Sunday, September 28, 2008

Don't Mess with the Media

I’ve read a lot about Sarah Palin. I find her interesting. I don’t hate her with the force of a thousand suns like a lot of my friends do, but I do believe she is completely over her head and is in no way ready for the national stage, and I think she’d be disastrous if given the opportunity to exercise her values legislatively.

Her beliefs are polarizing, to say the least. She has a way of creating enemies, and governs in a very personal manner. I think part of her charm is that she is cute and pretty, and leads what many consider to be an incredible life. I think many women wish they could pull off something like that; they ignore the warning signs, they ignore the pregnancy, her spurious background. She’s approachable, and that feeling wins out.

Luckily, her utter unpreparedness for a national campaign is finally becoming clear, and it’s become increasingly apparent that John McCain has made a terrible mistake by selecting her as his running mate, exacerbating the decision by following it up with the genius idea of shielding her from the press.

The media likes access; the media likes answers. They do not like rebuffs, refusals, or rejections. The media’s job is to get stories out to the public, and when people make their jobs difficult, they are not happy. The media can be your friend, and they are big on relationships—they can make or break you, so treat them well. Sarah Palin was a public figure before she became a vice-presidential candidate; she’s had experience interacting with the media, just on a smaller scale. For god’s sake, her degree is in journalism!

There’s a difference between demurring for privacy’s sake and outright refusing to answer questions because you have no answers. The only reason not to let the press talk to her was because they were hiding something—which is so completely obvious that it’s totally backfiring on the campaign.

But I just want to point out an interesting example of how media partnerships work, why it’s so important to cultivate positive relationships with them. From Vanity Fair, via Andrew Sullivan:

Obama, on the other hand, was snubbing Murdoch. Every time he reached out (Murdoch executives tried to get the Kennedys to help smooth the way to an introduction), nothing. The Fox stain was on Murdoch.

It wasn’t until early in the summer that Obama relented and a secret courtesy meeting was arranged. The meeting began with Murdoch sitting down, knee to knee with Obama, at the Waldorf-Astoria. The younger man was deferential—and interested in his story. Obama pursued: What was Murdoch’s relationship with his father? How had he gotten from Adelaide to the top of the world?

Murdoch, for his part, had a simple thought to share with Obama. He had known possibly as many heads of state as anyone living today—had met every American president from Harry Truman on—and this is what he understood: nobody got much time to make an impression. Leadership was about what you did in the first six months.

Then, after he said his piece, Murdoch switched places and let his special guest, Roger Ailes, sit knee to knee with Obama.

Obama lit into Ailes. He said that he didn’t want to waste his time talking to Ailes if Fox was just going to continue to abuse him and his wife, that Fox had relentlessly portrayed him as suspicious, foreign, fearsome—just short of a terrorist.

Ailes, unruffled, said it might not have been this way if Obama had more willingly come on the air instead of so often giving Fox the back of his hand.

A tentative truce, which may or may not have vast historical significance, was at that moment agreed upon.

On Soft Power vs. Hard Power

Although I have two blogs, I sometimes have a hard time deciding where a particular essay fits, because they meld both traditional pop culture topics but usually dissect the media or another area of American culture. Sometimes the line is blurry, like what I recently wrote about teen sex. James Poniewozik's "Tuned In" column in Time this week is the perfect example of how the soft media, the celebrity media, "women's" media, are really having an impact on the presidential election:

When The View gives an increasingly press-shy candidate his toughest interview in a while, when it and David Letterman prod the scars of the Democratic primary in interviews with Clinton, when pundits debate the fairness of Us Weekly covers and when Saturday Night Live crystallizes the discussion of sexism and vice-presidential choices, what's so soft about them?
I've long suspected that many people pay more attention to soft media, because it's easily digestible in a way that traditional hard news isn't, and permeates the national consciousness in a way that is palatable to people who don't care for "real" news. This campaign is giving those who reside in the soft news section of the media to shine.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Should the media be obligated to cover September 11?

Today, as I flipped on the radio, I came across a very serious morning show. Unlike other stations, discussing the usual gossip, the crew were talking about September 11. Today.

