Should the Media Stop Talking About Sarah Palin?

This week has seen an extraordinary backlash to Sarah Palin. I’m not talking about her sinking poll numbers -- I’m talking about the number of journalists who've declared that they’re sick of covering her, some even pledging to no longer mention her name. Palin’s every tweet and video are not news, the beef goes; she’s no longer a public official, and treating her like one just encourages her to spout off more. “[G]o write about something else instead,” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat advised other journos on Sunday. In today’s Washington Post, Dana Milbank called on others in the news media to repeat after him: “I hereby pledge that, beginning on Feb 1, 2011, I will not mention Sarah Palin -- in print, online or on television -- for one month.”

The movement to de-Palinize the news has, not surprisingly, created its own backlash. When Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski complained earlier this week, “At what point do we just ignore [Palin]?” staunch supporter of the former half-term Alaskan governor Stephen Colbert told her to buck up:

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Too late, Stephen -- the urge to ignore Palin has spread far beyond journalists who publicly sip Starbucks coffee. Excessive Palin posting is an industry-wide addiction that needs its own 12-step program, writes Milbank, who admits to penning 42 columns on Palin since 2008 (O’Reilly, he figures, has mentioned her on 664 shows; Olbermann, on 345, and so on.)

“[W]e are up against a powerful compulsion,” he writes, and the addictive substance is obvious: “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.”
Meanwhile, some readers are swearing off websites that won’t swear off Palin. This week a longtime reader wrote to TPM, “I am so sorry to leave you. I have really enjoyed our time together, but… I can't read about her anymore.”
The journalistic urge to go anorexic on Palin began long before Tucson. “This is it,” Times columnist Charles Blow wrote on December 3 of last year. “This is the last time I’m going to write the name Sarah Palin until she does something truly newsworthy.” (A cursory search shows he’s kept his vow.)

But as someone who writes about political media, I wouldn’t dream of not mentioning Palin. It’d be like not mentioning Fox News; for better or worse, Sarah Palin is a channel unto herself. By averting your eyes, you’d be missing out on what’s going on in America and would be less able to deal with reality.  

And I agree with TPM’s Josh Marshall, who answered his Palin-boycotting readers by writing:

This is actually a real blind spot for liberals in general -- the idea that things that are crazy or tawdry or just outrageous are really best ignored.… On so many levels this represents an alienation from the popular political culture which is not only troubling in itself but actually damages progressive and center-left politics in general…. It's another one of the examples where liberals -- or a certain strain of liberalism -- focuses way too much on the libretto of our political life and far too little on the score. It's like you're at a Wagner opera reading the libretto with your ear plugs in and think you've got the whole thing covered.

Or, as Colbert admonished journalists like Mika, “That’s the gig.”

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