Media wonders: Could Palin be manipulating us?

The ultimate heart-ache.

The CNN Express bus, filled with producers, camera operators and on-air talent sat in Gettysburg for hours Monday, not even sure she was coming. The Times of London sent two reporters to cover Ms. Palin’s bus tour. Two reporters? “It didn’t take hardly any convincing,” admitted one of the paper’s pair of Washington-based reporters in the hotel lobby waiting for Ms. Palin to emerge…

Do reporters who are trailing her feel used and manipulated?

“Ya think?” said one NBC producer who was among those who waited for hours on the lawn at Mount Vernon, when the bus tour stopped at George Washington’s home, only to have Ms. Palin slip out of the tour without making an appearance…

“Congratulations, Sarah Palin, you have turned the Washington press corps into a bunch of paparazzi stalking your every move,” [Time’s Jay Newton] Small wrote on Sunday.

Such are the thoughts that run through a seasoned political journalist’s mind, my friends, after he/she has been faked out in a hotel parking lot in Gettysburg. Serious question: What sort of scoop, exactly, does the paparazzi media think it’s going to get by doggedly following her around on this tour? They’ve already asked her 50 different ways whether she’s running and she’s told them 50 different ways that she’s thinking about it but hasn’t made any decisions. I understand why they’d want to be on the scene when she gets to Iowa, especially if it’s timed to coincide with the debut of “The Undefeated,” but she’s not going to announce standing outside an idling bus in Philly with 20 reporters crowding around. The theory yesterday was that she’s doing the tour to test whether her family would be comfortable for months on a bus during a campaign; Shushannah Walshe follows up on that today by quoting a source who says Palin’s having fun thus far and warming to the idea of running, especially since the paparazzi media has been cordial. Could be, but given the increasingly comic reaction to the tour from the press — if you thought Ed’s post earlier was funny, check out Matt Lewis’s round-up of bickering tweets — I prefer one commenter’s theory in Headlines this morning that she’s basically just pranking them at this point. If all she needs to do to earn a ton of free buzz is take a family vacation in a branded bus, why not do it? It’s good for her professionally, especially given the implicit contrast with the snoozefest that is the GOP leaderboard right now.

The prank theory also explains her curious decision not to post her itinerary in advance to let her local supporters know she’ll be in the neighborhood. If she did that, the media would simply rendezvous with her at each locale and we’d lose the whole “Hard Day’s Night” effect. Exit quotation from a Palin fan who showed up at Gettysburg yesterday only to find she wasn’t there: “In a way it’s cool. In a way it’s, ‘Whaa?'”