Campbell Brown's "Free Sarah Palin" rant.
A month ago today, Sarah Palin was introduced as the Republican vice-presidential nominee, and she proceeded to dominate the Republican National Convention like she was at the top of the ticket.
She was the rock star Republicans had seemed to need, even while they mocked Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama's rock star status. For a week after the convention, Palin campaigned alongside Republican Presidential nominee John McCain and was given credit for attracting the campaign's swelling crowds. Clearly, they were going to put her out in front of the American people as much as possible.
But when Palin showed up MIA in the flurry of spinmeisters after the first Presidential debate Friday night, it was just the latest no-show in a Palin media blackout that has robbed the Republican ticket of its most popular face. Yes, she has been out campaigning. But going to Pennsylvania and giving your stump speech only earns drive-by coverage, at best, on the evening news.
"No vice-presidential nominee in modern history has been this inaccessible to the media," the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz wrote, this morning.
Palin's inavailability to the media has generated some interesting responses, such as CNN's Campbell Brown denouncing the McCain campaign for sexist coddling of Palin. After Palin's painful interview with Katie Couric, Obama supporter Maru Gonzales told CNN's Rick Sanchez that by keeping Palin sequestered, the McCain campaign has shaken her confidence.
Confidence is something Palin sure seemed full of accepting that nomination, both in Dayton and St. Paul. Watching her convention speech, you had to think, "Big Bad Joe Biden isn't going to scare her in the vice-presidential debate."
But now, with that debate set for Thursday, expectations are very low. Some commentators point out that Biden, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, has had his share of gaffes recently, too. But those are gaffes, putting together words in a poorly chosen sequence. The questions about Palin are does she know what she's talking about when she gets into big issues about the economy and foreign relations?
Some of those answers may come Thursday in the debate, which could wreck or redeem Palin's candidacy.
But after this debate, it is the McCain campaign's responsibility to Palin and to the American people to make her more widely available for interviews and press conferences so that voters can get to know her better before they go to the polls.
No doubt, the press and even Democrats got off on the wrong foot with Palin, initially focusing on her family, though it is also fair to say that Palin and McCain put her family front and center from the get go. The Herald-Leader's Jackie Carfagno has an excellent column about that in Sunday's paper.
But since then in Palin's two interviews -- no, Sean Hannity's softballs don't count -- the mainstream press has shown it doesn't want to dwell on Bristol and Trigg. They want to ask serious questions that would be asked of any vice-presidential candidate, that have been asked of Biden in the nearly 100 interviews he's given since being named the Democratic veep candidate.
Now, it's time for Palin to stop acting like a sequestered rock star and start answering some of those questions.
Photo, above: Alaska Gov. and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin with her daughter Willow campaigning in Center City, Pa., Sunday. Copyrighted AP photo by Joseph Kaczmarek.
One of the best books I've read about political media is Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media?, which dissects the idea that the mainstream national media is left leaning (the link takes you to an article in the Nation that sort of previews the book). One of the theories Alterman advanced that has stayed with me is that in 2000 Al Gore lost the Presidential election to George W. Bush because the Gore campaign failed to forge a good relationship with the press. A surly press corps, Alterman contends, was less inclined to to give Gore the benefit of the doubt and willing to let things like the, "Al Gore says he invented the Internet," story fester.
This had occurred to me looking at the McCain campaign even before last week, when the Palin blackout became completely ridiculous and McCain campaign senior strategist Steve Schmidt was declaring the New York Times was, "150 percent in the tank," for Obama and, "not by any standard a journalistic organization.” Even in August, when the McCain campaign was surging, the McCain spokespeople usually came across as angry and petulant, particularly Schmidt and campaign manager Rick Davis. If that's their public face, I have to wonder what it would be like to call one of them up to get a quote or check a fact. By contrast, folks like Obama communications director Robert Gibbs always appeared upbeat and genial, even while his campaign was being overtaken by McCain is the wave of Palinmania and controversies about bovine cosmetics.
Certainly, in any enterprise where you deal with the press, there will be ups and downs. But the if the press is a big part of telling your public story, why foster a chilly relationship? There are ways to tell people you don't think you're getting a fair shake without open hostility.
It sort of makes me wonder, if this election is as close as it looks like it might be, and Obama wins, if McCain's frosty press relations may be seen as one of the reasons why.
Photo, above: Robert Gibbs and Barack Obama on the tarmac in Memphis on Sunday. Copyrighted AP photo by Alex Brandon.
The financial crisis is sure hard for a lot of us to get our heads around. We know there's a problem, but what exactly? And why could it cause a problem that would effect us here in the heartland. Well, Friday afternoon, an excellent piece from NPR and This American Life on All Things Considered really helped me grasp what was happening by looking at the commercial paper market. What's commercial paper? Well, give this excellent piece a listen.
Another thing that seemed to be missing from a lot of the reporting on the Wall Street bailout negotiations was the public backlash against the bailout and anger at business leaders and lawmakers. But that was not missed on Rick Sanchez's 3 p.m. show on CNN. Sanchez (photo, right, from CNN) makes a lot of his use of Twitter, Facebook and other social networking tools to put together his show. Therefore, his hours usually have a much stronger man-on-the-street feel than a lot of programs. Last week was a real strong example of that as Sanchez's show was telling you a story you weren't getting anywhere else. It is well worth tuning in.
We usually talk about political comedy in this space. There were other fish I wanted to fry this week, but I would be remiss in not mentioning two things:
After an off night Sept. 20, Saturday Night Live killed this week with three great pieces:
- Another Tina Fey as Sarah Palin masterpiece, with Amy Poehler playing a feverishly blinking Katie Couric. The best moment in the scathing parody was when Fey's Palin asked for a "life line," a la Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
- A debate parody, written after Friday night's debate, in which McCain suggested suspending the campaigns to have a pie eating contest and nude or semi-nude town hall meetings.
- The pièce de résistance was Darrell Hammond, who had played McCain in the debate sketch, playing President Bill Clinton on Weekend Update. Seth Meyers grilled him on why he would not give Obama a ringing endorsement, and Hammond's Clinton never gave an inch.
David Letterman ended up in the middle of a controversy when McCain, according to Letterman, called and cancelled his Wednesday night appearance because he had to rush back to Washington to work on the bailout. But McCain, it turned out, was actually in another CBS studio being interviewed by Katie Couric for the Evening News. For the next two nights, Letterman was merciless castigating McCain (the McCain stuff starts 4:40 into the clip, but there's also some great Chris Rock stuff before that) in rants that were amplified by being rerun by numerous news shows.