subvert their opposition and push their agenda on to a rather dimwitted, and unfortunately, large segment of the public.

Sarah Palin is a tool...in more ways than one.

Posted by: SaintZak on December 23, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Presumably, the type of journalist who finds Palin's Facebook to be newsworthy is the type of journalist who can't see beyond the next byline. These reporters lack news judgment, which may be the case for the entire editorial hierarchy as editors feel pressured to compete against every rumor-mongering Web site on the planet.

Posted by: John on December 23, 2009 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

John, and others: Why doesn't some enterprising blogger or alternative news person interview these corporate "journalists" and their "owners?" I keep asking these questions and just get more rhetoric about how bad it is. It is as if we are helpless to change the system. Perhaps we are and we just have to settle for the status quo. At what point does the collapse of our society get noticed?

Posted by: st john on December 23, 2009 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

MEDIA MANIPULATION AT ITS MOST INANE.... You've probably noticed the phenomenon. Former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin will say something ridiculous on Facebook or Twitter, which immediately becomes "news," regardless of merit.
Do you like the VISORGATE STORY?
The Wardrobe story?
Levi stories?

Posted by: spwbt on December 23, 2009 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

I think Sarah Palin is an idiot being used by the corporate ownership of our media.

Perhaps, but it's all the way to the bank for her.

Posted by: g on December 23, 2009 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe we could arrange to twitter her bowel movements and then correlate these against her verbal utterances to determine exactly where her ideas are coming from.

Posted by: rbe1 on December 23, 2009 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Journos (mostly male) are so afraid they'll be called sexists (by Sarah and her fan base) if they tell the truth about her and her sayin's and her doin's, that they pretend she's a serious person worthy of attention.

And I thought they just wanted to fuck her.

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on December 23, 2009 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Why don't you and TPM stop writing about every Sarah Palin move or issue? That would be the place to start.

Posted by: Theda on December 23, 2009 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

Sarah is a symptom,and thanks to the intertubes that symptom is being broadcast to the outside world. Some of which is having a laugh, and some of which is using it to measure the progress of dumbing down 'Murka'.

Posted by: eserwe on December 23, 2009 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: Gloria on March 1, 2010 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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