Whatever your feelings about Sarah Palin or her politics, she literally represents the future of conservative messaging. She has shown the nation that a public figure who is absolutely reviled by the mainstream media can not only make a splash, but can dominate the public stage and attract the eyes and ears of the nation in ways almost no other figure can.
For the conservative movement, Palin represents a potential solution to the right's unending problem of a news media that consistently sides with the political opposition. She is the first public figure to utilize (and, in some cases, dominate) multiple media, including traditional (television, books) and new (Facebook, Twitter) media platforms. The sum of her efforts should be the model for conservative politicians and public figures going forward.
Palin reaches more Americans with a Facebook message (just under 1.3 million) than Keith Olbermann reaches during his 8 p.m. broadcast slot on MSNBC (roughly 1 million). Fox News now has plans to build a television studio in her home in Wasilla. Her recent book Going Rogue has spent 11 weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list, and has netted her somewhere in the 8-figure range.
The sum of all this says a lot about Palin, but also about the tremendous power of the media platform she has built for herself (with the help of an intelligent and capable staff). She has gone from a political corpse to one of the most prolific and influential persons in the conservative movement in under a year.
She has managed to do all of this in an atmosphere of extreme hostility from the mainstream press. Perhaps no American political figure is more despised by the nation's talking heads. This is a teaching moment for all conservatives: she has not only been able to thrive despite the liberal media; she has set up her own channels of communication that rival most major media outlets in terms of the number of people it reaches and the influence it has on the national discourse.
Mark Leibovich writes in yesterday's New York Times,
Her growing cast of advisers and support system could be working in the service of any number of goals: a presidential run, a de facto role as the leader of the Tea Party movement, a lucrative career as a roving media entity - or all of the above. Ms. Palin represents a new breed of unelected public figures operating in an environment in which politics, news media and celebrity are fused as never before. Whether she ever runs for anything else, Ms. Palin has already achieved a status that has become an end in itself: access to an electronic bully pulpit, a staff to guide her, an enormous income and none of the bother or accountability of having to govern or campaign for office.
"Few public figures not in office have leveraged the nexus between media and political positioning as Sarah Palin has," said the Washington lawyer Robert Barnett...
Palin's status as a media personality, celebrity, and politician has enabled her to straddle the traditional lines between communication media. So while the celebrity aspect of her persona gets her 1.3 million Facebook fans, more than 75,000 Twitter followers, and a lucrative book deal, her status as a prominent political figure gets her appearances on television news and radio stations. Meanwhile, her repute as an independent media figure (who, as her appearance on Oprah demonstrated, can single handedly boost ratings to record levels) has managed to get Palin her own Fox News show, and now a television station in her home.
Though few can hope to replicate her appealing public persona, Palin's media dynamism demonstrates that conservatives can thrive in the public sphere despite a hostile press, if they utilize the tremendous power of new media, and adopt an eclectic approach to the news media.
She was, after all, political "toast" (as Ann Althouse reminds us) less than a year ago. Even conservative commentators thought she was done. Ace proclaimed it "over. You can't resign from a governorship and then run for higher office. Barring some strong reason, like needing treatment for cancer." How far we have come since July.
True, it is ultimately Palin's personality and sensational appeal to the American people that has allowed her to adopt such the prolific media approach she has. But charismatic politicians are nothing new; indeed, celebrity is an essential element of any successful political candidacy--the election of Barack Obama demonstrates this fact.
What separates Palin from the rest of the appealing political figures on the national stage is her expert leveraging of various media platforms. It has allowed her to maintain her very populist image--one that even conservatives (see Brooks, David) in the traditional press despise--despite the fact that the news media is as a monolith very opposed to her brand of politics.
Though there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to the news media, especially in the digital age, Palin's approach is instructive to the extent that it shows that conservatives don't need to cater to a journlaistic establishment inherently hostile to its message. That should offer hope to all conservatives dispirited by an openly antagonistic press.