How I survived my Palin-free February

In a speech to the Long Island Association, Sarah Palin addresses the question regarding President Obama's faith and citizenship.
By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 2:00 PM

I admit there were doubts in those early days about whether I could make it through all of February without invoking her name. The tremors and sweats were manageable. But I couldn't overcome an abiding terror:

What if Sarah Palin announced her presidential bid, right in the middle of my self-imposed, month-long moratorium?

The turning point came when I watched Fox News on Feb. 11. A banner flashed on the screen: "FOX NEWS ALERT." Dramatic music played. Stuart Varney, in for Neil Cavuto, delivered the bulletin: "Sarah Palin has issued a tweet."

This was news?

It was then that I realized I had nothing to worry about. Palin was not going to make real news in February, or, most likely, at any other time. At most, she was going to make noise - enough to earn that $1 million Fox pays her a year.

I can't say that by quitting Palin cold-turkey, I grew three inches taller or learned to play the oboe. But neither did my Palin-free February leave me with any journalistic regrets.

Naturally, only a few of my colleagues joined the moratorium. But Jay Leno mentioned it in his monologue: "This is kind of stupid," he chastised. "If you're going to choose a month to be Palin-free, don't pick the shortest month." And Gina Gershon did a video on impersonating Palin as withdrawal from the lack of media coverage: She takes up drinking and smoking and, to get attention, wears antlers, takes Polaroid self-portraits and makes various lewd pronouncements. It has been viewed more than 400,000 times so far.

Yes, there was some transference of my addiction. I used Michele Bachmann as my methadone. I'm not proud to say I even stooped to writing a column about Rush Limbaugh. If somebody tried to trick me into talking about her, I responded with a stock line about Monty Python's Michael Palin.

There were hiccups, too. Without my knowledge, my editors on Feb. 1 posted a blog item in my name saying "I survived Day One of my February Sarah Palin moratorium" - which itself violated the moratorium. A correction to the item, "the sentence as written above was posted by an editor," didn't help, because it raised the question of why something appeared under my byline that I hadn't written. (This was a first. I think.)

Another close call came when I appeared, live from the Conservative Political Action Conference, on MSNBC's Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. He introduced the segment by mentioning Palin. Luckily, he instead asked me about Donald Trump, saving me from a Whoopi Goldberg-style walk off.

Happily, I sat out the month's will-she-or-won't-she chatter. When Palin hired a chief of staff for her political action committee, Politico called it "one of the biggest indicators yet that she is leaning toward a run for the White House." When she announced a trip to India, The Week asked if it was "proof she's not running." By month's end, Politico was seeing a "big sign Sarah Palin isn't running" because she hadn't recruited key operatives and donors.

Other items were more tempting. On the eve of the moratorium, TNT had to apologize when, on its NBA pre-game show, actor Tracy Morgan used Palin's name in the same sentence with the word "masturbation." The incident wound up in everything from USA Today to the Hindustan Times - but not in my column.

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