Palin’s living lesson in market economics
posted at 11:13 pm on May 31, 2011 by J.E. Dyer
I haven’t seen so many versions of the same buzzphrase on one topic since the last time Lindsay Lohan was in court. (Which, granted, was only a few days ago.)
Sarah Palin and her advisers are refusing to tell members of the media where she is going on her current bus tour – and the former Alaska governor seems to be enjoying the cat and mouse game that’s resulted.
CNN managed to mix it up a little:
Steve Benen (Political Animal) finds this all incredibly annoying, but that didn’t stop him from giving this title to his post today:
He offers this suggestion:
This might sound crazy, but if major media outlets feel like they’re being jerked around, and don’t like being treated “like paparazzi,” they could … I don’t know … go cover something else? Maybe the news organizations could get together, agree to send an intern with a cell-phone camera to follow the bus and serve as some kind of pool reporter, and end this madness?
And that’s the thing: they can’t. As much as they prefer to make and shape the news – to decide what it is, to deck it in themes-n-memes, to determine whose narrative is communicated effectively and whose is to be shipwrecked on “beat your wife” insinuations – they can’t not cover Sarah Palin. They have to be there, because everyone else will be. And everyone else will be because “Palin” sells.
Look at the MSM coverage online. The major news outlets all have photo galleries covering everything Palin has done since she rumbled into the Rolling Thunder rally. This is a woman running around in jeans with her family on a bus tour, and the cameras are out for her as if she were Angelina Jolie in Cannes.
Sure, photo galleries are posted for Hillary Clinton when she schleps through Pakistan, and for the Obama retinue when he signs things in Poland and gives speeches in Brazil. But nobody clicks on those. Those are the product of the “press protocol” the media have been caterwauling about today: the standard things the press does in response to the standard things politicians do. Photo galleries are posted like clockwork: used by regional online and print clients, and by local news affiliates; ignored by the general public.
But pictures of Palin get clicks. Pictures of Palin sell. The name “Palin” is one of the highest profile online search terms. The joke in the 1990s used to be that to make people listen to your spiel, you needed to brand it as a miracle diet and refer to it “as seen on Oprah.” Today’s version of that is “put a picture of Sarah Palin next to it” and make sure your title and teaser contain the search terms from the latest theme in Palin coverage. Palin is a media factor the media didn’t make and can’t unmake.
The press isn’t accustomed these days to not perceiving itself as in control of what the public is interested in. But the MSM is innately more hardheaded about this than niche bloggers and opinion writers, because the MSM is a for-profit enterprise. It has a bottom line. It’s easy to say, “Hey, the press doesn’t have to cover Palin”; but media executives know that’s pretty much like saying “Microsoft doesn’t have to package software.”
What we are seeing with the press frenzy over the bus tour is nothing more than the free market at work. If the media had the power to suppress public interest in Palin, I don’t know that they would. She’s a cash cow. But whatever they may want, MSM programmers and editors know that the competition will be there, whether they are or not. The thing about new-media coverage of Palin is that it does build an audience. Failing to cover her is ceding views, clicks, ratings – sponsorship – to the competition.
I wrote a few weeks ago about the interesting possibilities in Glenn Beck’s decision to pursue a new media venture of his own. We won’t know for a while what the outlines of that venture will be (although we can probably guess). I imagine Beck’s unifying theme will be preparing America, as he believes we should be prepared, for the 2012 election.
Palin’s bus tour strikes me as a similar kind of effort, except that for her it’s a “new political venture” as opposed to the launch of a media enterprise. She really is attempting to “do politics” her way. She’s not reaching out to potential constituents through the media, by a standard formula. There’s not even any explicit idea that the Americans she will engage with are “potential constituents.” She is bypassing and ignoring the conventional forms of politics to address a political need as she sees it – to engage the people on the importance of our nation’s founding philosophy and founding documents – on her own terms.
The interesting thing, at this point, is that from this unconventional posture, she’s driving the market. The coverage – grumpy, expostulating, reluctant – is following her.