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    Election 2008: Palin v. Gibson

    Many voters had already decided that Sarah Palin was incapable and dim-witted before seeing her interview with Charlie Gibson for ABC on Sept. 13. People who hear reports about the interview before seeing it themselves say that Palin sounds coached but cornered. As with many stories in today’s news media, the way that the interview was conducted seems to leave a more lasting impression than the words that were exchanged. It is most important, and certainly most challenging, to separate the ways Gibson and Palin acted from what was said.

    The spectacular nature of Gibson’s journalistic method was most offensive. With his dismissive manner and a singular lack of courtesy, he baited Palin and seemed to wait for her to back down. To her credit, she displayed a certain likability and ease of manner that did not allow for his pettiness.

    Gibson asked ridiculously broad questions (“What is your opinion on the Bush doctrine?”) and demanded that Palin compensate with specificity in her answers. Gibson seemed over-prepared, contrived, and vindictive. After asking a series of slanted questions about her previous political decisions, he conspicuously lost interest before tackling basic interest issues like gun control, abortion, and stem cell research. In short, Gibson failed at his basic task of presenting Sarah Palin to the people for the first time. He tried to corner her the way a police investigator with a personal vendetta would.

    Palin, in turn, failed to present a coherent, cohesive image of herself to Gibson. Barack Obama, in contrast, has given us an epic example of style over substance; in his interviews he answers the most banal of queries in a method that compliments both himself and the questioner. Obama has learned to glorify his inexperience and thrives in the political haze of superficiality and oversimplification that characterizes our upcoming election. Until Palin recognizes and adopts this technique, she has only her personality to fall back upon.

    Palin has the best possible attitude towards her current position. In the face of Gibson’s vain barrage of questions, she remained casually unyielding. She did not take offense or cower. Unlike the other candidates, her political views seemed consistent with, and closely linked to, her personality. However, despite this strength, potential, and good intentions, she remains uninspired and uninspiring. She isn’t ready to lead the country, no matter what she says — but she can take the backseat to McCain and will do more than her share to garner votes for the Republican Party.

    In this interview, she stuck to a few basics that she may indeed have been coached to uphold as a vice presidential candidate: her unity with McCain, her personal investment in our nation, and her political values. Unfortunately, she has only a general idea of her party’s intentions and campaign promises; she has been educated in her own role only. She is still inhibited, fearful, and uncertain, but time and experience with the media transform almost every political candidate, and with time Palin will also refine her ability to deal with the media

    For her upcoming interview with Katie Couric, we can only hope that Palin develops a better conception of herself, her role in her party, and her party’s intentions. As she develops as a public figure, we may even grow to like her.

    Since the job of a politician became to “lead” rather than to “rule,” politics has become just as much about presenting oneself as it is about legislation. In this election, the media has placed itself on even footing with the politicians themselves in the way in which they represent and interpret the candidates. In this overstated, over-publicized, coarse interview, Gibson’s attitude occluded Palin’s representation of herself – and he shouldn’t have denied her that right. Far from hard-hitting journalism or political acumen, Gibson and Palin demonstrate the artificiality of personal opinion in a world where the media makes such decisions for us. As Gibson asks these impossibly petty questions, and Palin squirms out of them, we have to be mindful of how different media might have agendas, as Gibson clearly did.

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