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Sarah Palin, the Mainstream Media, Patriotism and Hypocrisy

Sarah Palin denounced her critics after announcing her plan to step down from the governorship of Alaska.
Sarah Palin denounced her critics after announcing her plan to step down from the governorship of Alaska. (By Kevin Rivoli -- Associated Press)
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By Anne Applebaum
Monday, July 6, 2009

Even though I live in an obscure corner of Eastern Europe, I recognize that it is impossible to escape the assumption that, by writing in this space, I belong to the "mainstream media." I therefore feel it incumbent upon me to respond to Sarah Palin's Fourth of July Facebook message, in which, among other things, she attacked the "main stream [sic] media" for their reaction to her surprise announcement that she would resign as governor of Alaska -- a reaction that, she wrote, "has been most predictable, ironic, and as always, detached from the lives of ordinary Americans who are sick of the 'politics of personal destruction.' " How "sad," she continued, "that Washington and the media will never understand; it's about country."

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Let's take those comments one by one. Was the media reaction to Palin's resignation "predictable"? It's hard to see how it could have been: No one can react "predictably" to a total surprise, and in fact the initial comments were all over the place. What about "ironic"? As I say, most of the "reaction" involved wild speculation: Was she leaving politics for good? Was she launching her 2012 presidential campaign? Or could there be a looming scandal? No one knew, since Palin herself used vague and enigmatic phrases to justify her decision -- "because it's right," because "sacrificing my title helps Alaska most," because she has a "higher calling." But what is that higher calling? If you don't tell us, we have to guess -- or make jokes about it.

Palin's third charge -- namely that the media are "detached from the lives of ordinary Americans" -- is more serious, since it implies that she is "ordinary," whereas people who formulate opinions about her are not. Given the numbers of people who work for the "media" nowadays, not all of whom can possibly be non-ordinary, and the fact that Sarah Palin's life is pretty far from "ordinary," this seems well off the mark. I do concede, however, that there is something to her fourth point, namely that the army of writers, broadcasters, bloggers and Twitterers who now constitute the opinion-making classes -- and with whom she also communicates directly -- has indulged heavily in the politics of personal destruction since her announcement Friday. Though here I should note that the reaction among "non-mainstream" commentators was far more personally destructive than that of the ever fewer, ever less influential and ever more badly paid mainstream professionals.

The mainstream Washington Post, for example, published a rather straightforward account of Palin's resignation ["Gov. Palin Says She Will Quit, Citing Probes, Family Needs"], but reader comments on The Post's Web site responding to yesterday's follow-up ranged from nasty ("Palin is addicted to attention and displays all the signs of a hopeless addict" . . . "If she can't handle the job of Alaskan Governor what makes anyone think she could handle anything more demanding") to nastier ("good riddance to bad rubbish") to unprintable in a family newspaper. There were reactions of enthusiastic support, too, but Palin does have a point: No ordinary political resignation would inspire the veritable tsunami of scorn that has poured into cyberspace the past few days.

But perhaps the explanation for this lies in the final part of one of Palin's statements: that "Washington and the media" cannot understand her decision because "it's about country." In other words, for the past nine months, Palin has avoided difficult questions, preferring Runner's World to another Katie Couric interview; she has dragged her family into the spotlight when it suited her (baby Trig was in Runner's World, too) and grown angry when the spotlight became too strong; she has eschewed reason and logic (not to mention spelling and grammar), yet reacted in horror when her critics were unreasonable and illogical in response. Then, after all that, she smugly asserts the right to decide who is a patriot and who is not. It's not about "country," in other words, it's about hypocrisy. And Sarah Palin is full of it.

applebaumletters@washpost.com


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