Liberals Rethink Constant Palin Coverage

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 21 2011 2:30 PM

Liberals Rethink Constant Palin Coverage

One more of these and we have a New York Times trend story. Dana Milbank thinks about how much the media covers Sarah Palin and imagines a months of news cycles without her.

Palin clearly isn't going away: "I am not going to sit down. I'm not going to shut up," she told Hannity on Monday. But if we treat her a little less like a major political figure and a little more like Ann Coulter - a calculating individual who says shocking things to attract media attention - it won't matter. Sure, we might lose some Web traffic or TV ratings, but we might also gain something. Remember the "Seinfeld" episode where George Costanza, by giving up sex, suddenly frees up brain power to learn Portuguese and Euclidean geometry, to teach Derek Jeter the physics of batting, to become a "Jeopardy" whiz and to solve a Rubik's cube? If we stop obsessing over Palin, we might suddenly become experts in the federal budget or Medicare reimbursement rates.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Joshua Micah Marshall thinks deep , too, but comes up with a different conclusion.

With Sarah Palin and pretty much everyone else, we're not trying to pump her up or pull her down or really do anything else with her. That's a second order kind of thinking I don't think is really ever proper for us to get involved in. (To give one funny and ironic example I'm pretty sure our Eric Kleefeld was the first person to pick out Palin's use of the term "death panels" in a Facebook post back in during the Summer of Hate and much of the subsequent furor ricocheted off that original post.) TPM has its news section and its opinion pieces, most of which are here in what we now call the editor's blog. We're very big on chronicling folly, outrageousness, pretention and ignorance. Which makes Palin a regular topic. Just what effect that has on her on anything else is really above our collective pay grade. You just try to get the facts right and call it like you see it -- honest with yourself and honest with your readers. And focusing on anything else is a distraction and its own kind of dishonesty.

And then... wait, hey! Nate Silver has written about the Great Palin Rethink in the New York Times! Trend verified.

Coverage of Ms. Palin may also not be quite as disproportionate as it might seem: according to a study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, only 0.04 percent of the coverage in major newspapers, and 0.2 percent of coverage on the network news, was devoted to Ms. Palin in 2010 — although the figure was much higher for MSNBC (1.6 percent) and for Fox News (1.1 percent).

If news coverage were based on a pure supply-and-demand model — that is, as an exercise in maximizing near-term pageviews or ratings points — it is not clear to me whether there would be less or more coverage of Ms. Palin. My guess is that there would be more, although the same might also be true of shark attacks and Natalee Holloway.

Silver, by analyzing the media as a whole, gets to the marrow here. Palin = traffic. Traffic = ads. Ads = paying salaries. Thus, Palin is covered. But there is a rethink, emanating first from the comments of liberal blogs (the overstuffed ones that respond to Palin posts), and I think it has a lot to do with the reality, post-Tucson, that the woman can't win an election.

 

 

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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