I was well aware what today was; I noted it when I was alerted to the date a few days ago. But today, this station was angrily reporting that there wasn't enough coverage. They sadly noted that the New York Times had nothing relating to September 11 on their cover (though they ran a very affecting story yesterday on the forgotten injured victims);
neither did the New York Post. "They usually do the right thing," the DJ lamented, and mentioned other papers: The Los Angeles Times had articles on terror, the Daily News went all out. The Star-Ledger, the Washington Post, Newsday all had it on their front covers, even the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. How could the big papers for the area that was affected the most not cover it?

Earlier in the broadcast, before I tuned in, there were indignant callers pleading for people to "move on". Then came the swarms of tearful people lashing out at those who couldn't understand that moving on was impossible. How dare they! It was all very riveting. Throughout the day, the only mention of the historic nature of the date was on this station; as the morning team had pointed out, even other stations weren't giving the day its due. Yes, it was seven years later, but never forget. It was the stories of hearing children--who were mere babies if they were born in 2001--not understanding the tragedy that got to me. I remember, even years ago, a young girl at the camp I worked with who knew of the day but didn't really get it. This was only a few years later, but it only underscored for me how quickly time passes.

I understand both sides. I understand the fatigue--do we really have to go through with this again? If there's more pressing news (which there wasn't; the Post's cover was especially malevolent on this day), I get not putting it as front and center. But so many issues dealing with September 11 aren't close to being solved, let alone the giant hole at Ground Zero, and now's the time to bring those issues to light. It is important to remember, especially as our entire world has changed since then. So much of what's defined America this century so far--and what continues to be the biggest issues in our future--is because of what happened on that gorgeous Tuesday seven years ago. We cannot forget that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


This week, both Time and Newsweek lead with Sarah Palin on the cover.

US News & World Report, however, goes with sex. Specifically, "The New Sexual Revolution."

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Quiz Time

I scored 75. It's a mix of history, economics, and political theory. It's 60 questions, so give yourself ten minutes, and you have to answer all the questions. (Nuts.)

A lot of this stuff isn't taught in high school, and depending upon what classes you take in college, it might be unfamiliar as well.

Some of my feelings on feminism

Taken from Megan McArdle:
Which brings us to feminism. I view myself as feminist(ish) because I believe the following:

1) Society is set up in ways that limit women's choices and opportunities--men's too (it's awful hard to make the choice to stay home with kids, or become a nurse), but women more. Men are not, for example, socially punished for monogamy the way that women are socially punished for promiscuity.

2) Privilege exists, and is in many unfortunate ways invisible to those who possess it.

3) We should try to change those things.

But the basic thing, to me, is that I endorse the project of changing social values to increase the scope of human possibility.

Personally, I'd like to see feminism take on as expansionist a definition as possible without rendering the concept meaningless--something closer to my list than whatever, exactly in the head of people who label me an "antifeminist". Not because it particularly matters whether I get to wear the proud Scarlet F, but because bringing more people into the tent would make feminism less of a dirty word in many quarters. It would give what I view as the movement's most important work--that of exposing and trying to change the structural problems in society that limit women's choices--more reach, albeit at the expense of driving many radical solutions to those problems.

Sexism and Sarah Palin

I do not understand the argument that Bristol Palin’s pregnancy makes Sarah Palin “more real”. I know teenage pregnancies happen. I’ve witnessed them, though only through the gossip factor, not personally. That’s probably why I think this argument is bull. From Maureen Dowd:

As more and more titillating details spill out about the Palins, Republicans riposte by simply arguing that things like Todd’s old D.U.I. arrest or Sarah’s messy family vengeance story will just let them relate better to average Americans — unlike the lofty Obamas.

“If this doesn’t resonate with every woman in America, I’ll eat my hat,” Bill Noll, an Alaska delegate whose daughter got pregnant at a young age and kept the baby, told The Times’s Ashley Parker.
The DUI is old news and doesn’t matter. Even when Bush’s DUI came out five days before the 2000 election it didn’t matter. But Bill Noll’s comment is ridiculous. Bristol Palin’s pregnancy doesn’t resonate with me. Planned Parenthood exists for a reason, people! There are tons of contraception methods available. I know there are complications in getting contraception, but there are many ways around this problem.

