When did political journalism become a live-action version of Where’s Waldo?
Sarah Palin may or may not be running for president. She is, however, on a "One Nation" bus tour that might be the start of an exploration of a maybe, could-be presidential campaign. Or maybe it’s just an Americana-themed family vacation, complete with local audiences. Or maybe it’s just a way for Palin, who is impressively adept at promoting herself and her home state, to stay in the public eye--either for political purposes or reality TV purposes. [See photos from Palin's bus tour.]
Since Palin isn’t really making any news at these events, it’s worth asking whether it’s a valuable use of time and limited media travel funds to follow her around. If she dropped the occasional newsy bit--perhaps commenting on how she might restructure entitlement programs--then the chase is worth it. But Palin, instead, seems to be enjoying, quite understandably, the frustration of reporters trying to figure out where she will go next on her secret-but-very-public tour. [See 5 reasons Palin will win the 2012 GOP nod. and 5 reasons she won't.]
Journalists know there’s a certain ridiculousness to the saturation coverage of a political official. Many troop to Martha’s Vineyard in August to "cover" the Obama family vacation. It’s a maddening situation for both the first family and the press corps. The Obamas don’t want reporters there when they’re trying to have a family vacation. They just want to give their young daughters a brief break from the abnormal life they have in Washington. And while it’s true that presidents know what they signed up for when they first ran for the office, it’s also reasonable to acknowledge that presidents are also people, with families and a justifiable desire for some kind of privacy. Most reporters actually do understand that; it’s just that they are afraid to leave the president uncovered if major news happens. Hence the presence of people in shorts and camp shirts, carrying cameras and notebooks on a vacation island. [Check out political cartoons about Palin.]
What Palin is doing is much the opposite--she’s making it difficult to be followed, but not impossible. She issues taunts against the "lamestream media" that provoke reporters into chasing her around just to prove that they won’t be intimidated. And she’s not even a candidate, at least not yet. Should Palin announce, she may find it much harder to play such a coy game. For the moment, she’s playing the game brilliantly.