She Works Hard For The Money, So Hard For The Money

Gabriel Sherman at New York Magazine:

Palin knew there were ways to solve her money problems, and then some. Planning quickly got under way for a book. And just weeks after the campaign ended, reality-show producer Mark Burnett called Palin personally and pitched her on starring in her own show. Then, in May 2009, she signed a $7 million book deal with HarperCollins. Two former Palin-campaign aides—Jason Recher and Doug McMarlin—were hired to plan a book tour with all the trappings of a national political campaign. But there was a hitch: With Alaska’s strict ethics rules, Palin worried that her day job would get in the way. In March, she petitioned the Alaska attorney general’s office, which responded with a lengthy list of conditions. “There was no way she could go on a book tour while being governor” is how one member of her Alaska staff put it.

On Friday morning, July 3, Palin called her cameraman to her house in Wasilla and asked him to be on hand to record a prepared speech. Around noon, in front of a throng of national reporters, she announced that she was stepping down as governor. To many, it seemed a mysterious move, defying the logic of a potential presidential candidate, and possibly reflecting some hidden scandal—but in fact the choice may have been as easy as balancing a checkbook.

Less than a year later, Sarah Palin is a singular national industry. She didn’t invent her new role out of whole cloth. Other politicians have cashed out, used the revolving door, doing well in business after doing good in public service. Entertainment figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, and even Ronald Reagan have worked the opposite angle, leveraging their celebrity to make their way in politics. And family dramas have been a staple of politics from the Kennedys—or the Tudors—on down. But no one else has rolled politics and entertainment into the same scintillating, infuriating, spectacularly lucrative package the way Palin has or marketed herself over multiple platforms with the sophistication and sheer ambitiousness that Palin has shown, all while maintaining a viable presence as a prospective presidential candidate in 2012.

The numbers are staggering. Over the past year, Palin has amassed a $12 million fortune and shows no sign of slowing down. Her memoir has so far sold more than 2.2 million copies, and Palin is planning a second book with HarperCollins. This January, she signed a three-year contributor deal with Fox News worth $1 million a year, according to people familiar with the deal. In March, Palin and Burnett sold her cable show to TLC for a reported $1 million per episode, of which Palin is said to take in about $250,000 for each of the eight installments.

David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo:

But what’s more intriguing than that raw number is the underlying dynamic here: the mutual business relationship between Palin and the East Coast elites whom she rails against with populist invective and who scorn her as dumber than a moose. Money can soften any edge.

David Weigel:

Gabriel Sherman’s sprawling New York magazine cover story on “Palin, Inc.” is actually a fast and breezy read. It being an article about Sarah Palin, there’s no policy to slow it down. We get a brief explanation of how bitter Palin was serving as governor of Alaska while journalist Kaylene Johnson got rich (“I can’t believe that woman is making so much money off my name,” said Palin), especially after Palin realized that her gubernatorial duties would complicate her national book tour. So she quit, and we’re off.

Read it all, but take note of these points.

– According to Sherman, Palin writes her own Facebook posts. That shouldn’t be news, but Palin hired a ghostwriter to finish “Going Rogue”– and some of her early posts, festooned with footnotes, don’t sound like her. According to Sherman, said ghostwriter considered suing over an article by Max Blumenthal that made hay of her collaboration with conservative reporter Robert Stacy McCain.

– Discovery Communications bought Palin’s TV show as the “centerpiece of a strategy that TLC executives see as positioning the network as the anti-Bravo, whose shows like Top Chef, the Real Housewives franchise, and America’s Next Top Model are programmed to a liberal urban audience.” Bodes poorly for boycotters.

Robert Stacy McCain:

A friend wonders why I said nothing about this part of Sherman’s story:

The only real blip concerned her ghostwriter, Lynn Vincent, a writer for the Evangelical World magazine, whom Palin chose from a short list of candidates presented to her by HarperCollins. After news of Vincent’s selection leaked, critics seized on a January 2009 pro-life piece she had written for World titled “Black Genocide” — as well as her association with the co-writer of her 2006 book Donkey Cons, former Washington Times writer Robert Stacy McCain (no relation), who had a history of racially charged statements and associations — to claim that Vincent was racist. Vincent, who had collaborated on a New York Times best seller about racial reconciliation, told me that she was deeply hurt by the racism allegation and considered suing the Daily Beast for a piece by writer Max Blumenthal headlined “Palin’s Noxious Ghostwriter.” But when the media shifted its focus to Palin’s next adventure, Vincent dropped the lawsuit idea.

