Media

Time Goes Gaga for Palin

| Thu Jul. 9, 2009 10:41 AM EDT

In a classic example of newsmagazine overthink, Time profiles Sarah Palin with a cover story that practically celebrates her thin résumé and essentially makes the case that know-nothingism could be good for America. Seriously:

Palin's unconventional step speaks to an ingrained frontier skepticism of authority — even one's own. Given the plunging credibility of institutions and élites, that's a mood that fits the Palin brand. Résumés ain't what they used to be; they count only with people who trust credentials — a dwindling breed. The mathematics Ph.D.s who dreamed up economy-killing derivatives have pretty impressive résumés. The leaders of congressional committees and executive agencies have decades of experience — at wallowing in red ink, mismanaging economic bubbles and botching covert intelligence.

If ever there has been a time to gamble on a flimsy résumé, ever a time for the ultimate outsider, this might be it. "We have so little trust in the character of the people we elected that most of us wouldn't invite them into our homes for dinner, let alone leave our children alone in their care," writes talk-show host Glenn Beck in his book Glenn Beck's Common Sense, a pox-on-all-their-houses fusillade at Washington. Dashed off in a fever of disillusionment with those in power, Beck's book is selling like vampire lit, with more than 1 million copies in print.

Citing Glenn Beck as proof that many Americans are eager to turn to a pol with little expertise in national policy? But didn't the country just have an election? And didn't a significant majority vote for the guy with two Ivy League degrees who talked about bringing professionalism, science, and expertise back to policymaking in Washington? (Anyone remember Palin's climate change denialism? Not the Time people.)

The Time crew obviously was punching up the subject matter so it could punch up the copy—and sell magazines. One dramatic theme in the piece is that Palin is pure Alaska and that to know her—really know her—you have to know Alaska and the rugged individualism and practical fatalism this far-away land breeds in its denizens:

Palin's breakneck trajectory from rising star to former officeholder — with more twists sure to come — has everything to do with her Alaskan context.

Only to a degree. The sole reason most Americans know anything about Palin is that a fellow from Arizona picked her to be his running mate. Without that, she would still be the answer to a political trivia question. So, obviously, it was the unique and rough-hewn libertarian frontier spirit of the American Southwest, where lone riders settled on arid plains to escape the confining conventions of back-East civilization, that was responsible for Palin's comet-like ascent to public prominence. Or maybe not. Perhaps it was just John McCain's bad judgment.

Without breathlessness and a contrary-for contrary's-sake thesis, Time would not have much to add to all the words spilled and spewed about the Palin pull-out. But give the newsmagazine credit. Through the efforts of five of its talented journalists, Time has managed to craft a more coherent depiction of Palin and her decision to resign than she has herself. So what's her beef with the media?

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