A Tale of Two Palins

Politico and the NYT offer conflicting assessments of the Alaska governor

Depending on where you get your Sarah Palin news, you might have two very different ideas about how the Alaska is adjusting to its governor’s post-campaign life. Yesterday, both The New York Times and Politico checked in with the world’s most famous hockey mom and discovered that she’s either distracted from her executive duties by her national ambitions, or staying away from the limelight to focus on governing Alaska, while others seek to profit from her name in fundraising attempts.

From the Times:

As the legislative session draws to an end this weekend, Ms. Palin is pushing no major bills, and neither are state lawmakers. Many pivotal alliances between the governor and minority Democrats are obsolete, undone by mutual bitterness from the election. The rush of oil revenues that helped Ms. Palin press for big-ticket projects in the past has been replaced by a budget deficit that will require taking at least $1 billion out of state savings.


Ms. Palin, Senator John McCain’s vice-presidential running mate last fall, remains a Republican star across the country and in Alaska. But her detractors at the Capitol complain that she has been distracted from state business both by continued efforts to position herself nationally and by the tabloid-tilted aspects of her new prominence.

Recently, she has sparred publicly with Levi Johnston, the 19-year-old father of her grandson, who broke up with Ms. Palin’s daughter Bristol. On Thursday, while lawmakers hone the state budget, the governor is to speak at an anti-abortion group’s fund-raising dinner in Indiana. The next morning, she addresses a breakfast for a nonprofit for families like her own who have a child with Down syndrome.

And, then, Politico:

Aside from an early e-mailed solicitation from the group and a Thursday anti-abortion banquet in Indiana that the PAC will pay for Palin to attend, neither the governor nor her PAC has engaged in much fundraising this year because of her attempts to focus on Alaska’s legislative session.

But that hasn’t stopped others from seeking to fill their own coffers by pillorying her in direct mail, piggybacking on her stances and symbolism, hinting she might appear at their fundraisers and sometimes even falsely implying contributions will go directly to Palin.


Stapleton said that Palin’s virtual absence from the fundraising scene has created a vacuum that others have used to their benefit. But she asserted that continued intense interest in the Alaska governor will enable her to be a successful fundraiser when she does hit the rubber chicken circuit, regardless of how many groups have tapped her name to raise money.

So, which is it? Looking at the sources used by both reporters proves instructive. The critical opinions expressed in the Times piece derive from a bipartisan mix of sources, with a defending quote from Palin’s PAC spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton. Politico’s Palin-as-victim piece is voiced largely by Stapleton, who is set against quotes from the various groups who are using Palin as a fundraising catalyst.

I dare say that Politico got spun. By relying too heavily on Stapleton, reporter Kenneth P. Vogel missed the opportunity to accurately assess Palin’s return to governance. Although it wasn’t the focus of the story, the piece gave the inaccurate impression that Palin is fully focused on her gubernatorial duties, with no mention of her present struggle with the Alaska legislature, which today rejected her nominee for state attorney general. The vote failed while “Palin was off speech-making in Indiana.”

But, the Times didn’t nail this one either. By referencing the media-fueled frenzy over her no-longer-future son-in-law Levi Johnson as a comment on Palin’s legislative success, the Times veered into fake-scandal-as-news territory.

The takeaway is that Palin is still a magnetic figure for reporters and, likely for viewers who couldn’t get enough of her during the campaign. And that means that Politico’s conquer-the-Web ambition—and our continued fascination with the Palins—will keep the Alaska governor in the news. But, as we saw during the campaign, Palin proved too complex and contentious a character for the press to cover as merely a straightforward politician. Yesterday’s pieces are a poor indication that Palin coverage will ever be anything other than polarizing. Please, let’s try to do better.

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.