Honestly, there are very few stories that are going to resonate with any woman, and the idea that I should relate to this is ridiculous. The closest I worried about pregnancy when I was a teenager extended to the fictional characters I watched on television, and even then I disapproved. It’s a well-known fact that pregnancy ruins shows. Yes, it’s a crappy situation, but for many people—for many females!—it’s just simply not something that is a concern, for a variety of reasons.

But I’m sure I’ll just be called another East Coast Blue Stater who doesn’t know anything about Family Values.

Speaking of Family Values, the way the Republicans are spinning this story—which had to have elicited tons of “holy shit” when the news broke—is amusing. While others have harped on the “choice” aspect (it had to be Bristol’s, because if she actually went to have an abortion the news might not be as big if it broke at all—though it would certainly counter her mother’s political and moral stances), I’m amazed that this is so hailed as a positive thing. Having a child out of wedlock is considered bad enough in Republican circles, but a teenage girl pregnant, who isn’t even supposed to know about sex from her abstinence-only education and churchgoing family! I’m baffled by conservatives championing her when her personal life, by this fact, contradicts what she believes in. I know there is quite a debate going on about what constitutes appropriate criticism…and everything seems to go back to, is it ok to say this…because she’s a woman?

The concerns facing Palin—everything from her experience to her family life—are completely valid. I don’t think it’s sexist to wonder about her caring for a disabled newborn and providing for her oldest daughter’s child, even though many presume that her husband will do most of this type of work. Even moving her large family halfway across the world to Washington is something to note. I would like to hear the tale many women crave: How She Does It. Nannies, messy house, older children babysitting…THAT’S what makes her “real”.

The fact is, most of the childrearing and other domestic duties still overwhelming fall to the woman in the household, no matter how busy she is and no matter how much the husband helps out, so it’s not (so) sexist to wonder why McCain would pick a woman like her, why should would accept, and how she would be able to juggle the role. To quote Dowd again (who I agree here with):

Hillary cried sexism to cover up her incompetent management of her campaign, and now Republicans have picked up that trick. But when you use sexism as an across-the-board shield for any legitimate question, you only hurt women. And that’s just another splash of reality.
Yes, it’s unfair that no one would criticize a man in her position, but these are realistic concerns. While there are many reasons for McCain not to nominate her and for Palin to not accept the job, I do not blame them. It’s a tremendous opportunity, and even if she’s not elected she can still change things.

Sexism is one of the insults in this campaign that basically can be applied to anything, and oftentimes I hear a line it’s attributed to and think it’s nonsense. Racism is sometimes substituted as well. I wish it wasn’t so, that if Barack Obama had a disabled child we would wonder how he would care for him. And it might come up, but not to the extent that it does with a woman.

I’m actually surprised that I haven’t heard (much) criticism of her parenting skills. That would seem to be a focal point. What is also so strange is that Sarah Palin announced her daughter’s pregnancy as a rebuttal to rumors that her 5 month-old Down’s Syndrome-afflicted baby was her daughter’s child, not hers. There are many people who don’t believe this, citing Bristol’s mysterious disappearance from school earlier this year, her mother’s late announcement and lack of showing. I don’t understand why she would hide this information, other than it makes her daughter look bad and her not so great either, but it’s not any more damaging than the original pregnancy is. Truthfully, Bristol Palin didn’t even look pregnant when she stood (with her boyfriend holding her hand on the platform, joining the rest of the family) at the RNC. But then, in my infinitely great punditry skills, when I first heard that the vice-presidential candidate had a teen daughter who was pregnant, I predicted that the Republicans’ run for president would be done. How in the world would that be acceptable? But hey, people want Mama, not Obama, now.

