Can Sarah Palin survive in the age of YouTube?

Jake Turcotte

Back in 1994, a prominent Democratic attorney was running for Congress in the heart of gun country.  Running as a Democrat in that landslide Republican year was perilous enough, but in Wyoming, it was nearly impossible.

The last Democrat to occupy the state's sole seat in the House of Representative was 1978 when Teno Roncalio announced he was stepping aside -- allowing a young swashbuckling 37-year old Republican to enter the race and eventually be elected to represent the Cowboy state.  That Republican?  Dick Cheney.

Needless to say, this was - and is - Republican country.

Back to 1994

When asked a question by a television reporter on the second amendment, the Democratic candidate had to be careful.  He was without question pro-second amendment.  A gun-owner himself, he had no qualms with gun ownership.

New to the game of politics and not entirely happy with his initial answer to a question, the candidate waved to the camera and asked to start again.  The reporter did not oblige and the awkward moment was saved on tape.

The TV station decided to air the entire incident unedited and the candidate had to grin and bear it.  Two times.  At 5:30 and 10pm.

Those were innocent days.


Enter YouTube.  Like Google, YouTube has become a verb.  Miss a great play in the football game?  YouTube it.  Want to see the video of that new song by perhaps the greatest band in rock 'n roll?  YouTube it.  Want to see one of the most inspiring moments in television history?  YouTube it.

Now in the era of YouTube, not only can you be inspired or enjoy a great laugh, you can be skewered as well.  A gaffe is not only available to everyone but can be embedded in news stories, blogs, individual websites -- wherever.  Campaigns and their tentacled organizations gleefully email the video to their supporters and to the media in hopes of getting more airplay.

YouTube is the third most visited site on the Internet behind only Yahoo! and Google.  Its rise to prominence has been meteoric.  It wasn't even around in the days of the last presidential election as it was launched in February 2005.

Reader comments

One only has to look at comments following a campaign news story to highlight the civility - or complete lack of civility - between those on opposing sides.  Post a video, like Sarah Palin's unfortunate conversation with CBS News anchor Katie Couric and the reactions are unseemly.  Some would argue hurtful, mean-spirited and cruel.

Would these people spewing the harsher comments - on both sides of the aisle - say the same thing if they were being interviewed by CNN?  Undoubtedly some would - boasting of their transparency and bravado.

But it could be argued that most would not - as the cloak of anonymity lets one reveal a side of themselves that perhaps they wouldn't want their neighbors or their children to see.

If ya' can't stand the heat...

Regardless, many will defend the explosive comments saying we should expect more of our leaders.  If they can't speak clearly on the issues, then they shouldn't be there.

Out of her league

At least one conservative columnist agrees.  It's time for the Alaska phenom to head back up north says Kathleen Parker, a writer who appears occasionally on the O'Reilly Factor.  In a column written last week at the National Review, Parker says after watching the Gibson, Hannity and Couric interviews she comes to the conclusion that Palin is "clearly out of her league."

"No one hates saying that more than I do," Parker writes.  "Like so many women, I’ve been pulling for Palin, wishing her the best, hoping she will perform brilliantly. I’ve also noticed that I watch her interviews with the held breath of an anxious parent, my finger poised over the mute button in case it gets too painful. Unfortunately, it often does. My cringe reflex is exhausted. Palin filibusters. She repeats words, filling space with deadwood. Cut the verbiage and there’s not much content there."

High School

Parker hardly stands alone.  She is just one of a seeming endless supply of critics.  Slate's Christopher Beam offered a number of public speaking tips in case McCain campaign managers Rick Davis and Steve Schmidt happen to log-on.  He offers a lot of advice in his column and Beam clearly thinks Palin needs it.

"[In] her latest face-to-face, with Katie Couric of CBS, she looked like a high-schooler trying to B.S. her way through a book report," Beam writes.

First interview

The Palin interview with ABC News anchor was highly anticipated.  And in comparison to last week, looks pretty good.  If there was a controversy it was when she blanked when ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson asked her position on the Bush Doctrine.

"In what respect?" she said, appearing to ask for a clue to what that doctrine is.  Gibson didn't budge and offered, "What do you interpret it to be?"

"His worldview?" she asked.

Seeing this was going nowhere but still determined not to give it away, Gibson stated, "The Bush Doctrine, enunciated in September 2002, before the Iraq War."

Then a whole lot of nothing before Gibson offered his understanding of what the Bush doctrine was.

Many in the media forgave this exchange as Gibson didn't seem to know exactly what it was either.  The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, for example, gave her some props for her presence alone.

“Even Palin’s critics should admit that, in terms of demeanor, she handled herself well for someone who three years ago was worried about the books in the Wasilla library. She projected confidence and was not openly rattled," Kurtz wrote.

Second interview

The second interview, to many, doesn't count.  Fox News commentator Sean Hannity might as well have been wearing a red, white and blue oversized cowboy hat with a "Drill, Baby Drill!" t-shirt.  She was in pretty friendly confines.

Interview number three

This interview has undoubtedly created the biggest stir and led Parker to issue her plea for Palin to bow out. The two excerpts most often discussed are the clips in which Palin is asked to provide examples of John McCain being pro-regulation in context of the U.S. credit crisis and why her proximity to Russia emboldens her foreign policy credentials.

The answer to the first question, "I'll get back to ya."

As for the exchange on Russia, perhaps Palin should have used the same answer.  It is a painful conversation:

COURIC: You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?
PALIN: That 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. It-- it's funny that a comment like that was-- kind of made to-- cari-- I don't know, you know? Reporters--
PALIN: Yeah, mocked, I guess that's the word, yeah.
COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.
PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our-- our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia--
COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?
PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We-- we do-- it's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where-- where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is-- from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to-- to our state.

Spin? Impossible...

Not even some conservative announcers on the conservative network could spin this conversation.  FOX News commentator Bernard Goldberg, when interviewed on FOX, couldn't even bash Couric.

"It was a legitimate interview," Goldberg began.  "She [Palin] doesn't install confidence when she answers a question like that.  She just doesn't install confidence."

Goldberg said part of the reason is that she's a newbie on the national stage which is admittedly difficult.  He said that although he believes the media has been too easy on gaffe-prone Joe Biden, he couldn't give Palin a free pass.

"I just want to be clear," he said.  "I don't think she is doing herself any favors with these interviews.  She's not doing all that well. "

As for Parker's "she's out of her league" comment?

"I hate to say it, but she may be right," Goldberg said.

The sun will come out tomorrow

Filling the role of "the glass half full" strategist, GOP operative Todd Harris isn't as gloomy as others.  He emails The Vote:

"I think expectations for Palin will be so low on Thursday that it will be difficult for her not to meet them," Harris said. "And debate performances are not graded in a vacuum. It’s not just how she does, but also how Biden does and how he acts towards her, that makes for the ultimate grade.  She could stumble through the entire evening, but if Biden talks down to her, the debate will be a draw."

Biggest fear

One thing is for certain, Harris wasn't spinning when he said expectations are low.

But, if the two biggest fears people have, in order, are death and public speaking, with the spread of YouTube, one wonders if public speaking hasn't just graduated to number one.

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