Monday, December 14, 2009

Just Don't Look... Just Don't Look....

I find the notion that the best response to Sarah Palin is to ignore her to be misplaced. Whether she's deliberately injecting false and inflammatory information into the mainstream, or if she's simply a willing tool, being as I don't edit the Washington Post's editorial page I see no benefit in letting her lies stand unrefuted. Will it irritate stupid people to be told that the person they're choosing to worship is a liar? Maybe so. But it seems that the damage will be greater if they're never even exposed to competing ideas. And frankly, if the criticism does "pour petrol on Palin's fire" to the point that she becomes the Republican Presidential nominee in 2012, the joke will be on her supporters.
Palin shirked her responsibility to serve the people of Alaska who elected her governor, opting to resign and promote her autobiography instead. During the presidential campaign, she struggled while fielding questions relevant to the vice presidency during her debate, not to mention her much-publicised interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. This history does not constitute a personal attack on Palin's character: she may be a decent person, but her acumen and record with regard to policy and public service leaves much to be desired.

If this were the extent of the criticism, Palin might be treated like other politicians who entered the public sphere unprepared and demonstrated no command of the issues, which is to say, she would be irrelevant. But Palin's critics can't help themselves. Her biography, speaking gaffes, and family life continue to command people's attention, and serve as fodder for tabloids and comedic parody.
And this is the first time a politician's biography, speaking gaffes and family life were fodder for the tabloids, parodists and comedians? Or the first time the adherents of a weak-minded politician took offense at being told (politely or rudely) of those weaknesses? Fascinating. And it's like Attack of the 50' Eyesores - the best way to make Palin lose her importance is to simply not look?
But, if we are serious about combating the distortions that Palin thrives on, distortions that frame progressive politics as elitist fancy-talk, we need to think a bit harder about which jokes are both useful and in good taste.
So... the best way to respond to Palin is dry, scholarly and fact-based, lest her critics be accused of responding with "elitist fancy-talk"? Yeah... that should work.

The Washington Post has chosen to personify the problems in our public discourse that allow Palin's ideas to thrive. The problem isn't that she's treated with disrespect - the problem is that she is treated as if she deserves respect based upon her celebrity without any regard for her veracity. According to Op-Ed Editor Autumn Brewington,
She said the newspaper received an e-mail from Palin Tuesday asking to write about the issue and it decided it should run Wednesday, before President Barack Obama was to head to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

"If we were going to use it, we had to use it immediately," Brewington said. "It was a quicker turnaround than is often the case. But we made the decision based on news."
In other words, substance and merit weren't part of the equation - a celebrity said "Run it now, or somebody else gets it", and Brewington jumped.
Brewington did not regret giving Palin space, noting, "She is someone who stirs discussion and we are in the business of putting out opinion. She reached out to us."
And that's why there was a response piece published alongside... I mean, published the next day... I mean, published eventually... I mean, not published at all - because there's no better way to "stir discussion" than to present an error-riddled polemic and refuse the other side so much of a column inch in which to respond.

Brewington said the piece drew more reaction than most Op-Eds, adding that it ranked among the 10 most-read articles on the Post Web site Wednesday. "We are getting a lot of feedback. I have heard from a few more people today than I normally would have," she said. "Some people I think were glad that Palin had a voice in the Post, some were critical of her writing about climate change."

Among the critics was a university professor who has offered to write a rebuttal column, Brewington said, declining to name the person. "It is always interesting to see who reaches out to us," she said.
Yes, it's always interesting to see who offers scholarly, fact-based editorials that the Post isn't interested in running. The whole point is gathering eyeballs, and the Post can better do that by adding Page 3 girls running insipid columns by celebrities than by running thoughtful commentary from experts.

Media Matters asks,
So why won't the Post publish a column rebutting Sarah Palin's op-ed? Did the paper promise Palin it wouldn't run such a response?
I wouldn't be a bit surprised if they, at a minimum, promised not to run a counterpoint alongside Palin's prattle - even though that probably would have generated even more attention and traffic for the Op/Ed page and Palin's column.

A few years ago, "link baiting" was all the rage in the SEO community. Try to build traffic by posting something sensational or with a catchy headline, under the notion that "all traffic is good traffic". Except a lot the time the traffic generated had no value, other than increasing server load. Visitors weren't interested in the site's other content or its advertising, just in whatever it was that initially attracted them to the site. If you're a new site, link bait leading to that type of spike in traffic can potentially help you get noticed. If you're good at it, it might help you develop a following. But if you're an established site, posting low quality link bait to draw traffic could have the opposite effect. Your new visitors see your low editorial standards as, for that matter, do your established visitors.

Whether you want to take the "just don't look" approach to Sarah Palin or you want to take a calm, scholarly approach to refuting her arguments, you have zero chance as long as the giants of the mainstream media give her a prominent platform the moment she requests one, while giving no space to the other side of the issues.

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