Pouncing on Governor Sarah Palin: the Pseudo-Journalistic Interest of the Ostensibly Disinterested

–Richard E. Vatz

As a conservative critic of Sarah Palin-as-office-seeker, I have a pretty unbiased perspective of how she is treated generally by print and electronic media.

During a soft interview recently at the National Tea Party Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, it was noticed that Gov. Palin had written a few words on her palm, including “tax,” “energy,” and “budget cuts.”

How revealing and appalling, right? Much of the media had conniptions. How despicable, and what a hypocrite this woman was who had criticized President Barack Obama for using a teleprompter.

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Andrea Mitchell, a very intelligent-but-ideologically-committed NBC journalist, actually called Gov. Palin’s words penned on her hands “cheat sheets.” Mitchell implied that Palin’s having such notes on her hand was hypocritical in view of her “snarky shots at Obama,” such as saying to audiences that for a presidential leader they “need more than a charismatic guy with a teleprompter.”

Leaving aside the dubious equating of over-using a teleprompter with providing one’s self with a very few key concepts to remember for about a 40-minute conversation, Ms. Mitchell’s clear contempt is simply inappropriate for a newsperson. Will NBC indicate that the network finds her reportage inappropriate? A safe guess is “no.”

The acceptability of journalists’ pillorying Palin and flattering Obama extends, of course, to print journalists as well…there are too many to mention, so let me cite just one writer who should know better: Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post. Mr. Cillizza says that Palin’s “ease around a soundbite” contrasts with President Obama, who “clearly believes [with an exception or two of late] that the soundbite culture has led to the dumbing-down of politics and, as a result, resists engaging in it.”

Oh? This is said seriously of the president who regularly rhetorically distracts from the point-at-issue by recasting issues as “teachable moments,” claims often without evidence that a two trillion dollar health plan will “save money,” and regularly proclaims that the stimulus package has “saved jobs” and “created new jobs,” again without evidence.

Soundbites, as Cillizza argues, may be a “substitute for substance,” but they are far from being the exclusive province of Gov. Palin.

Unequal treatment of Republicans and Democrats is, of course, not new or unexpected. Any imprecision by Palin is pounced on; any imprecision by Vice President Biden – true in last year’s presidential campaign through the present — is passed over as “cute,” as in “There goes our Joe again.”

Gov. Sarah Palin is a good conservative spokesperson rather than a good national candidate. She is also a good litmus test for good journalism. If an available drink is a telling test for an alcoholic, a powerful speech by Palin is a good test for agenda-driven journalists.

Let’s have a modicum of fair coverage of liberals and conservatives – doesn’t seem like too much to ask of bright journalists who need to go cold turkey on patently biased coverage of the former Vice Presidential nominee.

–Professor Vatz teaches Media Criticism at Towson University

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