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Palin Inc.

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2010; 8:24 AM

I'm increasingly convinced that Sarah Palin is running to head a media empire rather than a presidential campaign.

On that front, she is nothing short of an extraordinary success. She's got a multi-year gig at Fox News. She just signed a deal with Discovery's TLC for a documentary about her native Alaska. Her memoir was a runaway bestseller.

And as her appearance for John McCain over the weekend made clear, she remains an object of utter fascination for the media, whose practitioners fervently hope she will make a 2012 run. Palin inspires such strong devotion and intense loathing that journalists love to sound off about her.

As a potential candidate, Palin has done nothing to show that she's boned up on the issues that often tripped her up in 2008. As an emerging media star, she's played her cards just right. She makes news with a couple of paragraphs on her Facebook page. Can Tim Pawlenty or Mitt Romney say the same?

Of course, the possibility that she may seek the Oval Office -- despite resigning as governor after 2 1/2 years -- stokes interest in everything Palin does. But when it comes down to raising money, participating in debates and having to be interviewed by the likes of Katie Couric, I don't think so.

For now, Palin takes an obvious delight in tweaking the very media establishment that is fueling her fame. At a rally in Nevada, she took aim (sorry) at news reports that she might be encouraging threats against Democrats by calling on her followers to "reload" against lawmakers whose districts were marked on a map by crosshairs:

"Now when we talk about 'fighting' for our country. Let's clear the air right now on what it is we're talking about. We're not inciting violence. Don't get sucked into the lamestream media's lies about conservative America's standing up for freedom as inciting violence. It's a bunch of bunk what the media is trying to feed you."

She followed up with a Facebook post about March Madness:

"To the teams that desire making it this far next year: Gear up! In the battle, set your sights on next season's targets! From the shot across the bow -- the first second's tip-off -- your leaders will be in the enemy's crosshairs, so you must execute strong defensive tactics. You won't win only playing defense, so get on offense! The crossfire is intense, so penetrate through enemy territory by bombing through the press, and use your strong weapons -- your Big Guns -- to drive to the hole. Shoot with accuracy; aim high and remember it takes blood, sweat and tears to win. . . .

"Every possession is a battle; you'll only win the war if you've picked your battles wisely. No matter how tough it gets, never retreat, instead RELOAD!"

At Americablog, John Aravosis, shall we say, returns fire:

"I know, she revels in attention, and poking people in the eye. But it's serious when the FBI has to give security to ten-plus members of Congress, and there are concerns about the safety of the home of the Senate Parliamentarian. Palin thinks this is a joke. That is why this woman is and always will be a blithering idiot, and a dangerous one at that."

Tina Brown, meanwhile, feels what she imagines to be McCain's pain:

"I am not sure who must have felt worse -- John or Cindy McCain -- when Sarah Palin bounded onstage in Tucson last Friday, wearing that fetching black leather dominatrix jacket to deliver a hair-swinging, wink-winking pep talk, and revving up the Tea-baggers who came to see her not him. It was a sweet moment for Sarah. McCain's 2008 election team -- those 'old school' losers, as she doubtless thinks of them -- have trashed her ever since they lost.

"Cindy McCain was glacially self-contained in a trim, chic suit, at her husband's side. When will high-def pick up the grinding of teeth? She introduced Palin as 'a breath of fresh air' when in fact, as far as the McCains are concerned, Palin was a tornado wreaking havoc on the senator's campaign for president with a personal reality show that enthralled the public but appalled the voters. She has since used the celebrity he bestowed on her to become the La Pasionaria of the No Spin Zone crowd, who now want only to unseat him and install his cocky challenger J.D Hayworth.

"No doubt for Cindy McCain the thought of having her husband back in town and hanging around the house if he loses his Senate seat is worth the indignity of once again appearing next to him to pretend that the current pin-up of violent populism stands for the same things as a principled war hero.

"But for John McCain himself, and the people who have so long admired him, surely this moment in Tucson was a killer moment of moral degradation."

On the other hand, he needs the help right now.

In the Wall Street Journal, Norman Podhoretz sees echoes in the ridiculing of the former governor:

"Nothing annoys certain of my fellow conservative intellectuals more than when I remind them, as on occasion I mischievously do, that the derogatory things they say about Sarah Palin are uncannily similar to what many of their forebears once said about Ronald Reagan.

"It's hard to imagine now, but 31 years ago, when I first announced that I was supporting Reagan in his bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, I was routinely asked by friends on the right how I could possibly associate myself with this 'airhead,' this B movie star, who was not only stupid but incompetent. . . .

"What I am trying to say is not that Sarah Palin would necessarily make a great president but that the criteria by which she is being judged by her conservative critics -- never mind the deranged hatred she inspires on the left -- tell us next to nothing about the kind of president she would make.

"Take, for example, foreign policy. True, she seems to know very little about international affairs, but expertise in this area is no guarantee of wise leadership. After all, her rival for the vice presidency, who in some sense knows a great deal, was wrong on almost every major issue that arose in the 30 years he spent in the Senate. . . .

