Dana Milbank pledges to go cold turkey to over­come an ob­ses­sion

Wrestling with his Palin prob­lem

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Dana Milbank, Washington Post colum­nist

Though it is em­bar­rass­ing to ad­mit this in pub­lic, I can no longer hide the truth. I have a Sarah Palin prob­lem.

I have writ­ten about her in 42 col­umns since Sen. John McCain picked her as his vice pres­i­den­tial run­ning mate in 2008. I’ve men­tioned her in dozens more blog posts, Web chats, and TV and ra­dio ap­pear­ances. I feel pow­er­less to con­trol my ob­ses­sion, even though it cheap­ens and de­means me.

But to­day is the first day of the rest of my life. And so, I hereby pledge that, be­gin­ning on Feb. 1, 2011, I will not men­tion Sarah Palin— in print, on­line or on tele­vi­sion— for one month. Fur­ther­more, I call on oth­ers in the news me­dia to join me in this pledge of a Palin-free Fe­bru­ary. With enough sup­port, I be­lieve we may even be able to ex­tend the mora­to­rium be­yond one month, but we are up against a pow­er­ful com­pul­sion, andwe must take this strug­gle day by day.

I came to this in­ner strength by trust­ing in a power greater than my­self: my for­mer Washington Post col­league Howie Kurtz, now with the Daily Beast. A week ago, on his CNN show, “Re­li­able Sources,” I was com­plain­ing about the over-cov­er­age of Palin when I found my­self say­ing that “ the best thing would be — it’s im­pos­si­ble, of course — that we in the me­dia should declare some sort of a Sarah Palin mora­to­rium.”

It’s im­pos­si­ble, I fig­ured, be­cause Palin is a huge source of cheap Web clicks, tele­vi­sion rat­ings and me­dia buzz. If any of us re­fused to par­take of her Face­book candy or de­clined to use her as blog bait, we would be send­ing mil­lions of Web surfers, read­ers, view­ers and lis­ten­ers to our less scrupu­lous com­peti­tors.

The me­dia ob­ses­sion with Palin be­gan nat­u­rally and in­no­cently enough, when the Alaska gover­nor emerged as an elec­tri­fy­ing pres­ence on the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial ticket more than two years ago. But then some­thing un­healthy hap­pened: Though Palin was no longer a can­di­date, or even a pub­lic of­fi­cial, we in the press dis­cov­ered that the mere men­tion of her name could vault our sto­ries onto the most-viewed list. Palin, feed­ing this co-depen­dency and in­dulging the news busi­ness’s end­less de­sire for con­flict, tweeted provoca­tive nuggets that would help us keep her in the pub­lic eye — so much so that this for­mer vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date gets far more cov­er­age than the ac­tual vice pres­i­dent. We need help. I found some hope in last Sun­day’s New York Times, where colum­nist Ross Douthat said it is time for the me­dia and Palin to “go their sep­a­rate ways” and for the press to “stop act­ing as if she’s the most im­por­tant con­ser­va­tive politician in Amer­ica.”

Let’s take it one step fur­ther. I call on Douthat (who has men­tioned Palin in 21 of his Times col­umns since 2008, ac­cord­ing to a Lexis-Nexis search, and in scores of blog posts) to join my mora­to­rium — thereby form­ing a bi­par­ti­san coali­tion of The Post and the Times. I chal­lenge columnists Eu­gene Robin­son (33 Palin men­tions), Paul Krug­man (14), Kath­leen Parker (30) and Mau­reen Dowd(45) to do the same.

I also call on Keith Ol­ber­mann (345 shows men­tion­ing Palin) and Rachel Mad­dow (183 shows) of MSNBC, as well as Sean Han­nity (411 Palin seg­ments) and Bill O’Reilly (664 seg­ments) of Fox News, to take the pledge. Will Politico — with 96 Palin items in the past month alone — join this cause? Will the Huff­in­g­ton Post, which had 19 Palin men­tions on a sin­gle day last week — stand with me?

Palin clearly isn’t go­ing away: “I am not go­ing to sit down. I’m not go­ing to shut up,” she told Han­nity on Mon­day. But if we treat her a lit­tle less like a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal fig­ure and a lit­tle more like Ann Coul­ter — a cal­cu­lat­ing in­di­vid­ual who says shock­ing things to at­tract me­dia at­ten­tion — it won’t mat­ter. Sure, we might lose some Web traf­fic or TV rat­ings, but we might also gain some­thing. Re­mem­ber the “Se­in­feld” episode where Ge­orge Costanza, by giv­ing up sex, sud­denly frees up brain power to learn Por­tuguese and Eu­clidean ge­om­e­try, to teach Derek Jeter the physics of bat­ting, to be­come a “Jeop­ardy” whiz and to solve a Ru­bik’s cube? If we stop ob­sess­ing over Palin, we might sud­denly be­come ex­perts in the fed­eral bud­get or Medi­care re­im­burse­ment rates.

And so I pledge to you: Sarah Palin’s name will not cross my lips — or my key­board — for the en­tire month of Fe­bru­ary. Who’s with me?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.