**Hey John, part of this is the second half of that "vicious and haphazard" post.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why I Like Sarah Palin; or, Oh, the Cult of Personality

I know the few people who read this blog are wondering why I like Sarah Palin, especially as her stances on many issues I disagree with.

In order to understand, you need to watch her speech last night:

She delivered a great speech, plain and simple. The speech was well-written, and accomplished what was needed: introducing herself to the world, attacking her opponent, bolstering her running mate, laying out her accomplishments and to a degree, what she--and McCain--stand for. Like all political women must do in these types of speeches, she brought up her family in detail, and mentioned her role as a mom, but the beginning was actually the best part of her speech. I even enjoyed the many Democratic disses, and she had many good lines. She integrated personal experiences with campaign promises, and injected favorable historical comparisons.

The truth is though, besides all that, I was taken in by her charm. She was funny, forceful, ironic, and she delivered that speech. I loved her facial expressions. She never came across staged, but genuine and natural. I just flat-out loved her, and wanted to vote for her at times, just her, issues be dammed.

The crowd at the RNC loved her too, and like watching Obama last week, just added to the intensity, the feeling of being swept away by collective passion. They chanted so long even before she spoke a single word--other than "thank you"--that you'd have been mistaken for thinking she was running for president, not a woman nobody knew from Tina Fey a week ago.

She handled everything beautifully. Contrasting last night's atmosphere when she spoke to when both Cindy and John McCain sputtered through their speeches tonight only emphasized what an electric presence she has.

But this is the problem, though. I disagree with her on a lot of things--and as other issues come to light, like when she "rhetorically" asked the Wasilla town librarian about how to go about banning books, and the fact that when politicians disagree with her she tends to view it as a personal attack--these things should serve as warning signs that This Isn't the Candidate For Me. But I find her interesting, and she seems like someone who gets stuff done, who actually works hard and cares. Those pesky personal qualities I admire about her--her amusement at the people and process around her, her charm, her ironic expressions, even the way she dresses--are not reasons I should support her. I like the fact that she started in PTA and wound up somewhere else entirely, even that she's so very Alaskan. How cool.

Thinking that Sarah Palin is a cool person, disregarding what she stands for, is the type of thinking that's gotten us into trouble before. It's true, I shouldn't vote for someone that I think I can relate to, or be friends with, because I won't have the opportunity to test that theory out and it's pretty pointless, but it's potent. After all, even David Brooks said that McCain picked her because he felt she was like him--against common sense.

That the Palins are pretty should not matter, but pretty people always win. Pretty people with fun slogans like "Hottest Governor in Coldest State" also push buttons. These things all draw attention, and the RNC needed it. Frankly, Sarah Palin was all I cared about for this convention, and hers is the story I'm interested in. I'm still very much drawn to her; I want to support her, because I like her, if not what she stands for. But I can still respect her very much and resist voting for her, based on my convictions. Isn't that what all the presidential candidates have been saying this entire election anyway?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Thin Line of Celebrity

I tend to write a lot of my posts late at night, when I'm somewhat tired, pushing myself to post something. It's not the best system, but I find it hard to do it any other way. This results in rushed pieces, distractions, and laziness, all terrible habits. It also is why I don't post more often. Here's some stuff I wrote last night--and I'm amazed at the tone of it. Man, was I fired up.


Those who read People and US Weekly and watch Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood are generally thought of as people who don’t care about politics. They are middle America; their news filters through them. They are the girls on the beach in bikinis, lounging around getting a tan and getting trash, but trash usually what they read. At least, this is how I categorize these people.

But a funny thing has happened the past few months. All of a sudden, the presidential candidates are considered actual celebrities, worthy of a People cover or an exclusive interview on a syndicated entertainment show. Granted, these are soft interviews, meant to show how normal, yet beautiful and caring, the candidates and their families are. While this isn’t totally new—newsworthy, non-celebrity events have made the cover of People before, from September 11 to previous presidential issues—it has certainly racheted up.

