MEDIA
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Case Against Reporting Sarah Palin's Status Updates

Dave Weigel is, as usual, making a ton of sense, this time with regard to his unwillingness to do reporting on the neverending dispatches from Sarah Palin's Facebook account.

Last week, PolitiFact.com announced its "Lie of the Year": Sarah Palin's claim that the health care bill might create "death panels" that would kill elderly or disabled Americans. It was a lie, the editors pointed out, because Palin's claim was based on a mangling (by Michele Bachmann) of false claims by Betsey McCaughey -- that the bill would mandate end-of-life counseling, and that rationing would deny care based on "level of productivity in society." That phrase was Palin's invention.

Palin responded to the PolitiFact article with a post on her Facebook page, claiming that, actually, the CBO's assessment that it would be tough to cut the rate of increase in Medicare is the sort of thing she had been talking about all along. That's obviously not true. But political reporters are taking note, filing stories about what Palin wrote that don't add much more context. I really think this is 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.

Weigel adds a lot more to his argument, so I'd urge you, as usual, to hie thee hence, and not limit yourself to my excerpting.

But I'd like to underscore the fact that Weigel is absolutely correct, here: Sarah Palin has won a tremendous concession from the media, in that she has gotten them to blithely accept a set of rules of engagement that she has invented. There are a number of reasons the media is willing to just accept these terms, and chief among them is traffic. Simply put, Sarah Palin is the clickiest thing the internet has going these days, and that creates an incentive to cover everything she does, up to and including ghost-written Facebook updates and word-soupy Twitter bleats. As I've said before, the irony of Sarah Palin's overarching anti-media pose is that she could do more harm to the media if she's just curb her prolific tendencies.

But the curbing works both ways, doesn't it? And by accepting Palin's terms, the press ends up cheating themselves on the back end. I'll once again point out how remarkable it is that Sarah Palin, who is universally acknowledged as a major player in the conservative movement (if not the Republican movement), a potential future Presidential contender, and a one-time candidate for the vice-presidency of the United States, has never once appeared on any of the traditional, Sunday-morning political shows. Now, I've been watching those shows faithfully for the past two years, and I am under no illusion that she will encounter some sort of intellectually rigorous interrogation, but the unalterable fact is that she refuses to participate in this forum out of pure cowardice.

So, yes: if reporters want to actually engage Sarah Palin in questioning, they should stop pretending her various posts to online social media -- to which no one in the world requires reporters to access or penetrate, anyway -- represents some sort of blockbuster, journalistic "get."

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