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Sunday, September 28, 2008

“Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land — boundary that we have with — Canada."

Reader-submitted question: Your head didn't explode while typing that???

Well, it turns out that I am not particularly good at impersonating Sarah Palin. I have silly rules about sentences. For example, they should have endings. Also, those endings should relate to the way the sentences began. Also, each sentence should relate to the whole in some way. It was hard enough to write run-on sentences that didn't say anything. I can't write run-on non-sentences that don't say anything.

Ms. Palin has an unfortunate tendency to speak in total gibberish, to answer a question about foreign policy by speaking about trade missions and then suddenly veering into God only knows what about Putin rearing his head into Alaskan airspace and then into sending goodness only knows what out to keep an eye on Russia. It is hard to watch. I am having trouble believing that she is actually a governor. Governors should be able to do TV interviews about national issues that relate to their states.

This gets into something that a few readers have been discussing: Ms. Palin's need for media training. I can't believe that she's never had this; it should have been one of the first things she did when elected at the state level and again when chosen as John McCain's running mate. Media training can be done in a few hours and teaches people to give news interviews, especially TV interviews. She's a former TV journalist. She must have botched the training terribly; this is the only explanation for the way they've been hiding her from the press.

Normal people do not speak in complete sentences. Ideas come out half-formed when you haven't thought about what you're going to say. When I was in journalism school, one of our professors told us about a politician who was furious with the local rag: he claimed the editors constantly misquoted him to make him look stupid. As payback, the paper's editors decided to leave all of his quotes exactly as they came out of his mouth. (Ha!) Media training helps people to avoid that sort of embarrassment.

Although journalists chafe at the idea of media training -- just another way to keep the public from learning the truth! -- it actually helps them to get better stories. A person who understands how interviews work will be more comfortable. A person who has thought about what he wants to say will explain his ideas more coherently. A person who has practised answers to follow-up questions will appear to have thought the issues through and made decisions based on facts instead of slogans. This is better for everyone. At this point, I want Katie Couric to be the vice-presidential nominee. I'm pretty sure she knows more about foreign policy than Ms. Palin does.

Ms. Palin's handlers should be fired. It looks like she had no idea what the questions would be. There's no excuse for that. I'm not saying that the interviewer should be providing a list of questions -- far from it -- but the campaign should have anticipated every single one of the questions Ms. Couric asked the other day. They should have done mock interviews with her so she would be able to think about what her responses would be.

Maybe they did this. In that case, SHE should be fired.

Only an idiot does an interview without preparing for it. This is the surest way to end up saying things like "I'll try to find some examples and I'll bring 'em to ya."

It's hard to watch, because I've seen so many governors excel in national interviews. I expect much more from governors and Canadian premiers. Our own premier routinely does national interviews and does very well. Like Ms. Palin, he is new to the job and comes from a small town. Even here in Name of Town Withheld, everyone calls him by his first name. Without a doubt, he would be completely over his head if suddenly tapped as deputy leader of one of our national parties, but I think he would do better than this in his interviews. Heck, *I* could do better than this.

I do have some sympathy for her. There's really no way out of these questions about her supposed experience in foreign policy except to laugh off the earlier interview as a bad case of nerves. Gaffes are normal and everyone makes them. The important thing is to understand that they were mistakes, not the standard for future answers. This point appears to have been lost on her handlers.

One of my friends has suggested that Ms. Palin memorised a bunch of answers and then forgot which questions they were supposed to go with. This may be the best explanation I've heard yet.


grantednull said...

I’m not a Palin fan, but I have to say you're right. McCain's handlers or Palin need to be fired. Considering the "delay the debate" fiasco my money is on the fact that the problem is with the handlers.

Palin is obviously a smart and savvy person, otherwise I don't think she would have defeated two political heavyweights to become Governor of Alaska. However, I think in hiding her from the media, the McCain campaign has destroyed her confidence and it shows in the interview.

Over the last several weeks as Palin has been touring, at a minimum, the campaign should have had her interviewed by every local paper, radio and tv station. Ignoring the national press, that’s fine. At least you can see she’s doing interviews and most people will think the big national reporters are just “whining” that they didn’t get the interview. It would also do a lot to boost her confidence.

I've done a lot of interviews, even to the point of being called a media whore, but I don't consider myself qualified for vice-president, however I do think I could have answered these questions better.

For example, on the question of how being from Alaska gives her foreign policy experience, she could have responded this way:

“The statement that ‘I could see Russia from my house’ was an unfortunate joke that has been taken too seriously. My selection as John McCain’s running mate was a surprise, and in that surprise people started looking for any connection. I’m sure that any Governor of a border state would agree, that the fact you have one, if not two borders with foreign states gives you a heightened awareness of foreign policy. Is it direct foreign policy experience, no, however only the President truly does foreign policy. Senator Obama has not been setting the foreign policy agenda for the last four years while he has been running for President.” (This puts an end to the seeing Russia from my house comment, and points out Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience)

“I will say that Alaska, unlike other states has its own foreign policy concerns. We are remote and isolated, and unfortunately for too many Americans, Alaska might as well be a foreign country for their ability to visit it. Alaska has specific foreign policy concerns that relate to circumpolar issues, such as ownership of the continental shelf and the important oil and gas resources located underneath it. These are resources needed to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.” (This plays to her strength of knowing oil and gas)

