10/09/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Sarah Palin: Resuscitating the Fourth Estate

In the short week and a half that Sarah Palin's been on the national stage -- though sure, it feels like an eternity -- she's brought tens of millions of Americans together and animated them to wage a no-holds-barred fight to take back the presidency. I'm talking, of course, about her effect on the Democrats. I know that when I get the same e-mail four times in one day -- in this case, the one written by the Alaskan woman who knew Palin from countless town council meetings and laid out the case for her being a back-stabbing, unreliable opportunist -- that the next two months will be hard-fought.

It's natural to feel outrage at her regressive, insult-your-intelligence support for creationism, censorship and sexual ignorance, and her in-your-face hypocrisy; how are you going to "introduce her to Washington" when she's already been a frequent flyer to the capital in pursuit of pork for her home state? The fact is that she's brought a healthy dose of adrenaline to anyone opposed to the red meat base of the GOP's Bush-loving agenda. But beyond that, she has the potential to wake up a sleeping giant that many believe long-ago relinquished its vital role in our society. I speak of the mainstream, or traditional, media.

The "media," of course, is many things to many people. It's the source of their entertainment, where they go to feel superior to bimbo celebrities, and if they want to, find cause to be in a perpetual state of alarm over depraved criminals and killer storm systems. But in a quainter time, a large chunk of it was recognized as the Fourth Estate, peopled by news reporters charged with keeping the American electorate informed, so we could make wise decisions in the voting booth. I know there are many across the land, including myself, who think that the media fell down on the job and never really got up again after 9/11, afraid that viewers and readers would turn away if they appeared critical of the government. Things turned around a bit after Hurricane Katrina; they seem to have solved the problem with the "he said, she said" formula to keep everyone happy. But there's been a shocking amount of credulousness in the media's willingness to swallow what the administration feeds them, without investigating original sources first to see if it's true.

Much has been written on that subject, and I don't want to add to that debate here. I just want to point out that this has emboldened the GOP, which has now gotten so heady with their vaunted message-control that they've thrown down the gauntlet to anyone who cares about the truth. When top McCain strategist Rick Davis claims that his team doesn't need the media to get its word out, and informs ABC News that Palin will sit down for questions only when she's "treated with respect and deference," it's time for not only the press, but all of us in the reality-based world to rise up and not let them get away with it.

First of all, because the VP candidate should be more than a trained seal who's capable of reading off a teleprompter. Sure, she can deliver the lines that were written for her with snarling aplomb, but then so could Don Rickles; during her acceptance speech, I half-expected her to call out the guy in the front row and make fun of his bad toupee. But seriously, folks, doesn't the electorate deserve more than some mean girl who's good at ridicule? We have no idea how well she can think on her feet, or indeed what she really thinks about anything, until she sits down for the crucible of scrutiny all public officials submit themselves to, and allows herself to be interviewed.

Secondly, if she's so scared of the big bad media, how can we expect her to be a heart-beat away from the presidency and capable of standing up to America's enemies? Sure Chris Matthews is scary, but come on. After all, as Cindy McCain so handily pointed out, Alaska is that close to Russia. And she can't even have a sit-down with the major network anchors? I'm not impressed.

And I believe that the vast majority of Americans aren't, either. Davis has also said that this election will be about personalities -- wishful thinking, and understandable considering the GOP's dismal track record. So let's make sure this season isn't about narrative, and that it's about issues, instead. And one way to do that is to demand that McCain and his new hatchet-woman sit down with news reporters and answer some tough questions -- not for the media's sake, but for ours.

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