The problem with suing for libel (and as a journalist, I thank God for this) is that under the Sullivan precedent, it’s almost impossible for a “public figure” to win a libel suit. Like politicians and entertainers, an author is more or less automatically a public figure, thus requiring proof of actual malice. And as opposed to, say, a false accusation of criminal behavior, the charge of “racism” is damnably hard to disprove, which is why it is slung around so frequently in political discourse.

So there was no percentage in Lynn suing the Daily Beast, besides which going to court over what was clearly a third-hand guilt-by-association smear wouldn’t help Palin — and helping Palin was what Lynn was hired to do, after all.

And shame on those people who keep spreading malicious rumors that Max Blumenthal was arrested in a raid on a so-called “ladyboy” brothel in Phuket!

Josh Green at The Atlantic:

The article is chock full of Palin porn: her speaking fee ($100,000 a pop, plus diva treatment); her preferred mode of travel (Lear jet); her next headache (Levi Johnston is “writing” a book about her); and, my favorite detail, her three-level, 6000-square-foot, no doubt tastefully decorated new home that was already under construction when Gabe paid a visit. Among other things, the article makes clear that the desire for money, not an imminent scandal, led Palin to quit her governorship.

This all has significant political implications that tend to be downplayed or ignored when discussing Sarah Palin. Toward the end of the piece, Gabe goes right to the heart of the matter:

Why Palin would want to trade the presidency [of right-wing America]–and the salary–for a candidacy that faces possibly insurmountable political hurdles is a question to ponder.
Why indeed? Palin’s prospects in the Republican Party are a good deal dimmer than her star wattage suggests. She’s tallied middling performances in early straw polls and shows no inclination to embark on the grassroots work required of a presidential candidate. More to the point, this article makes clear that, were there any doubt, her preoccupying concern is “building her brand”–less in a political sense than a financial one. Palin may yet make a bid for the White House. But all evidence suggests that when the time comes to choose between earning money and running for president, Palin will choose money.

And she’s hardly alone. The other surprise figure to emerge from the 2008 race, with almost as bright a political future as Palin, was Mike Huckabee. But he, too, is earning serious coin on the book, TV, and lecture circuit, and signaling that he won’t run again. The candidate running the hardest for the White House, Mitt Romney, is also the only one who has secured a fortune. There seems to be developing an inverse correlation between the difficulty of running for president and the easy life that awaits those who fall just short. It’s never been harder to grab the brass ring; and it’s never been easier to quit trying.

Andrew Sullivan on Green:

The political parties are weaker than they once were. The elites cannot control grass-roots Internet-driven phenomena. Look at Obama. He seems a natural president now, but Washington dismissed his chances – as they are now dismissing Palin’s – right up to the Iowa caucuses. And because Palin is such a terrifying – truly terrifying – prospect for the US and the world, I think such complacency, rooted in cynicism about Palin’s mercenary nature, is far too reckless.

Look: what we have seen this past year is the collapse of the RNC as it once was and the emergence of a highly lucrative media-ideological-industrial complex. This complex has no interest in traditional journalistic vetting, skepticism, scrutiny of those in power, or asking the tough questions. It has no interest in governing a country. It has an interest in promoting personalities and ideologies and false images of a past America that both flatter and engage its audience. For most in this business, this is about money. Roger Ailes, who runs a news business, has been frank about what his fundamental criterion is for broadcasting: ratings not truth. Obviously all media has an eye on the bottom line – but in most news organizations, there is also an ethical editorial concern to get things right. I see no such inclination in Fox News or the hugely popular talkshow demagogues (Limbaugh, Levin, Beck et al.), which now effectively control the GOP. And when huge media organizations have no interest in any facts that cannot be deployed for a specific message, they are a political party in themselves.

