Friday, May 15, 2009

Why Sarah Palin still befuddles the media

Commentary: Alaska governor appears set for 2012 presidential bid

By Jon Friedman, MarketWatch
NEW YORK (MarketWatch)

-- A year after she became an overnight celebrity in America, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin still confounds journalists.

You would think that the national media, which spends lots of money to uncover political trends from every nook and truck stop between Portland, Maine, and Portland, Ore., would understand Palin's appeal by now. After all, she rose to prominence as John McCain's running mate last year and helped bolster the disaffected, conservative wing of the Republican Party.

You also might assume journalists could grudgingly appreciate Palin's appeal to conservative voters -- especially the potentially influential "soccer-mom" demographic.

Though Palin could well seek the presidency, she remains something of an American punch line. But even Tina Fey, the incisive comedian who brilliantly lampooned Palin on "Saturday Night Live" during the campaign, has moved on by now.

Palin is "a huge fundraising tool," noted veteran journalist Melinda Henneberger. "People love to read about her. She is very attractive -- and we don't have a surplus of that in American politics.

Palin was a major story in 2008 because she introduced so many unexpected elements to the political scene because of her gender, age, home state and uncanny ability to charm audiences with her charismatic flair.

She isn't going away, either. By all indications, Palin is now building toward a run at the White House in 2012. That's why the media should take her seriously.

Palin added to her high profile by agreeing to write a book about her life and experiences in politics for HarperCollins, it was reported widely on Wednesday.

"She's out raising money, she's traveling," said Henneberger, who covered Palin's recent appearance at a right-to-life rally in Evansville, Ind. "That speech was given at a time when she was closing up the legislative schedule back home and she was needed there. But she was willing to take that hit to be on the national stage."

Visceral appeal

Henneberger, the editor-in-chief of, a new site funded by Time Warner Inc.'s AOL unit, attended Palin's recent headliner appearance at a pro-life rally in Evansville, Ind. She was impressed by Pain's visceral appeal to the audience.

"This was a soft launch for what she hopes is her presidential campaign," Henneberger noted. "It was SRO (standing room only), filled with 'Sarah Palin Republicans.'"

Henneberger has a keen understanding of the political scene. She spent 10 years at the New York Times as well as Newsweek and other media outlets.

"I don't think we should treat her as a buffoon, as entertaining as she is," Henneberger pointed out. "I was at the Republican convention and was very moved by seeing all those Republican women in tears, saying that they had found the 'Republican Hillary.' That's cool. I was happy for them."

Henneberger says: "It's great to see a younger woman in that high-profile role in her party. Republican women were saying, 'Are all the women in my party 100 years old? Where are the women who look like me?'"

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