Speeding along city streets, going from somewhere to somewhere else, was the Sarah Palin “One Nation I’m Not Running for Anything But Follow Me Anyhow” bus chase.
Following her were about two dozen reporters and photographers from the national news media, and now and then some local news teams, many of whom violated traffic laws in order to keep the Palin Convoy in sight.
The news media told others how much they were suffering. Sarah wouldn’t tell them where she was going. She didn’t issue press releases. She wouldn’t give them interviews when they wanted. The media had to call, text, and radio each other just to get information. They couldn’t even get proper bathroom breaks because they had to chase that danged bus and the two Sarah SUV escorts. They believed their lives were more like those of combat correspondents under heavy incoming fire, and not the celebrity-chasing paparazzi they had become.
What little information they got, they had to go to Facebook and Twitter, where Team Sarah posted nightly updates. And, oh yeah, if you have a few bucks, please contribute to Sarah PAC, which was funding the trip.
On the second day, 10-year-old Piper Palin had sarcastically told a photographer, “Thanks for ruining our vacation.” Of course, it wasn’t the media who “ruined” what Piper thought was a family vacation. Sarah Palin’s own website claimed the purpose of the tour was “part of our new campaign to educate and energize Americans about our nation’s founding principles, in order to promote the Fundamental Restoration of America.” To “promote” that education campaign, Piper’s mother commissioned a luxury bus, and wrapped it in a professionally-created design, complete with a Sarah Palin signature larger than anything John Hancock could have written. Since Mother Sarah always emerged from the bus wearing ready-for-prime-time campaign makeup and conservative “glad-to-meet-ya-but-I’m-not-really-running” conservative suits, it was questionable just whose vacation it was.
In Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day, Sarah put on a helmet, black leather jacket and, still wearing high heels, jumped onto the back of a Harley, and seized the spotlight from thousands of Rolling Thunder bikers who were in the capital to honor POWs and MIAs. Sarah was in the capital to honor Sarah.
In the nation’s capital, she wore a large cross. In New York City, the fundamentalist half-governor whose church believes that Jews will never get to heaven unless they are baptized as Christians, wore a Star of David.
At Fort McHenry, Mt. Vernon, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and several other historic sites on her six-day erratic trip up the eastern seaboard, she stopped for minutes here, minutes there, in an attention-deficit span of pseudo-patriotism, long enough to make sure the media saw her, that there was ample opportunity for photo-ops, and then moved on. Where? No one really knew. It was as freewheeling as her own political style.
At Gettysburg, she stayed long enough to take advantage of numerous photo-ops. In New York, the media breathlessly told us about Sarah and newly-incarnated birther Donald Trump having pizza in a restaurant on Times Square.
On I-90, near Worcester, Mass., her caravan rolled into a storm, just behind a tornado, not stopping for either their own safety or to help those affected by severe damage from the tornado.
In New Hampshire, where Mitt Romney was announcing his campaign for the presidency, Sarah managed to have her own show about five miles away, drawing the national media to her star power, and then claimed she didn’t mean to upstage Romney. It was just an accident, she said in the state where the nation’s first primary for the 2012 presidential election will be held.
At Ellis Island, she misinterpreted potential immigration law. In an interview with Fox News reporter Greta van Susteren, the only reporter allowed on the bus, Sarah mangled the truth about Social Security, the Obama stimulus plan, and the foreign aid package to Egypt.
In Boston, she reinvented history and complained about “gotcha” journalism. You know, like the “gotcha” question Katie Couric asked in 2008 about what she read. This “gotcha” had come from a Boston reporter who had thrown an even easier puff ball—”What did you learn in Massachusetts and what did you take away from it?” Apparently, she didn’t learn much. Instead of spending enough time in Boston to learn about America’s revolution, she informed the nation that a bell-clanging Paul Revere went out to warn the British not to mess with America’s right to bear arms—or something to that effect. When historians politely disagreed with her curious interpretation of history, she steadfastly maintained she knew American history, and that everyone—including, apparently, Paul Revere’s own notes and letters— was wrong.
Some of the Sarah Zealots even tried to manipulate information in Wikipedia to parrot what Sarah believed was the reason for Paul Revere’s ride, thus giving revisionist history an entirely new dimension.
Although Sarah thought the media were into “gotcha journalism,” the truth is that the wily politician, who tiptoed into broadcast journalism after college, now assisted by a media-savvy campaign staff, managed to do everything right to manipulate the mass media to give her more coverage than a Puritan in a clothing factory.
Her handling of the media was the ultimate “gotcha.”
You betcha, Sarah.
[Walter Brasch, a journalist for more than 40 years, has reported on almost every presidential campaign since 1968. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at amazon.com].