It was probably the moment Tazzy the Pig gave me her business card that the impossible happened - I realized Sarah Palin was actually correct about something. And now, all bets are off.
It began innocently enough. I'd traveled to New Hampshire to promote my first book, The Can't-idates: Running For President When Nobody Knows Your Name. It's a chronicle of my 10,000-mile cross-country drive last spring to find real people who decide to disregard all logic and run for president. I think we can all agree that this presidential election is unlike any in our lifetimes, the favorites shifting with the same frequency of a Kardashian appearance on a tabloid cover. I'd noticed that even as voter turnout continues to slide, the number of people running for president continues to climb - roughly 500 for the 2012 election and already around 1,600 for 2016. This seemed like the ultimate sign that voters want candidates with the least amount of big government experience, so I wanted to explore the psychology behind it.
My publisher lined up a couple of book signings pegged to the New Hampshire primary, and I knew the national media would be flooding the streets of the Granite State hunting for content. Having spent three decades writing for outlets like People and the New York Times, I was sure I'd have no problem convincing my peers to interview me about my timely tome. However, like the cable news ready candidates they were obsessed with, I'd vastly overestimated my value.
My first clue came at a Manchester, NH diner, where I ended up sitting next to a reporter for a certain late-night network news show that will remain nameless (Let's just say it rhymes with "Slight-line"). He was interviewing other reporters about the primary so during a break, I introduced myself. It took roughly 47 seconds for him to turn around in mid-conversation and start talking to someone else.
The next day, I took in a Donald Trump rally in Exeter, NH, where I sidled up to an antsy TV producer watching her well-dressed reporter do her piece. I mentioned my book, and she looked at me the way that bear looked at Leonardo DiCaprio, quickly blurting, "I'm the media. I don't have to talk to you!"
Undaunted, the next day I approached what's known as "Radio Row" at a Manchester, NH hotel. In reality, The online radio station for a Boston newspaper I won't mention (let's just say it rhymes with "Harold") agreed to put me on the air. I sat there waiting my turn as they interviewed a Betsy Ross impersonator who happened to wander in. Then, they spotted an attractive young woman shilling for Carly Fiorina and ogled her for a couple segments. Next, they spent 10 minutes discussing primary winners and losers as if it was a Red Sox game. That was followed by an impromptu chat with a former New Hampshire senator who was roaming the hallways. And then...there was Tazzy.
A local woman had slipped into the hotel with her little pig in order to talk up farm legislation and Bernie Sanders. My potential interviewers posed for pictures with their porcine guest, interviewing Tazzy and her owner while discussing "pork belly politics" and "bringing home the bacon" jokes. Finally, I mentioned to the hosts that I was still waiting for my interview and they suggested I come back in an hour. Which I did. At that point, I was informed that they were booked up through Election Day.
I trudged out of Radio Row, which now felt more like a media version of the Green Mile. Maybe they found the theme of my book to be a joke. Maybe being a newcomer to all this meant I didn't have the gravitas such hallowed halls require. Maybe my connecting the dots between citizen candidates and the Trump-Sanders phenomenon didn't fit their preconceived election narrative. Or maybe they just really like making jokes about how much of a "ham" Tazzy was.
All I could think of was the dirt-poor single mom I'd met in Arkansas, who holds bake sales to raise campaign funds yet was told by her local paper that they wouldn't write about her unless she paid $600. Which led me to the horrifying realization that maybe Sarah Palin's "lame-stream" media really does exist. And up until now, I couldn't see it because I'd been on the other side of the gatekeepers' fence.
I'm not saying that The Can't-idates constitutes earth shattering, breaking news. I didn't expect most people to latch onto the book right away. Still, I'm not sure it helps political discourse in this country when the ones who are supposed to provide it would rather spend time talking to each other or to pigs. After spending my entire adult life in the media, I was under the impression we were supposed to be the great disseminator of all information, not necessarily the arbiter of it. It doesn't help anyone when anything that doesn't fit their definition of news is treated with the same esteem usually reserved for new Adam Sandler movies.
As I headed out of New Hampshire, I felt like my son did throughout his high school baseball experience. He was a decent pitcher, who just wanted the chance to play in the hope that the experience would make him better. However, the coaches had their favorites so he never got a fair shot at cracking the starting lineup. Eventually, he was able to escape from one coach's opinion into a bigger world that appreciated what he brought to the table. (He's now pitching for his college team.)
Unfortunately, when it comes to politics, there is no court of higher opinion. You're appealing your punishment to the same group that handed it down in the first place. Hence, The Can't-idates and I must come to terms with a political media that strongly resembles the characters in Mean Girls - only with more of a sense of entitlement and less willingness to accept outside input. Perhaps it's time they stopped "hogging" the election attention. (Sorry, Tazzy, I had to...)
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