Number Fifty-One

Tealiberasophoterianistic Perspectives

The Obsession With Palin: How the Media is Helping Republicans

with 5 comments

By Jake Phillips


 The media’s obsession[1] with Sarah Palin has been an interesting, historical event (for lack of a better word) since her catapult to popular politics in 2008, from both leftleaning and rightleaning sources.  However, with the recent incident with the mainstream media’s over-the-top interest in her emails, it has sparked, for me, a question[2].  Since Palin is relatively unimportant, the important question is, “does this obsession with Palin help or hurt perceptions of the viable, Republican nominees for President?”


(Quick bridge: I don’t think that the mainstream media should have necessarily ignored the emails.  However, the level of interest, the amount of time and resources spent on sifting through them, the enlisting of people to help with the project etc., was unarguably over-the-top.)


It certainly does not hurt Palin as a political candidate, since she is not a serious candidate in any sense of the word.  As Joe Scarborough writes, Palin is simply not going to be elected president, and she probably won’t run anyways.  “That reality makes the media’s treatment of the former GOP vice presidential candidate disproportionate to her sway over national events.”[3] The fact of the matter is, it helps Palin.  It helps her the same way releasing a sex tape helps Paris Hilton, or Michael Jackson dying helped Michael Jackson’s CD sales.  Brands depend on publicity, not praise.  Kevin James probably doesn’t care that Mall Cop was a terrible movie.


In that sense, then, the obsession is unimportant, unless you really like Sarah Palin as a person, and are thus offended/happy for her, depending on your level of cynicism.  The important thing, politically, is whether it will help or hurt the other Republican nominees.  So, then, is there a historical precedent for this? Conservative pundits like the mainstream media’s reaction to Sarah Palin to their reaction to Ronald Reagan.  This is pure, revisionist’s history, however.  For one thing, Reagan wasn’t actually all that hated.  For another thing, he was at all times a serious, Presidential candidate. 


That, of course, brings up another problem, which is that any actual comparison won’t work, simply because of the nature of the media today.  As an example, let’s pretend that in 500 years a historian seeks to analyze who the most hated NBA of the first 75ish years of the league was.  Unless they are skilled researcher, they will probably begin and end their analysis with Lebron James, circa 2010-2012.  This isn’t because he was actually more hated than, say, Bill Lambeer; it will simply be a reflection of today’s media.  The comparison with the obsession with Palin, then, is only in undue attention being given to a presidential candidate, and if that attention helped or hurt his/her ideologically similar rivals.


I still don’t know that we have any historical help, even given those narrow parameters.  The attention given Theodore Roosevelt during the 1912 presidential election was probably undue, but at least he was a real candidate who took real votes away from Taft[4].  If Palin runs, and the publicity she’s gotten leads to garnering votes that can’t possibly help her win, then the media attention, in a backwards way, will hurt the other Presidential nominees.


Otherwise, my opinion is that the undue media attention helps the other Republican nominees.  None of the other Republican nominees have very much of a thoughtful, self-conscious platform.  Partly because it’s Primary Season, their platforms are basically all the same.  They may govern differently (Romney almost certainly will) but they won’t be elected or not elected because of their ideas.  They will be elected, if they are, for two reasons.  First, they aren’t Obama.  Second, they don’t have any major black marks.  The longer the media obsesses with Palin, the more likely the other candidates can skate by without any major controversies.  For Palin, any attention is a good thing.  For the other nominees, in an election where voters will be voting for or against Obama, non-attention is a good thing.

[1][1] I do not particularly like this word, and I don’t think it accurately sums up the relationship between the media and Sarah Palin.  However, I use it because it has entered public consciousness that the media is in fact obsessive, in some fashion, with Palin.

[4] James Chace, 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs-the Election That Changed the Country, 2004.  An excellent book that shows why no one should vote for a candidate that cannot win (Primaries notwithstanding.)


Written by Jake Phillips

June 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Running simply on an ‘anti-Obama’ platform isn’t going to get any presidential-hopefuls very far (he isn’t despised in the same sense Bush was). I think any serious contenders are going to need real, workable strategies for improving the economy, otherwise their voice is moot. As for Palin, her running would be disastrous for the GOP. If you didn’t know better you’d think the Tea Party were the majority, but they’re not, and no sensible moderate would vote for a Palin ticket -end of. As for other Republican candidates, I disagree, I don’t think we’ll see a repeat of the more recent ‘Obama referendum.’ It’ll take more than an anti-Obama message to win over moderates.

    Jack Munn

    June 14, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    • Jack,

      I agree with you that Obama isn’t despised in the same sense that Bush was. The difference, though, is that Obama wasn’t actually running against Bush. If he had, he would’ve won in an absolutely landslide. So I still think there’s a correlation.

      In other words, if unemployment drops a percentage point or two, and gas is under $3 a gallon, I don’t think Obama will lose. If unemployment does up a percentage point or two, and gas is still $3.50 or more a gallon, then I think there’s a chance that he loses. Whether Romney or Pawlenty is running against him is, to some level, a moot point. I agree with you that being able to court moderates is absolutely the most important factor for each Republican nominee. But I think the ability to win over moderates is way more dependent on Obama than on the actual nominee.

      Jake Phillips

      June 14, 2011 at 6:44 pm

  2. I’m not sure I would agree with her not being “a serious candidate in any sense of the word.” She would be a serious candidate in “she could win the nomination” sense, as well as the “has lots and lots of people who love her” sense…which Obama showed is very important. I think she knows she can’t actually win so she won’t run. (and if that’s all you meant by not a serious candidate then fine…but that Makes Romney and possibly Pawlenty if he steps up the only serious candidates so far)


    June 14, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    • 42% of Republicans have said they would definitely not vote for her. You are correct that my opinion is that she can’t win, almost everyone agrees she can’t win, and she knows she can’t win.

      Jake Phillips

      June 14, 2011 at 6:40 pm

  3. Anybody who says anyone has no chance at this early point is being a bit presumptuous, in my opinion. In todays 24-7 news cycle, things can change very fast. What if Romney and Bachman blow it big time in a prime time debate?

    Having said that, I don’t think Palin will win the nomination. If she enters, she’ll split the vote with Bachman and Romney wins in a landslide. If she stays out, I think Bachman keeps it interesting for a while, at least.

    Jesse P.

    June 14, 2011 at 7:18 pm

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