Talking Heads Tell Palin What To Do

Tell us, talking heads, what Gov. Sarah Palin “has to do” tonight in her speech at the Republican convention? (And then later, naturally, you can tell us whether she has met the expectations that you helped to set).

From across the pond:

BBC ANCHOR: What does [Palin] have to do tonight, though?

BBC REPORTER: …This is, no doubt about it, a very important speech, not for the party faithful, they are already sold on her, but for the rest of the country, who may still have their doubts. Will this speech erase all those doubts? I think the answer is probably not, because she still is untried and untested, for example, she has not appeared before the media to face questions…

And by “untried and untested,” I mean by the media.

Believe it or not, the same question (What Does She Have To Do?) is on the lips of local newscasters stateside, too. (Great minds…)

Inside the beltway, on WTTG-DC, FOX, they’re asking (and answering):

ANCHOR: What does Sarah Palin have to do tonight to make sure she gets across to the American people?

LENNY STEINHORN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: I think she will stay on this message that she will ride into town and clean up Washington, that she’s a maverick. She will use this phrase,”I went against the good old boys” because that’s a double-edged sword that appeals to woman and people who want change. So she’ll portray herself as a maverick, someone not afraid to speak up to the powers that be and that’s how they’re going to be portraying the whole ticket.

In the midwest — on WCCO-MIN, CBS — they want to know:

REPORTER: What does she have to do tonight to really secure, in the minds of delegates, and more importantly, voters, that she’s the right person for the job?

EXPERT: This is a huge night for Governor Palin. She needs to get on stage and deliver a message and seem like she could be president if something were to happen to John McCain. It’s a high bar and everyone will be watching because the country just doesn’t know that much about her.

Cable news, needless to say, is all about telling Palin what she has to/needs to do tonight.


SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: What does [Palin] have to do? What notes does she have to hit?

JESSICA YELLIN: She has to do two major things. First she has to explain to people a little bit more about who she is. She’s so new on the national scene and everyone’s, voters are curious about her back-story, how she got into politics, why she’s in it. And the second piece is what it is that motivates her, what shapes her political vision. And the campaign is determined to provide information about her record that would portray her as a maverick, the word they love to use, as somebody who has fought entrenched interests in Alaska…

The word “they” love to use. Not us.

And again from CNN’s Yellin:

JOHN ROBERTS: What does she have to do this evening given everything swirling around her?

JESSICA YELLIN: A little bit on her personal backstory, a lot of focus on this idea she has stood up to the entrenched interests in Alaska. That’s the message they want her to sell. That’s how they want America to see her. Put aside or make these issues about her family secondary to what they believe she can be a symbol of, which is this sort of, again, maverick image they want to sell. She’s the younger maverick in the model of John McCain.

“They want to sell.” And we’ll not help them.

CNN’s Roberts asked the same of Candy Crowley:

JOHN ROBERTS: What does she have to do this evening to prove to people here in the hall and at home that she’s qualified to be vice president?

CANDY CROWLEY: Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen in a single speech…but tonight she basically
has to introduce herself. This is a woman who so far has been defined by stories about her, not about her own speech…[T]onight she has to tell a little bit about who she is and to me, this may well be the most important speech for the McCain ticket during this convention…She has to prove herself something other than a small town mayor and a two-year governor of Alaska. She has to show that she has some stuff that she can rouse the crowd. It’s not a big deal here to rouse this crowd because they’re for her. She’s got to connect through that tv screen and say here’s who I am.


JOE SCARBOROUGH: What does she have to do, Mike Murphy?

MIKE MURPHY [“REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST”]: She has to tell her story. The hall is going to love her. And she has to make people understand that she is a real life governor ready day one to be there as John McCain’s right hand and a mission to change Washington. She is going to kill tonight…

MSNBC, again:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Harold, what does Sarah Palin need to do tonight to deliver for the McCain campaign?

HAROLD FORD [DLC Chairman]: She needs to be a sympathetic figure. And I don’t say that because she is a woman but she has to be sympathetic. She has had to lay out who she is and what her family represents and list two or three accomplishments as governor…

More from MSNBC:

NORA O’DONNELL: Michael, what does she need to say tonight?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH [Radio talk show host]: I don’t think that it’s so much what she needs to say but the way in which she says it. She needs to have a commanding presence….everybody wants to look at her and see if she’s in command. I think if it’s a strong delivery, it matters not what she says but how she appears.

In sum, Sarah Palin, you must: introduce yourself; tell your back-story and sell your maverick-ness. Actually, what you say doesn’t matter. It’s how you “appear.” So, connect through the TV; seem presidential but also be “sympathetic” — oh, and, also, “commanding.”

Got it?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.