It’s funny that McCain was the one to deride his opponent as being the “celebrity”, but it’s his campaign that has been thrust into the tabloid trail, and not because everyone's all so enamored of his wife. Sarah Palin’s background, fueled by the explosive news that her 17 year-old daughter is pregnant (with rumors circulating that Palin’s 5 month-old disabled boy is actually hers), has caused a feeding frenzy, with ET actually camped out the St. Paul convention headquarters, eagerly awaiting the latest news.

A casual viewer, changing channels, would wonder why on Earth Entertainment Tonight actually cares about the convention. Isn’t that the province of actual journalists, not entertainment ones? And why would a regular viewer of these types of shows actually care? Sure, it’s fun to speculate about a pregnancy—way more than trying to decipher who said what about earmarks—but nobody knew who Bristol Palin was Saturday, and she has nothing to do with anything, except being related to the new nominee. Her boyfriend’s MySpace is just another unfortunate example of a private citizen’s “public” property suddenly thrust into the spotlight because of tangential relations. Now, he’s a dumb teenager who allegedly hadn’t updated the site in over a year (shame on him—delete or update!), but he presents himself as a guy that’s not going to win too many friends, bringing down Alaskan boys to boot. Guys, learn to be smart. There’s always a chance your blog/MySpace/Facebook will be publicized if you somehow find yourself in the news, and knowingly dating the daughter of the governor who then finds herself picked as the Vice Presidential nominee should be a sign that you should clean up your act, but hey, maybe I'm just too cautious. (I’m guessing the Palins, especially Bristol, don’t have accounts, because I haven’t heard of them yet, though I also haven’t looked.)

Very few mainstream media outlets, to my knowledge, have picked up this story, with the exception of the Wall Street Journal and noted in the bottom of this Time article, itself a fluff piece. But it’s perceptions that often matter more than the issues (Sarah Palin being this year’s Case Study); after all, it’s widely believed that Gore’s characterization on Saturday Night Live undermined his candidacy.

The blurring of pop and politics, of the trivial and the important, is only going to continue, as media outlets need all the angles they can get to feed a ravishing public. It’s a requisite now that everyone needs to reveal as much as possible to the public; we demand it. Soft news sells the soft vote—you never know if a People spread is going to add another check mark next to a name on the ballot.

The WSJ points it out the best:

The most popular celebrity newsmagazines on TV reach between two million and six million viewers a night. People and US Weekly reach 29.5 million and 8.2 million women, respectively, every week, according to Mediamark Research & Intelligence Inc. Those figures include "pass-along" readers who don't buy the magazines but take a look at someone else's copy.

These magazines strive to bring celebrities down to earth so readers can relate to them, and this is fast becoming a political preoccupation. President Bush successfully cast Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election as an elitist. "So much came down to, 'Who would you rather have a beer with?'" says US Weekly editor Janice Min.


Ms. Min says most of the candidates have thrown open the doors to her reporters. "In working with Barack and Hillary [Clinton], their press people put no restrictions on us," Ms. Min said. Their handlers were more accommodating than "even publicists for D-list actors," she added.

US Weekly's June 30 issue, which featured Barack and Michelle Obama on the cover with the heading "Michelle Obama: Why Barack Loves Her," sold over 886,000 copies on the newsstand, an increase of 18% over the previous three issues, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Cover stories on noncelebrities also have the effect of gathering attention from people who don’t traditionally read the magazines.

Note: As further proof of the mixing of news today, look at who runs the Pop and Politics blog: students at the well-known Annenberg Center at USC, one of the top communications programs in the country.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin is incredible.

I saw her speech and I was definitely impressed. In a certain light, she reminds me of Tina Fey. It’s a shame that I disagree with her politically on a lot of issues, and there’s all that dirty laundry coming out of the woodwork, because listening to her I just wanted to vote for her, just her.

Most people talk of how incredible it is that she made the leap to Vice Presidential nominee, but I think the bigger leap is the one from mayor to governor. As governor, she’s already high profile, but she was mayor of a tiny suburb, smaller than my town (and I live in smalltown Jersey). Granted, it’s Alaska, and Alaska is small by population standards…but a run for governor requires assets, money, clout…which you usually don’t have to that degree to run for an office that big.

More to come.