She’s Just Not That Into You

Mainstream media’s Sarah Palin agony

You will by now no doubt know that Sarah Palin is once again giving the “mainstream media” the runaround on that bus tour thingy she’s got going on this week. You will know this because having been given the runaround in terms of any real face time with the governor candidate bus rider, the media has decided that the story is the runaround itself.

Here’s Michael D. Shear reporting on The New York Times’s Caucus blog:

After playing a cat-and-mouse game with the press for more than two days, Ms. Palin and her pursuers were both holed up in the same hotel; Ms. Palin on the fourth floor, reporters above and below. Even as check-in continued, Ms. Palin, dressed in workout shorts and wearing sunglasses, slipped back in from a quick, late-afternoon run. She made a beeline for the elevators.

It was a surreal situation given the fact that Ms. Palin and her advisers had shown an almost complete contempt for the press corps and its usual rituals. But the grumbling among the press corps notwithstanding, reporters and camera crews continued to follow her across three states and hundreds of miles over the long holiday weekend.

“Such is the frenzy surrounding Ms. Palin, who may or may not run for president,” he goes on to say. Today, Shear filed a report headlined, “Sarah Palin speaks to the media, for three minutes.”

We also have a story on CNN’s political ticker doing the rounds detailing how the Palin family bait-and-switched the press by leaving their hotel ahead of their patriotically decorated bus. Time’s Jay Newton Small wrote a post on the magazine’s Swampland blog Sunday headlined “Palin Plays Hard to Get.” And Shushannah Walshe, over at The Daily Beast, takes on the Palin-press relationship in a piece titled “The Media’s Wild Search for Sarah Palin’s Bus Tour.”

Palin has spoken with Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren—no surprises there—in an interview that will air tonight. Talking to Van Susteren, Palin addresses the issue of her press-dodging, saying, “I don’t think I owe anything to the mainstream media,” and that rather than scripting their stories for them, she wants reporters to have to do a little bit of work. “That would include not necessarily telling them beforehand where every stop’s going to be.”

On one hand, Palin has little reason to fear the press. The questions she answered in those brief three minutes about which Shear writes were overwhelmingly horse-race softies—what does she think of the GOP field? Will she run? Yadda, yadda, yadda. But her evasion nonetheless makes sense. With the media torturing themselves over why they’re being ignored, Palin is able to set the narrative about her bus tour on her website and Facebook page without any filter. And strategically, it has made Palin look strong while making something of a mockery out of the mainstream media her supporters so disdain. They’re looking like strays scratching at the screen door.

What’s less easy to understand is why the press is allowing this to happen. Palin is not going to tell us either way whether she is running until she is ready to. And the Times won’t be first on her speed dial that day. Nobody’s asking her anything about substantive policy issues either. (Given that she talks in bland spurts of nothingness—such as when she tells Van Susteren she’s “campaigning on the Constitution”—there may be good reason not to bother trying.) The only reason to follow the Palin bus seems to be to follow it, for the thrill of the chase and to provide the background noise to whatever narrative she wants to set. Or, at a stretch, for material for a squirming existential piece on the media’s place in a campaign that may not need them. And this can probably be done off-site.

Everyone knows what it’s like to obsess about that one girl or boy who floats your boat like no other. To carry their books to class or drive them to the movies to hang with their cooler friends on Saturday nights. And then drive them home. You watch their every move with wide-eyed admiration and the hope that one day she’ll invite you along. Meanwhile, your friends watch you with horror knowing all along what you will only realize too many years too late: she just really isn’t into you.

You may never want to hear those words and you may never want to hear the advice that follows. Move on. She’s embarrassing you. There are plenty more fish in the sea. That Pawlenty kid is so nice and he actually likes you. But sometimes you need to hear it—especially when you’re devoting serious newsroom resources to your obsession.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , , ,