There's the story, and then there are the stories about the story, and then there's a story about the stories about the story. This is the latter.
I submit that the most striking thing about Sarah Palin's press conference on this holiday weekend Friday in Alaska is not what she said, but how she said it. Resigning the Governorship could be seen as some sort of masterstroke, getting a jump start on the field in 2012. Or it could have been her cashing in on her notoriety to prepare to move into the infotainment industry, most likely on Fox "News." That's what I thought when I heard the headline on NPR.
Then I saw the video, which shows Palin revvin' her engine into the quintuple digits without her clutch engaged. No one who sees that video will soon forget it. But, so far, it's not in the media's narrative.
None dare call it tweakin'.
But first, this pedantic aside: For those for whom the reference of my title doesn't ring a bell, it's worth knowing about. The phrase "none dare call it treason" originates in a short bit of pointed verse
doggerelby Sir John Harrington (1561-1612):
Treason doth never prosper: what ’s the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
The linked page traces the influence back to my namesake Roman orator, who offers this tagline bait:
Prosperum ac felix scelus virtus vocatur
(Successful and fortunate crime is called virtue)
It was also used as the title of a seminal 1964 anti-communist screed by John A. Stormer (I won't link to anyplace where you might accidentally buy it) -- indeed, perhaps the very book that the word "screed" had long waited to describe -- that helped ignite the Goldwater Right. It also gets trotted out on special occasions like the installation of G. W. Bush as President (by Manson Family Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi) and attempts to involve the U.S. in a war in South Ossetia (by Excitable Boy Patrick Buchanan)
</pedantry> (Well, as much as I can....)
The New York Times The Caucus blog gives a nice, in-depth discussion of what she says, went on in this vein:
[Palin's] decision follows a week of extraordinarily bad publicity, from within her own state over ethics inquiries and across the national landscape as top aides on her vice-presidential campaign and supporters have been engaged in a highly public feud that has spilled out in vociferous tones online on blogs and on television. Bloggers in Alaska, critics of the governor as well as former Palin supporters, suggest also that pending releases of e-mails among the Palins were about to expose her to further questions about her finances and governance issues.
Ms. Palin, who was Senator John McCain’s vice presidential running mate last year and solidified the support of the party’s conservative base, explained her decision at a news conference at her home in Wasilla, Alaska, accompanied by her husband, Todd, and other family members.
Known as Sarah Barracuda when she played basketball in high school, Ms. Palin used point guard analogy in explaining her decision, saying she knows “exactly when to pass the ball so the team can win.”
Well, yeah, but that misses the point. I can't prove a negative about this piece or any other by quoting only three paragraphs from it, so if you need to be convinced please click the links.
The Washington Post story on Palin is at least accompanied by a link to a video and a critical opinion piece about her move, but the front page story also misses the story:
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) announced this afternoon she will resign from office by the end of the month and return to private life, a stunning decision by last year's Republican vice presidential candidate to leave office before the end of her first term.
"We know we can effect positive change outside government at this moment in time on another scale and actually make a difference for our priorities," Palin said in a news conference alongside a lake in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska.
Palin's decision not to run for reelection in 2010 and to leave office imminently came as a shock to Republican strategists today.
"We've seen a lot of nutty behavior from governors and Republican leaders in the last three months, but this one is at the top of that," said John Weaver, a longtime friend and confidant of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the party's presidential nominee in 2008 whose of selection of Palin catapulted the first-term Alaska governor to national prominence.
You get the sense from the article that Weaver is simply talking about her resigning -- which is not clearly a stupid decision for an ambitious or avaricious politician. You never get the sense that when he says "nutty behavior" he might actually be talking about the nutty behavior that Palin exhibited in front of the camera and a cheering throngette.
As for the Wall Street Journal, they at least hint that there may be some antlers missing from Palin's wall, but nothing you'd notice without having seen the video:
Sarah Palin said on Friday that she will not run for a second term as governor of Alaska and will transfer her responsibilities to the state's lieutenant governor.
