Taking on Politico

Aaron Guerrero Contributor
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When President Obama speaks out on the campaign trail, he makes it resoundingly clear who his chief political target is: Republicans.

Despite large congressional majorities, he openly and defiantly blames the GOP for obstructing his agenda. Lately, he’s added the charge of using foreign money to buy an election to his list of Republican political sins.

By contrast, when Sarah Palin is campaigning, it’s slightly more difficult to determine whom her chief political target is: Is it Obama and the Democratic Congress or the mainstream media?

At a Tea Party rally in Nevada recently, Palin unloaded a zinger that expressed sympathy for Tea Partiers while suggesting that Democrats and the media were colluding to portray the movement in the worst possible light.

“You’ve been ridiculed. You’ve been mocked. You’ve been slandered by the left,” she said. “Still though, you didn’t let government-lovin’ professional politicians and the complicit left-wing lamestream media tell you to sit down and shut up.”

Using the media as a prime punching bag is a standard practice for Palin. But many of her swipes at the press have lacked a specific face or organization. Names like Couric and Gibson are rarely uttered anymore. And when asked about a recent Maureen Dowd column that criticized her, Palin shrugged off the New York Times columnist as just another critic whose presence in the media she was hardly aware of. Rather than giving her long line of detractors recognition, she’s placed nearly everyone outside the Fox News and talk radio sphere under the broad banner of “lamestream media.”

This is why her tussle towards the end of last week with Politico was a bit unusual. Palin named names and took the popular news outfit head on.

The spat began last Thursday when reporter Jonathan Martin penned a story detailing how sloppy Team Palin had gotten at the game of political logistics. Filled with anonymous sources, the story featured a laundry list of complaints by folks within the Republican Party and conservative movement frustrated by the difficulties of coordinating endorsements, fundraisers, and interviews with Palin.

The reaction from a cadre of conservative talkers, who had been mentioned in the story as being at odds with Palin, was swift and forceful. They denounced Politico and Martin and demanded a retraction for what they claimed as the “lies” filling the story’s space. Then, Palin weighed in herself. Going viral, she tweeted: “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny…you just made [a] big mistake lying about Levin, Beck, Rush…U can lie about me, but taking on the Big Guns? Not smart.” Taking it a step further, Palin went schoolyard on Martin, calling him a “punk.”

Something about the Politico story seems to have especially irked Palin. After all, a host of lengthy articles from prominent magazines have been written about her over a period of many months, featuring far more hair-raising claims about her personal and political life. Yet time and again, she has resisted taking on both the author and the outlet in a specific and public way.

But Politico is a different animal. Love it or hate it, it’s become a major force in our political culture, and with the next presidential election just on the horizon, its influence is only bound to grow at an exponential rate. (Recall that it was quite a force last time around.) It has steadily reshaped the way in which we have come to view politics. As Vanity Fair noted last year about the outfit’s obsessive approach to covering the political world, “It is constant, unrelenting, second by second.” Now think about that same standard applied to a Palin presidential campaign and it’s enough to make your head spin.

If Palin does indeed take the presidential plunge, we can expect Politico to play a prominent role in how she and her campaign are perceived. So perhaps she is drawing the battle lines now, using this most recent dust-up to convince her supporters and skeptics that Politico is just another media outlet that refuses to “quit making things up.” Either way, it’s a win-win for all parties involved. Politico gets to cover the type of politician that is ideal for its journalistic model, and Palin gets to accuse a highly influential media organization of plotting her ruin. Meanwhile, we all get to sit back and enjoy the show.

Aaron Guerrero is a 2009 UC Davis graduate who majored in political science and minored in history. He formerly interned for Rep. Dan Lungren and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Guerrero is a freelance writer.