Perhaps she didn’t get the memo. Then again she’s not much of a reader. And as recent public pronouncements demonstrate, nuance, subtly and empathy are not her strong suit. Of course, I’m speaking of 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Despite calls from across the political spectrum to “tone down” the vitriol in the wake of the Tucson shootings, Palin keeps right on doing what she does best: manufacturing controversy in an effort to dominate the news cycle. Whether she’s releasing statements via Facebook or making the rounds on Fox News Channel, Palin is tone deaf to pleas -- even from within her own ranks -- to take a break from the partisan rancor and political gainsaying.
"Even respected news outlets, like NPR, continue to focus an inordinate amount of airtime to all things Palin."
Appearing on Sean Hannity’s program the other night, the ever-defiant Palin lashed out at, well just about everyone, saying: “They’re not going to shut me up.” Apart from stating the obvious, Palin has been on the counteroffensive -- with an emphasis on being offensive -- ever since the shooting rampage in Arizona focused the nation’s attention on the consequences of virulent campaign rhetoric.
The now-infamous image of crosshairs on congressional districts across the country, including that of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, that the Palin team used to “target” House Democrats running for re-election last November has taken on new significance in the wake of the assassination attempt on Giffords that also took six lives and injured 13 others.
Palin’s reaction to the blowback has been predictable enough: she’s going to milk all of the attention -- good, bad or indifferent -- for all it’s worth. And as she has done time and time again, the former Alaska governor is going to “play the victim” early and often. All the better to garner as much ink and airtime as a compliant press corps can dish out.
Therein lies the rub. Palin’s favored scapegoat is the American news media -- with the notable exception of her employers at Fox. During the 2008 campaign, Palin lashed out at the “liberal” and “elitist” news media -- the same news media that slavishly follows her every move and records her every utterance.
"In a recent appearance on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Smiley put it plainly: 'Sarah Palin gets far too much media attention in the first place. I never waste time on my show discussing Sarah Palin -- TV or radio.'"
Following her “blood libel” remarks, some pundits suggested that Palin might finally have gone too far. Perhaps, observers noted, Palin’s characteristically inappropriate comments in the wake of the Arizona shootings would send a wake-up call to Palin supporters, fellow conservatives and news workers alike -- with the notable exception of her employers at Fox -- that Palin lacks the gravitas and civility, let alone the credibility, to be taken seriously.
But I’m not holding my breath. Even respected news outlets, like NPR, continue to focus an inordinate amount of airtime to all things Palin. The staff at NPR’s daily news programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, ought to compare notes with their colleague Tavis Smiley.
In a recent appearance on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Smiley put it plainly: “Sarah Palin gets far too much media attention in the first place. I never waste time on my show discussing Sarah Palin -- TV or radio. … She gets so much more attention than she absolutely deserves on our national media, for reasons I quite frankly don’t understand. I don’t take her seriously as a candidate, don’t take her pronouncements seriously. And this is really all about a branding effort for Sarah Palin, and she’s making a lot of money doing it.”
Tavis Smiley’s advice is well taken -- not that anyone in the corporate media pays much attention to Smiley, let alone listens to Pacifica.
Still, I’m feeling a little optimistic. After all, if Congressional Democrats and Republicans can agree to put a lid on the bipartisan rancor -- even for a brief moment -- perhaps the U.S. press corps could place a moratorium on covering the reckless, feckless and increasingly shameless Ms. Palin.
Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He is editor of Understanding Community Media (Sage, 2010). He writes regularly on media, culture and politics at e-chreia.