Add Palin to the mix and you have a whole new machine in American politics – one with the capacity, as much as Obama’s, to upend the established order. Beltway types roll their eyes. But she’s not Obama, they say. She doesn’t know anything, polarizes too many people, has lied constantly and still may have dozens of skeletons in her unvetted closets.

To which the answer must be: where the fuck have you been this past year?

It doesn’t matter whether she’s uneducated, unprincipled, unaware and unscrupulous. The more she’s proven incapable of the presidency, the more her supporters believe she is destined for it. It’s a brilliant little gig she’s devised. She may be ignorant, but she is not stupid. She has the smarts of all accomplished pathological liars and phonies. And this time, she will not even bother to go on any television outlets other than Fox News. She will be the first presidential nominee never to have had a press conference. She will give statements by Facebook. She will speak directly to the cocoon that is, at least, twenty percent of Americans. The press, already a rank failure in exposing her fraudulence, will be so starstruck by the chance to make money that we will never have a Couric-style interview again. it will be Oprah all the time. Because Palin lives in an imaginary world, the entire media world will be required to echo it or be shut out.

Green responds to Sullivan:

Well, I think Andrew is profoundly wrong and borderline nuts on this subject–and if he’s right, and Palin launches a bid for the White House, his nightmare of a Palin presidency is unlikely to be realized. It’s not impossible. Just unlikely. The point of my original post, riffing off this New York magazine piece on Palin’s newfound wealth, was that Palin seems more interested in money than politics. The conventional wisdom in Washington–which Andrew has backward–is that Palin will probably run, though this is less a matter of conviction than a vague sense that she craves the spotlight and won’t pass it up. My mildly contrarian suggestion was that avarice might lead her instead to become a Glenn Beck-like political-entertainment figure, which would furnish her with a platform, a lifestyle, and a way of avoiding the hard work of running for president (a lot tougher than serving a half term as governor).

My point was limited to Palin’s own motivations and desires. But Andrew’s rant doesn’t address that–I don’t think his worldview allows for the possibility that she might not run. He concerns himself instead with lots of black-helicopter sounding stuff about cynical elites and the “media-ideological-industrial complex” and basically stops just short of accusing Palin of fluoridating the water. But after all that, what Andrew has described is not a force powerful enough to elect a president. He’s described (pretty accurately, I might add) elite Washington’s view of the Fox News viewership and then imbued it with a lot more importance than it merits. “Add Palin to the mix,” he writes, “and you have a whole new machine in American politics–one with the capacity, as much as Obama’s, to upend the established order.”

No, you don’t. As Andrew himself points out, the established order of the GOP has already been upended–you wouldn’t have a goofball like Michael Steele as your party chairman if the grownups were still in charge!

DiA at The Economist:

Mr Green is right; she is building a brand. But just so she can be a television hostess? How long would that brand shine if she rebuffed those who will (with very real passion) beg her to run? Yes, she’s uniquely successful at infuriating or terrifying liberals—but that’s because they think that she might still just become president. How does that 2013 contract look when she’s refused to enter the fight? This is hunch-blogging at its most speculative, I confess, but I think she’s in. So over to you. I don’t see someone who’s preparing for a book-writing and lecture-circuit career. What do you see in the estimable Sarah Palin?

Razib Khan at Secular Right:

The profile reduces my probability that Palin will make a serious run (as opposed to a pro forma one) for the highest office in 2012.* It also leaves me impressed by how quickly and efficiently she’s leveraged her celebrity and gone from moderately upper middle class** in income (and in serious debt due to legal bills after the 2008 campaign) to wealthy. Some Republicans are apparently worried about her becoming the “face of the party,” something that crops up now and then in the media, but it doesn’t seem like they really have to worry that much unless the party has no real substance and is rooted only in style and the need to get elected. As for Sarah Palin, whatever you think of her politics or personality, she’s offering a concrete product distributed through the private sector. The article mentions that her book was a major reason that Random House generated a profit last year! Whatever criticisms one might lodge, she’s not getting rich by being a rent-seeker, as so many of our public and private sector elites have become. In fact the article points to a whole industry of liberal critique which has emerged around her, so she’s not even capturing all the wealth that she’s responsible for (spillover effects).

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