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For insight into modern media, I often turn to my old friend, The Reporter. The Reporter worked for twenty years in New York, writing and editing for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including a ten year career on staff
of The New York Times. This dialogue is reconstructed, with his permission, from several cocktail-hour chats within the last few weeks.
V-A: Why does the press let Palin get away with so much?
Reporter: I can’t speak for Management. Who knows why they do what they do, except that they’re in the business of making money. But for a reporter, Palin poses a few problems.
V-A: Like what?
Reporter: Her stupidity, for one. The woman can’t speak credibly about anything. If a reporter puts her on the spot, it can backfire. The reporter comes off as mean-spirited, and the public sides with Palin, the poor idiot who was made to look bad.
VA: Like in the Katie Couric interview.
Reporter: There’s no telling what will come out of Palin’s mouth, and even just reporting what she’s said or done can leave a reporter with a story that doesn’t make sense.
V-A: Have you seen the interview with Oprah, where Sarah comes on the screen with curly hair? Oprah asks Palin about her unexpected hair-do, and Palin says, “You like it? I tried to look like you!” It’s a totally nutjob comment. Is she serious? Is it a joke? Palin almost hijacks the interview, and Oprah is visibly speechless.
Reporter: Oprah speechless? That I’d like to see. Another Palin problem is unpredictability. If you print her nonsense, you look like the idiot, not Palin.
V-A: What about Tina Brown’s Newsweek boob cover?
Reporter: Tina is Management now. She’ll do anything to sell a few copies.
V-A: But clearly Palin’s sex appeal influences reporters, too.
Reporter: Of course it does. I remember when it was going around the [New York] Times newsroom that Frank Bruni’s BOOK on George Bush may have helped him get re-elected. It seemed to us that Bruni had a mighty big crush on Bush. Some people later blamed Bruni because his portrait -- all boots and awshucks cowboy-- made Bush seem harmless.
V-A: So Palin’s appearance becomes the story.
Reporter: It definitely loops the coverage.
V-A: What do you mean?
TVR: The news feeds get their fill.
V-A: Because it’s safer to follow her appearance than anything she does or says.
Reporter: I put everything at the feet of reporters. Few writers know how to report a story. They take what they’re given, no questions asked. That’s the climate now. Not because of Management, but because of individual integrity.
There's a Times reporter who it appears has got the hots for all the tumblers and stunts in the musical Spider-Man. He keeps writing awe-struck articles in its support, and the producers keep pouring millions into it, even though it’s a massive failure twith five serious injuries.
V-A: One reporter can be that powerful?
Reporter: A show that should have closed months ago, in my opinion, is still up because of constant coverage. The reporter made it “news.”
V-A: What about the News Corp. reporters in the Murdoch scandal?
Reporter: They were just doing their jobs.
V-A: Bribing politicians and police? Hacking phones and emails?
Reporter: If they’d done that on Sarah Palin’s pregnancy, you’d be handing them the Pulitzer Prize. It’s not that their methods are questionable, necessarily, because good reporters stop at nothing to get their stories. It’s the silliness of the stories.
V-A: I’m afraid to say you’re right.
Reporter: Of course I’m right. What interests me more about Murdoch was his purchase of the Wall Street Journal. His advisors were against it. He lost money on the transaction. In the midst of his billions, he suddenly had a weakness for quality. I find that curious.
V-A: Since Murdoch, Wall Street Journal readership is up—what?-- over 20 percent.
TVR: While the Times is hemorrhaging readers. Murdoch wanted to out-Times the Times, and he has.
V-A: What’s the WSJ’s coverage of Palin like?
Reporter: Couldn’t say. I don’t read stories about her.
(I pull out my laptop and google “wall street journal” + “sarah palin.”)
V-A: Listen to this. (Reading from google links.) Back in November 2010-- “Palin Lashes Out at WSJ Reporter.” WSJ’s Sudeep Reddy charges Palin with “inflation hyperbole” then Palin attacks him personally on Facebook. Reddy has the last word by citing the facts Palin clearly misread. Almost 500 comments! Even HuffPo picked up the story. This proves your point. Here’s one good reporter!
Reporter: Or the WSJ is trying to shove Palin off the stage to make way for a real candidate.