Commentary: Media needs help with its Palin addiction

The Miami HeraldJune 21, 2011 


Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.


Memo to the lamestream media: Your Palin addiction is getting out of hand.

You know how it is with an addiction: you always think you can quit any time you want. Next thing you know, you’re waking up fixated on your next fix, your relationships are coming apart and your work is starting to suffer. So it’s time for an intervention.

Surely I am not the only one who found something obsessive in the deluge of reportage over the recent release of Sarah Palin’s e-mails. Granted, an important principle was at stake: the e-mails she sent during her brief time as Alaska’s governor are public records and were first requested by reporters vetting the then-vice presidential candidate back in 2008. The state has been dragging its heels ever since. So, yes, it was important that the peoples’ right to know be vindicated.

But you have to wonder if that vindication really deserved the breathless countdown clock coverage of the release, the headlines announcing such “bombshells” as the fact that her e-mails reveal she didn’t like criticism. Stop the presses.

And while we’re on the subject, can we talk about that bus tour? Woman travels to politically-important states and revered American sites while reporters and TV news choppers are reduced to trailing her bus like something out of a bad spy movie because she has refused to provide them an itinerary. Or, as she told fellow Fox News employee Greta Van Susteren, she wanted them to “have to do a little bit of work.”

The only thing more telling than watching Palin treat the media as a kitten does a ball of string was watching the media take it, watching them bend over and grab their ankles like a freshman in a frat house hazing as the paddle comes down. “Thank you, sir! May I have another?” Apparently, it would have made too much sense to designate a pool reporter or two to trail the bus, thereby sparing the dignity, and the dwindling resources, of what used to be a venerated institution.

Palin and the media bring out the worst in one another. They — we — are like two people in an abusive relationship so poisoned you wonder why they stay in it.

For her part, Palin seems to enjoy the role of political gadfly and center of attention. And, let’s face it, the money’s not bad.

As for us, I think we are drawn by a lurid amazement that someone we find so insubstantial is viewed by many as being of presidential timber. Beyond that, there is our ongoing fascination with the shiny bauble, the bouncing ball, the car crash. Palin addiction grows out of the same hollow judgment and inability to distinguish news from entertainment that produces a shark scare every third summer.

If we find her insubstantial, can’t it be argued that our addiction to Palin reveals the same in us?

Someone will ask about this, so for the record: of about 250 columns I’ve written since 2009, this is my sixth specifically about Palin. A number of others mention her in passing.

I like a good story as much as the next guy. But when you are trailing a bus down an interstate or reading through 24,000 pages of e-mails chasing news that is not there on a woman whose presidential aspirations are undeclared and whose chances are marginal at best, it’s time to wonder: Are you doing a story, or is the story doing you?


Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.

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