“The main country we will be in conflict with over these resources is Russia. Like most Americans of my generation, the first twenty years of my life was lived under the cold war and threat of nuclear war. This affected all Americans, however in Alaska we lived in the shadow of our enemy and that provides a unique perspective on our relationship with Russia, whether you agree with my approach or not.” (This reinforces that maverick image)

“Finally, I think the Bush doctrine is wrong. In partnership with John McCain, our foreign policy will not be the McCain Doctrine, but the American doctrine. Our greatest foreign policy successes have been when we acted according to our core values of freedom and democracy, and not out of revenge or seeking more power. I’m committed to those values and I’ll bring them to our approach on foreign policy.” (This distinguishes the ticket from the Bush Administration)

On Rick Davis(?), his ties to the campaign and to Freddie Mac:

“Since joining the campaign, I have been focused on helping John McCain be elected President. In doing this, I have been traveling extensively and introducing myself to Americans directly. As the candidate, that is my job. It’s not my job to manage the campaign, it’s like that line that’s often said, no not lipstick – a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. I can’t be a candidate and manage the campaign.”

“When these claims came forward, I spoke to John McCain. You know what John McCain said to me, he said the same thing he said to the American people, Rick Davis has recused himself from any dealings on these files. John McCain has answered that question, and like the Americans who have and are voting for him, I trust him. If that’s the answer he gave the American people, then that’s good enough for me.” (This reinforces John McCain as a straight shooter and redirects the question to John McCain, where it should have been asked)

On an example of John McCain supporting deregulation – first, they should have briefed her with examples, but assuming they didn’t, a possible answer:

“Katie, considering you just gave two examples, I’m sure you’ve done the research and can list off a number of other examples. John McCain has been in the Senate for more than 20 years and if you want, you and I can sit and go through his twenty-year voting record page by page and look for examples, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be exciting television.” (More of that folkish charm and calling Katie Couric out on the trap)

“The American people are not concerned about the past, they are concerned about their present and for sure their future. This week John McCain has shown the leadership the American people are looking for on the economy. People are worried about their pocketbook and whether they can keep their house, not who is responsible for regulating every credit or banking transaction in the country. If there was that much regulation, people never would have been able to buy their home in the first place. John McCain has committed to reasonable oversight to ensure the country never ends up in this position again.”

I could go on for every question, but it’s a little depressing. Sarah, fire the McCain handlers controlling you. As for John McCain, you picked her because of the fact that she was a maverick who succeeded in shaking up Alaska, you need to let her be that same person if America is going to vote for you.

Torq said...

I am not a Sarah Palin fan, or a fan of any other politician running for office for that matter. However, I do want to point out a little inconstancy in suggesting first that it is what someone actually does an not what they tell the media that is important and then harranging them for not performing well in an interview situation.

There is an unmentioned bias throughout all of this "Anti-Palin fever" that the media is in some way the gatekeeper for successful politicians, and that by not meeting the media standards they would not do a good job. There is no necessary correlation between someone who is charismatic and able to perform well in an interview with a reporter and someone who will "get the job done."

We should be upset that it is more important to play to the crowd and to cover one's behind than to do a good job.

I am not trying to state any sort of political favoritism. I am not even saying that I think Palin would do a good job as Vice Prez. I am just jumping to defend someone who has been repeatedly attacked.

Megan said...

Hey Torq,

Politicians play to the crowd. That's basically the entire job. A politician who can't do that will not be a very good one. I know it sucks, but it's true.

In an election campaign, nobody actually does very much. We can judge the candidates only on their past actions and on the things they say. In Ms. Palin's case, there are very few past actions to judge, so we are left with the handful of interviews she's been able to do.

Grantednull/Glen is right. She should have done interviews with every small-town paper and TV station she could. By restricting media access, her handlers have dramatically increased each interview's importance. Big mistake.

The Coconut Diaries said...

I try and I try and I try to give her a chance but she f**cks it up every time. After the first interview with Charlie Gibson when she got railed for the Bush Doctrine and foreign policy comments, she SHOULD HAVE gone back and brushed up on both of them so the next time she was interviewed it couldn't fuel the incompetent fire. Did she really think Katie Couric was NOT going to ask about it? And what was her answer? She blamed the media for blowing it out of proportion and gave an even less substantial answer.


And I watched the Presidential Debate with my Republican husband who said "It's clear that Obama is a better speaker, quicker on his feet with answers, and an all-around better wordsmith. But he's a lawyer so what do you expect?"

I expect that if you ask to be put in forum where your ability to think quickly on your feet and to articulate complex ideas to the general public, that you're able to to that.

Maybe it's just me.

The Capitalist said...

Anyone else out there notice how Obama is the only one who actually looks at his opponent when trying to explain his position? Everyone else plays 100% to the crowd. I first noticed this in the Democratic debates, but it was very noticeable in the 1st presidential one as well. Come on... Look the guy in the eye. Don't cower behind your podium.

The Coconut Diaries said...

I love how the moderator kept saying "I'm trying to get you guys to TALK TO EACH OTHER!".

scribe said...

Karl Rove said Palin's interview with Couric went south cuz she was "overprepared." Yeah, her poor head was about to explode with all those facts. Those SNL writers didn't even have to write a script--Tina just repeated what Palin said, to much hilarity. She deserves all the laughs she's getting because the woman obviously has never given a thought to the world outside of Alaska.