In the video pitch for her new Internet endeavor — yours for only $9.95 a month or $99.95 a year! — Sarah Palin implores those watching: “Really, make this your channel.”
But let’s not kid ourselves: It’s called the “Sarah Palin Channel” for good reason.
There she is wishing Mom and Dad “Happy 53rd anniversary” and touting a “Word of the Day … brought to you by my Scrabble-obsessed mom and her friends.” There on the homepage is a blog — “Life. Family. Alaska.” — headed by Bristol Palin, her daughter and the graduate of “Dancing With the Stars.” There is Palin at the computer with her youngest son, Trig, praising motherhood.
There, too, are Sarah Palin’s gibes at the president she wants impeached: “Hey Barack, when are you going to tell the Middle East to stop clinging to their guns and religion?” And the ticker that counts down Obama’s remaining time in office, to the second.
In recent years Palin failed in her quest for the vice presidency, quit her job as governor of Alaska and lost her lushly produced cable television show — “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” naturally. So it’s tempting to see this as a desperation move, the Internet equivalent of screaming “Pay attention to me!” on a street corner.
It might be just that, but it also looks like Palin’s latest effort to help her followers leapfrog right over the lamestream media straight to her, without needing intermediaries like Fox News, which once paid her $1 million a year for appearances and where she still serves as a commentator.
No one knows if the channel will pencil out financially, or expand Palin’s influence over her niche audience. But there is a chance it could, since Palin’s effort is a new iteration on something integral to America these days: people seeking out media messages that reinforce what they think.
We are not in Walter Cronkite’s America anymore.
Numerous academic studies have reinforced the reality that Americans gravitate to media sources they agree with, at least in part because of a desire for affirmation amid the bombardment of news, analysis and the lists of the five-things-you-need-to-know about everything.
“People are rational and they say to themselves that in the media environment there are so many options, I have to make a choice, so I will make a choice to a news source I consider most trustworthy,” said Natalie Stroud, associate professor of communication studies at the University of Texas. But the thing that makes a choice seem unbiased is its agreement with your own views, she said. “We are really bad at determining what information is unbiased.”
Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, a professor at the Ohio State University School of Communication, likened Palin’s video channel to “an extension of what we see with Twitter.”
"A lot of political figures have a ‘channel’ if you subscribe to their tweets,” she said.
For decades now, politicians have tried every which way to lob their unfiltered views over the heads of the traditional media. The Obama administration has battled with news photographers over its practice of giving the official White House photographer far better access to events than news media photographers, prompting some news organizations to use the handout pictures. Every White House has fought with reporters over the administration’s desire to get its message out and the media’s refusal to serve as unquestioning stenographers.
But while getting national notice once required a politician to go through gatekeepers like Cronkite or the Sunday news show moderators, that is no longer the case.
Palin’s fights with the traditional media have been fiercer and more flamboyant than most. On Sunday, Palin called out the Washington Post on Facebook, demanding that it “engage in the same aggressive investigative journalism” that toppled Richard Nixon against the “incompetence, denials and coverups” of President Obama. If not, she said, the Post’s editors would certify that they were “a bunch of wusses.”
As Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple noted, that came precisely one week after Palin had touted a “bombshell” Post article asserting that top administration officials had long been warned about a looming immigrant crisis at the nation’s southern border, the subject that prompted Palin’s demand for Obama’s impeachment.
So consistency might not be what a viewer finds at the Sarah Palin Channel. But Sarah Palin’s world view will be right there, along with, she said in her invitational video, “some of the fun that goes on in the Palin household.”
“Are you tired of the media filters? Well, I am, always have been, so we’re going to be able to do something about it,” she declared, adding, “Together let’s live life vibrantly, purposefully and boldly.”
While Palin would seem a natural fit for this technology-driven merging of politics, entertainment and personality, it’s hard to imagine the Rick Santorum Channel or the Martin O’Malley Channel, or even the Hillary Clinton Channel.
Unless it works.
“For the short term, I would be surprised” if others follow suit, Stroud said. “If it’s successful, I’m sure we will see duplicates.”
For political news and analysis, follow me on Twitter: @cathleendecker