Why Palin's media strategy is likely to hurt her

The former Alaska governor wants to stay mostly on friendly ground, which won't give her what she needs most


Alex Koppelman
November 16, 2009 10:15PM (UTC)

No matter what the situation, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin seems to have a very definite idea of which media figures should be interviewing her. On her Facebook page earlier this month, announcing part of her book tour, Palin wrote, "An interview with Oprah Winfrey is already scheduled, and I’m also hoping to have the opportunity to talk with Bill O’Reilly, Barbara Walters, Sean Hannity, Greta Van Susteren, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Dennis Miller, Tammy Bruce, and others."

With that in mind, the casual reader could be forgiven if they had a sense of déjà vu reading part of the excerpt of Palin's memoir, "Going Rogue," that was leaked to the Drudge Report. In recounting her experience as Sen. John McCain's running mate last year, Palin says:

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By the third week in September, a "Free Sarah" campaign was under way and the press at large was growing increasingly critical of the McCain camp's decision to keep me, my family and friends back home, and my governor's staff all bottled up. Meanwhile, the question of which news outlet would land the first interview was a big deal, as it always is with a major party candidate ....

Meanwhile, the media blackout continued. It got so bad that a couple of times I had a friend in Anchorage track down phone numbers for me, and then I snuck in calls to folks like Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and someone I thought was Larry Kudlow but turned out to be Neil Cavuto's producer. I had a friend call Bill O'Reilly after I was inundated with supporters in Alaska asking why the campaign was "ignoring" his one-air requests for a McCain campaign interview. I had another friend scrambling to find Mark Levin's number.

In both cases, Palin's revealing a distinct preference for avoiding outlets or hosts who might be expected to ask any sort of tough questions, and going where she can preach to the converted. True, she's got the interviews with Winfrey and Walters scheduled for this tour, and she sat down with Katie Couric at the McCain camp's insistence last year (and she complains about that at length in the book), but otherwise both lists are entirely about staying on friendly territory.

A large part of Palin's memoir appears to be about settling scores with old McCain campaign hands, and the part about media strategy is no different. But what it reveals is just how much Palin still has to learn, and what a difficult task the aides she's now slamming faced. It's not necessarily a bad idea to give a few interviews that are sure to be full of softballs and hugs, of course -- as long as you do some harder-hitting press too, and Palin seems to have no desire to do so.

Interviews with Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Beck and the rest help Palin talk to Republicans. That might have been useful for someone like McCain, who really needed to shore up his support with the base. But the base already likes Palin, and nothing's going to change that, at least not anytime soon. Her problem is with independents and Democrats, who view her unfavorably and think her unqualified for the presidency. Complaining to Limbaugh about how Couric treated her won't make either of those groups think of her as presidential -- facing down a tough interviewer from a network news program, however, might. She doesn't seem to get that, though, and until she does, she'll remain someone who can only appeal to a narrow piece of the electorate.

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Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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