By Dana Milbank
Friday, January 21, 2011;
Though it is embarrassing to admit this in public, I can no longer hide the truth. I have a Sarah Palin problem.
I have written about her in 42 columns since Sen. John McCain picked her as his vice-presidential running mate in 2008. I've mentioned her in dozens more blog posts, Web chats, and TV and radio appearances. I feel powerless to control my obsession, even though it cheapens and demeans me.
But today is the first day of the rest of my life. And so, I hereby pledge that, beginning on Feb. 1, 2011, I will not mention Sarah Palin -- in print, online or on television -- for one month. Furthermore, I call on others in the news media to join me in this pledge of a Palin-free February. With enough support, I believe we may even be able to extend the moratorium beyond one month, but we are up against a powerful compulsion, and we must take this struggle day by day.
I came to this inner strength by trusting in a power greater than myself: my former Washington Post colleague Howie Kurtz, now with the Daily Beast. A week ago, on his CNN show, "Reliable Sources," I was complaining about the over-coverage of Palin when I found myself saying that "the best thing would be -- it's impossible, of course -- that we in the media should declare some sort of a Sarah Palin moratorium."
It's impossible, I figured, because Palin is a huge source of cheap Web clicks, television ratings and media buzz. If any of us refused to partake of her Facebook candy or declined to use her as blog bait, we would be sending millions of Web surfers, readers, viewers and listeners to our less scrupulous competitors.
The media obsession with Palin began naturally and innocently enough, when the Alaska governor emerged as an electrifying presence on the Republican presidential ticket more than two years ago. But then something unhealthy happened: Though Palin was no longer a candidate, or even a public official, we in the press discovered that the mere mention of her name could vault our stories onto the most-viewed list. Palin, feeding this co-dependency and indulging the news business's endless desire for conflict, tweeted provocative nuggets that would help us keep her in the public eye -- so much so that this former vice presidential candidate gets far more coverage than the actual vice president.
We need help.
I found some hope in last Sunday's New York Times, where columnist Ross Douthat said it is time for the media and Palin to "go their separate ways" and for the press to "stop acting as if she's the most important conservative politician in America."
Let's take it one step further. I call on Douthat (who has mentioned Palin in 21 of his Times columns since 2008, according to a Lexis-Nexis search, and in scores of blog posts) to join my moratorium -- thereby forming a bipartisan coalition of The Post and the Times. I challenge columnists Eugene Robinson (33 Palin mentions), Paul Krugman (14), Kathleen Parker (30) and Maureen Dowd (45) to do the same.
I also call on Keith Olbermann (345 shows mentioning Palin) and Rachel Maddow (183 shows) of MSNBC, as well as Sean Hannity (411 Palin segments) and Bill O'Reilly (664 segments) of Fox News, to take the pledge. Will Politico -- with 96 Palin items in the past month alone -- join this cause? Will the Huffington Post, which had 19 Palin mentions on a single day last week -- stand with me?
Palin clearly isn't going away: "I am not going to sit down. I'm not going to shut up," she told Hannity on Monday. But if we treat her a little less like a major political figure and a little more like Ann Coulter -- a calculating individual who says shocking things to attract media attention -- it won't matter. Sure, we might lose some Web traffic or TV ratings, but we might also gain something. Remember the "Seinfeld" episode where George Costanza, by giving up sex, suddenly frees up brain power to learn Portuguese and Euclidean geometry, to teach Derek Jeter the physics of batting, to become a "Jeopardy" whiz and to solve a Rubik's cube? If we stop obsessing over Palin, we might suddenly become experts in the federal budget or Medicare reimbursement rates.
And so I pledge to you: Sarah Palin's name will not cross my lips -- or my keyboard -- for the entire month of February. Who's with me?
Dana Milbank is an op-ed columnist for The Washington Post and the author of "Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America." He will be online Monday, Jan. 24, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss this article. Submit your questions before or during the chat.
Read more from Outlook, including:
"The Fake Feminism of Sarah Palin," by Jessica Valenti.
"Five myths about Sarah Palin," by Matthew Continetti.
"Sarah Palin is wrong about John F. Kennedy, religion and politics," by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.