In a statement, Ms. Palin, who is in her final year in office as governor, said, "I am determined to take the right path for Alaska even though it is not the easiest path." She added, "I also felt that to embrace the conventional 'Lame Duck' status in this particular climate would just be another dose of 'politics as usual.'"
Ms. Palin's decision not to run for a second term may fuel speculation about whether she may make a presidential bid in the 2012 elections. But many political pundits agreed this probably spells the end of her political career. "No matter what level of politics you're at, when you quit one office halfway through, it damages your prospects of higher office," said Ivan Moore, a pollster in Anchorage. "People are always going to wonder if the going gets tough, is she going to quit that."
Speculation swirled on what drove Ms. Palin's departure. Her return to Alaska after the 2008 presidential campaign had been marked by almost nonstop controversies. The Republican-led legislature in April rejected her appointment of a lawyer for attorney general who was controversial, in part, for his outspokenness. She tangled with lawmakers over other issues, including her decision to reject some federal stimulus money. And she brawled repeatedly with the media and others over what she called attacks on her and her family. A blow-up with late night host David Letterman -- which happened when she called out the CBS host for making sexual innuendos about one of her daughters -- was particularly well publicized.
But again, they present Inside Baseball on whether this was a good strategy, rather than reporting the story that from her demeanor it is unclear that this was any sort of strategy at all. The medium, here, was the message.
CNN does a somewhat better job, but only by choosing their sources well. I'm going to quote extra paragraphs here because they are mostly widely-on-the-record quotes from political commentators rather than newspaper-generated material. (Plus, this has the Fair Use justification of "criticism.")
"Either Sarah Palin is leaving the people of Alaska high and dry to pursue her long shot national political ambitions or she simply can't handle the job now that her popularity has dimmed and oil revenues are down," DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse said.
"Either way, her decision to abandon her post and the people of Alaska who elected her continues a pattern of bizarre behavior that more than anything else may explain the decision she made today."
Republican strategist and CNN contributor Ed Rollins said, to a certain extent, Palin's announcement makes her look "terribly inept."
"I think everyone is shocked by this, and I think to a certain extent everyone is going to assume there's another story. You don't just quit with a year and a half to go. You certainly don't do this as a stepping stone to run for president. You finish the job that you're in, and obviously she's not doing that," he said.
"I think people are going to be very suspicious because of the timing. You don't quit on the Friday of a three-day holiday. If you are going to do this, you think it through, you give a good speech," Rollins said.
However, CNN Republican Strategist Mary Matalin said she thought the move was "really brilliant" on Palin's part, though she admitted she was surprised when she first heard the news.
"Her delivery was incredible, if you're a less charismatic person, you probably couldn't pull it off," Matalin said. "[Now] she will be freed up and liberated the way Mitt Romney is to raise money and get political chips by spending it and getting political capital. And she is still raising the kinds of crowds and money she always did."
Now, Matalin says, Palin must focus on "putting up with the conventional wisdom" that this was a bad move and travel the country to drum up support for a presidential run.
"She takes that target off her back with a good record to launch from," Matalin said.
When asked about whether it's possible Palin stepped down because of something negative we hadn't heard yet, Matalin referenced Palin's own words that investigators have dug through research in the ethics investigation.
"We presume if there was anything else we would know it by now," Matalin said.
Oh, indeed, Mary Matalin, indeed. (Maybe I could fall for this woman, so long as she keeps working for the other side.) Of course, if you actually watch the "incredible delivery" -- what a great and literal choice of words there! -- your "presumption" is likelier to be that Palin heard the cops coming around the corner and snorted up the entire contents of her meth lab to hide the evidence. Failing anything pharmacological, one would presume that we're about to get some news that will leave people no longer remembering that John Ensign and
Terry Mark Sanford still exist.
Ten years from now, what we're going to remember about this press conference, like Nixon's snotty statement to the press after losing the California Governor's race in 1962, is the emotional aspect of the talk. But it's nowhere in the reporting on the event today, outside of the blogs. (If you find any sources who covered this better, please mention them and I'll update.)
Sarah Palin gave a press conference that sounded like she was cranked up to a polar-bear-killing degree -- but in the media, none dared called it tweakin'.