Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why do we hate Sarah Palin?

There's an interesting piece by Newsweek blogger Michael Scherer about Sarah Palin's recent hiring as a Fox News commentator. Scherer claims that Roger Ailes -- head of Fox News, former political consultant to Nixon, Reagan and Bush #I -- is a "genius"  because while his peers hire on-air talent on the basis of their abilities (debatable, but OK), "Ailes knows you can also hire talent for who they anger, who they unite and what they represent... Ailes had not hired another talking head in Palin. He had hired a mascot for Fox News, a living breathing symbol of all that the network hopes to be: a place for the forgotten, besieged, suburban and rural American middle, long victimized, often dismissed, beset on all sides by elites and liberals, haters and foes." In reference to "60 Minutes," Palin herself is quoted as saying, "More and more Americans are looking at some of these networks, that biased journalism, and saying, 'Nah, that gig is up. We're not believing that stuff anymore.' That's why they are tuning into Fox News."

The scary thing? I think Scherer is unfortunately right about Ailes and Palin, and even Palin herself is partly correct. Not about "other" networks being biased (though you could fairly say that about both Fox and its liberal counterpart, MS-NBC), but about people "not believing that stuff." The core of the problem, I think, is that the vast majority people on both sides of the political spectrum and everywhere in between have a hard time separating fact from opinion. Someone on TV or the web says something, and if it strikes an emotional chord with the viewer, they'll disregard whether or not the supporting facts cited -- if any -- are true. Then they scream that the other side is distorting or disregarding facts  that support their own view.

The reader comments on Scherer's post are very illuminating. Many of them concern the issue of elitism vs. populism, and what it means to be elitist:
  • "It's very easy to make fun of Sarah Palin. But in a world where it's still acceptable to put down intelligence as arrogance and embrace ignorance as a virtue, she's going to find an audience." (#18)
  • "I'd have a lot more sympathy toward [the conservative] notion that there's more than one sort of 'intelligence' if you guys didn't routinely say things that were demonstrably false. We can think of torture or attitudes toward the Muslim world or even opinions on health care or economics as different moral choices or different viewpoints. But let the subject turn to climate change or evolution and all of the sudden brilliant flashes of absolute stupidity emerge for all to see." (#18.4)
    (This goes along with my belief that people can blithely ignore scientific data when it doesn't support their "gut feeling" on an issue.)
  • "What is it about [Palin] that turns the media's faces purple with rage? She's a populist, has a nasally Fargo sounding voice and isn't terribly informed. But does this explain the vitriol? No. I think there's more. As an independent (and one who would not vote for Palin), I've about come to the conclusion that Palin is just too common for media elites... She's just too white, too folksy and too churchy to ever fit in the club." (#31)

1 comment:

Preston said...

Honestly, who else wanted her? She is perfect for "Fake News", enough said.

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