This use-hate relationship, in which Palin manipulates us and we torture her, reminds me a little of Princess Diana, whose relationship with the press Tina Brown described as “a cycle of dependency and combat.” Palin can’t ignore us. Sure, she can bypass the press pack and directly commune with her vast Twitter and Facebook following. But if she does have ambitions for higher office, she needs to convince more than the faithful that she’s worthy of the job, and making her case through the lamestream media — print, broadcast and digital — is still the most effective way to do that.
The press, I think, returns her antipathy in part because she makes us feel ridiculous. We can’t ignore her, either. She is the second-highest-polling choice among Republicans, she has harnessed social media and if she doesn’t run she will at least bring her roistering talents to the party. But we suspect she is leading us on a Trump-style chase.
At the core of the media antipathy, though, is something more fundamental. The fact is, reporters want as badly as anyone else to see the country led by someone who inspires confidence. But watching Palin answer a question is like watching a runaway train struggling to stay on the rails, and fact-checking her is like fishing with dynamite. When she is caught getting something wrong — most recently turning Paul Revere’s ride into a gun rights crusade — she tends to dig in deeper. (Her attitude that the truth is what she says it is appears to be contagious. In the case of the midnight ride, Palin fans tried to rewrite history on Wikipedia to conform to her version.) I think a lot of journalists, regardless of their politics, find her confounding and a little frightening. Evidently, so do most Americans; only 21 percent of voters have a favorable impression of her in the latest CBS poll.