america's sweetheart

Inside the Palin Industrial Complex: The People Who Thrive on Speculating About Her Presidential Intentions

In the world of political journalism, Sarah Palin is good for business. Love her or hate her, readers feel passionately, and passion makes people click. We’ve written plenty about America’s Sweetheart here on Daily Intel. New York’s Gabriel Sherman and John Heilemann have each written cover stories about her. But there’s a smaller subset of journalists who are even more deeply involved in the prospect of a future President Palin, and I once was one of them.

I was a paid Palinologist in my former job at Slate, one of a tiny but devoted tribe of journalists who gamely try to parse the former governor’s every possible hint concerning the 2012 Republican primary. When I began my assignment back at the very beginning of March, 2011, I planned to do an update several times a week, on the theory that she’d announce very soon, one way or another. What a naive, innocent time that seems: We’re at the end of August, and even if she’s been eclipsed by other media lightning rods, Sarah Palin has still managed to keep people interested. It’s nearly the zero hour. Palin said recently she’d (maybe) make her announcement by late September, but the real drop-dead date is October 31, the filing deadline for the Florida primary. Here’s a guide to the people who will be analyzing her every move with the same level of attention and deconstruction a literature PhD candidate brings to Ulysses.

The Beat Reporters: Perhaps the most relentless of the tribe is Scott Conroy, who co-authored Sarah From Alaska, an account of Palin’s 2008 rise. Conroy has gotten a few scoops tossed his way by the Palin camp — he broke the news that there would be a Palin movie, Undefeated — and he does plenty of boots-on-the-ground reporting. He’s part of a troika that includes CNN’s Peter Hamby and Shushannah Walshe of Daily Beast, who was also Conroy’s co-author on the Palin book. All three tweet things like “Stand by for big Palin news … .” In that instance, the news was Palin re-starting her bus tour. They sound the advance yell about events where Palin might possibly announce her candidacy. (Mark your calendars for September 3). They check InTrade for the odds that Palin will run. Their ears perk up when she refers to herself, possibly accidentally, as a candidate. They even get a little irked by the way people react to Palin (Conroy: “Prediction: the Twitter snark when Palin announces whether she’s running is gonna reach historic levels“). They are, after all, beat reporters who need that beat to be there.

The Obsessives: These are the people who follow Palin as more of a vocation than a beat. Reporter Joe McGinness, for instance, famously moved to the house next door to Palin’s in Alaska so he could better gather intel for a book. His Rogue blog is a running chronicle of Palin’s movements, along with occasional Wasilla reportage. And if you’re looking for the latest Palin conspiracy theory, well, look no further than Andrew Sullivan, who could probably speak for hours, uninterrupted, on the question of whether Palin is in fact Trig’s mother. No Palin happening goes unnoticed by this pair, and they rarely miss a chance to ascribe dark motives. Their readers love it. Also, McGinness’ book is out in a month — and it will good for sales if she runs. Andrew Sullivan might see a conspiracy there, but we’ll call it a coincidence.

The Activists: This group is also obsessed, but they are cheering Palin on. They don’t just analyze her every statement, they follow it up with a plea for her to run. The best example is the blog Conservatives 4 Palin. (Sample headline: “Governor Palin and the Return of Jacksonian Foreign Policy.) It’s a combination of grassroots political site and fanzine, hosting open threads for commenters on big days in Palinworld. This morning, for instance, the site has an open-thread discussion on the countdown to Palin’s September 3 speech. Palin returns their love: One of her top advisers, Rebecca Mansour, was the site’s founder, whom Palin hired after admiring Mansour’s work admiring her.

The Partisans: Funnily enough, like Palin, they both work for Fox News: Greta Van Susteren — whose husband worked as a Palin adviser — frequently has Palin appear on her show; it’s probably great for ratings when she does, and even better for ratings if people still consider her politically relevant. Greta “is guessing” Palin will run.

Karl Rove is demonstrably not a Palin fan. He even said in 2010 she wasn’t a suitable candidate for president. But while he’s a johnny-come-lately to the Palinology game, Rove’s recent prediction that she will run kicked up some dust. Palin herself was upset by it, possibly because she knows if Karl Rove is egging her on, he may not have her best interest at heart.

Or at least that’s what I’d had said in my days as a Palinologist. It’s a relief not to be one any more, though: Obviously, I still write about her. But practicing Palinologists are trapped in a weird reliance on their subject. If Palin doesn’t run for office, she shifts even farther along the celebrity-politician sliding scale, and their work suddenly seems … devalued. But if she does? They’re way ahead of the pack.

Related: The Revolution Will Be Commercialized [NYM]
2012: How Sarah Barracuda Becomes President [NYM]

Inside the Palin Industrial Complex: The People Who Thrive on Speculating About Her Presidential Intentions