"But how do we explain the hostility to Mrs. Palin felt by so many conservative intellectuals?. . . . Much as I would like to believe that the answer lies in some elevated consideration, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the same species of class bias that Mrs. Palin provokes in her enemies and her admirers is at work among the conservative intellectuals who are so embarrassed by her."

Class bias? Because they don't hunt caribou? Maybe they just think she's strikingly uninformed.

But perhaps there is a different political role in store for her. Michelle Cottle suggests one in the New Republic:

"Sooner rather than later, Tea Partiers will need to decide whether to continue as a pure protest movement or evolve into a serious political party. And while Option A may seem more exhilarating--I mean, who doesn't enjoy flouncing around in tricorner hats and brandishing teabags?--I'm rooting for Option B, in the (admittedly faint) hope that the movement could wind up having a constructive rather than destructive impact on our political system. . . .

"Palin. . . . may be exactly nuts enough. As Noam Scheiber so deftly detailed in 2008, the former governor is in large part defined and driven by her bitterness toward and resentment of those she suspects are looking down on her. During the White House race we certainly saw ample evidence of Palin's paranoia, self-righteousness, anger, and penchant for playing the victim. And there is no shinier star in the conservative firmament. Period. With this kind of cred, it's unsurprising that Quinnipiac found that 72 percent of Tea Partiers view Palin favorably (versus 33 percent of overall voters).

"Is Palin a perfect fit? No. She's still out there stumping for Tea Party-despised John McCain. And, to be fully embraced, she'd likely need to leave the GOP and issue a variety of disparaging remarks about its establishment. But many in this establishment didn't exactly cheer her addition to the '08 ticket, so she shouldn't have much trouble mustering the necessary bile."

Talk about going rogue.

Steele's travels

A significant (and embarrassing) scoop for Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller:

"According to two knowledgeable sources, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele once raised the possibility of using party money to buy a private jet for his travel. . . .

"Steele's spokesman, Doug Heye, did not deny that such discussions took place, responding that the RNC never had a 'plan' to buy a plane. . . .

"While Steele has not purchased a plane, he continues to charter them. According to federal disclosure records, the RNC spent $17,514 on private aircraft in the month of February alone (as well as $12,691 on limousines during the same period). . . .

"Once on the ground, FEC filings suggest, Steele travels in style. A February RNC trip to California, for example, included a $9,099 stop at the Beverly Hills Hotel, $6,596 dropped at the nearby Four Seasons, and $1,946.25 at Voyeur West Hollywood, a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex."

Huh? Is that a targeted demographic group for the GOP?

Says Vodkapundit: "I would like to nominate myself to serve as the next chairman of the RNC, a position which might be available sooner than expected."

Carlson responds to RNC complaints about the piece by noting that Steele blew off six requests for interviews: "To be clear: We did not claim that Michael Steele personally visited Voyeur West Hollywood. In fact, and unfortunately, we still know almost nothing about that trip, including its purpose."

Guess the Republicans can't blame the liberal media on this one.

"It has almost become routine now," says Politico's Jonathan Martin. "There is some controversy surrounding Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, Republican professionals are embarrassed, some of them gripe about the latest episode and then they move on -- until it happens again. . . .

"But like the many other reports involving Steele that make GOP operatives cringe, this one isn't likely to change these political facts of life: He is the party chairman through January of next year and will be so until either a) he resigns or b) he's forced out by a two-thirds vote of the national committee."

In other Steele news, Washington Monthly's Steve Benen posts a rather unusual RNC letter:

"Dear XXXX,

"I wanted to let you know that I just finished reading Sean Hannity's new book, Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama's Radical Agenda. As they so often do, Sean's words left me energized for November and even more committed to making the gains necessary to bring the Obama agenda to a halt.

"In the book, Sean does more than just tell us why we need to defeat the Obama Agenda. He also gives us a blueprint for getting it done. I cannot recommend it enough -- and I'm confident that, like me, you will be ready for the upcoming elections with a renewed commitment.

"Sincerely, Michael Steele

"Chairman, Republican National Committee. . . .

"Isn't this a little odd? The RNC is using its list to urge Republicans to buy a book from an independent media personality?"

Well, we knew that Hannity raised money for the party. We didn't know it worked the other way as well.

Oh, and I just got an e-mail from the Heritage Foundation, flacking Hannity's book as well.

Meanwhile, "Freedom Concerts, Sean Hannity's scholarship charity for the children of fallen soldiers, has violated its charitable tax status, according to a Washington advocacy group." The complaints were filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Take two

"Face the Nation" fact-checks an appearance by Michele Bachmann -- exactly the kind of truth-squadding that NYU prof Jay Rosen has been demanding of the Sunday shows.

The ghost writer

How do you produce a really interesting Philip Roth interview? Ya make it up.

Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

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