On Monday, Sarah Palin began her media tour for her latest book with an interview in which she defiantly declared that she would never do another interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric and castigated her for being an example of why journalism is in crisis.
I am pretty confident that no one (other than of course Palin and Couric themselves) is more “qualified” to opine on this topic than me. After all, my newly rereleased documentary, “Media Malpractice … How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted,” deals with the infamous Couric interview in more depth than any other forum and my interview with Palin for the film reveals more truth about the episode than any other done on the topic. Plus, I was the guy who got “arrested” (though not charged) at last year’s USC journalism awards where Couric was laughably rewarded specifically for the “impact” of her Palin interview.
While I have already written extensively on this topic, there is still much to add to the subject in light of Palin’s most recent comments.
It is remarkable to me how incredibly difficult it is to alter the narrative of an event once a seed (no matter how lacking in substance) has been allowed to fully germinate in a person’s consciousness. There is no better example of this phenomenon than the perception (even among conservatives) of the Couric/Palin interview.
While there are many episodes from the Couric interview that have been grossly misunderstood (which I deal with at length in the film), as I have traveled all over the country screening and promoting my film, one of the most consistent questions I get is about Palin allegedly being unable to answer the seemingly simple question of, “what do you read?” It has always baffled me why this incident has gained so much traction and dictated so much of how the public perceives Palin (exponentially more than, for instance, her only legitimate screw-up in the series of interviews, which was not being either willing or able to name a Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade with which she disagrees).
This was a situation in which context was everything and, for the most part, the media has been unwilling to provide it and the American people (including far too many conservatives) have been unable to grasp it.
Frighteningly few people seem to realize that Palin did several interviews with Couric and by this point (rightfully so as it turns out) she was totally convinced that Couric had it out for her, even to the point of requesting that the campaign pull the plug on the sessions. So, here Palin is, immediately after coming off the stage at a campaign event, being asked in an impromptu “walk and talk” with Couric asking a seemingly simple question about the sources Palin uses to gets her news. Palin tries to dodge the question by saying, quite reasonably, “all of them,” but Couric quickly interrupts (a sure sign that the question was hardly innocent) and asks Palin for specifics. Palin decides not to provide them and then, rightly, scolds Couric for seemingly presuming that in Alaska they don’t have access to the New York Times.
Now, I can understand how liberals, who have no fear of such a question because their answer (NY Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, etc) would never be mocked by the people posing the question because those people are reading the same exact sources, would be confused by such a non-answer. What they don’t realize is that as a conservative, if you provide any of the demonized “right-wing” reading material, you open yourself up to instant ridicule and criticism. So Palin instinctively decided not to answer a question that never would have been asked of Barack Obama, which she perceived to be insulting to her state, for which there appeared to be no good answer, from an interviewer she rightly perceived to have an agenda against her. As Palin told me during our interview for the film, “What the heck was wrong with that answer?”
Unfortunately for Palin, what transpired was that for the first time in modern history a candidate was crucified simply for an understandable dodge. If that was the standard for all candidate interviews, I would have no problem with that, but that is clearly not the case. What is most frustrating is that even many conservatives who should know better have not been able to get beyond this moment.
That being said, while I have and will fight nearly to the death over the real story of the 2008 election and the unjustified “assassination” of Sarah Palin, I must take issue with her declaration that she won’t do interviews with openly hostile (i.e. most of the media) questioners.
For many reasons, I believe that this is a huge mistake.
First, fair or not, it makes Palin look afraid of Katie Couric, which is not exactly the image a potential future commander-in-chief should project, especially one who, if she runs, would be presumably using her persona as a “fighter” to her advantage.
Second, limiting interviews to “fair” media sources (are there any?) cuts Palin off from a huge swath of the very independent-minded voters whose minds she would need to change in order to beat Obama.
Thirdly, Palin could easily use interviews with obvious enemies (Couric, Mathews, Olbermann, Maher, etc.) as a rare chance to get a “second look” from people. I am totally convinced that, as long as the interviews are LIVE, after two years of bluster, if any of her media enemies actually got face to face with her they would melt like a candle in a blast furnace and be humiliated by her.
At the appropriate time, Palin should do interviews with all of her harshest critics. Other than my film, that is her last best chance to alter the destructive media narrative of the 2008 election. Unfortunately, since she has an understandable lack of desire to provide those who seek to destroy her with massive ratings, I doubt she will follow this suggestion. But if she did, she would have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Plus, it would be a hell of a lot of fun and the truth may finally come out.
John Ziegler is currently a documentary filmmaker who most recently released a movie on the 2008 election called, “Media Malpractice… How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted.” He has also been in radio talk show host in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Louisville and Nashville. Ziegler has written two books and has appeared live on numerous national television shows including the Today Show, The View, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC.