Palin dodged chances to talk with News-Miner

Posted: Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I had written a column that was just about ready for publication when Gov. Sarah Palin derailed it last week with news of her resignation. The column was about my frustrating and fruitless campaign of the past seven months to have the governor speak to the editorial board of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

I figured the column wasn't needed any more. Sarah Palin will soon be out of office, 18 months ahead of schedule and of her own choosing, so why bother. And on Monday came the final word, after half a year's worth of my hopeful cajoling, that Gov. Palin wouldn't have anything to say to us. "That is correct - she will not be meeting with the board. I apologize for all of the back and forth," came the e-mail from her spokeswoman.

And yet I have been reading these past several days that Sarah Palin is alive on Twitter and Facebook, maligning the media in her tweets and posts. She won't meet with us, but she sure will bash us.

She did it again on Friday, posting on Twitter in advance of her appearance on KFAR radio in Fairbanks: "Candidly, I love radio vs some newspapers bc... 'Most newspapermen by definition have to be liberal; if they're not, by my definition, they can hardly be good newspapermen.' W. Cronkite"

Of course, the governor has misinterpreted the quotation for her own use. Cronkite, in the 1973 interview with Playboy magazine, used the word "liberal" as meaning open-minded.

PLAYBOY: Implicit in the (Nixon) administration's attempts to force the networks to "balance" the news is a conviction that most newscasters are biased against conservatism. Is there some truth in the view that television newsmen tend to be left of center?

CRONKITE: Well, certainly liberal, and possibly left of center as well. I would have to accept that.

PLAYBOY: What's the distinction between those two terms?

CRONKITE: I think the distinction is both clear and important. I think that being a liberal, in the true sense, is being nondoctrinaire, nondogmatic, noncommitted to a cause - but examining each case on its merits. Being left of center is another thing; it's a political position. I think most newspapermen by definition have to be liberal; if they're not liberal, by my definition of it, then they can hardly be good newspapermen. If they're preordained dogmatists for a cause, then they can't be very good journalists; that is, if they carry it into their journalism.

The governor seems to be offering the misinterpretation of the Cronkite quote as a reason for no longer granting open-ended interviews to us or most any other news outlet. Her Twitter post is another attempt to divert attention from the real reason she won't talk, especially since it's no secret that this newspaper's editorial page is generally viewed as being more in line with Republican ideas and therefore can reasonably be assumed to be somewhat friendly terrain for a Republican governor.

The real reason Gov. Palin won't talk is because we and others she won't talk to actually ask questions that challenge her ideas. She can't take criticism or anything close to it.

Having someone question her ideas doesn't fit with her simple media plan: Try to get good news out without risking damage to her national image that could come by talking to reporters and editors about not-so-good news. And when negative news does come out, claim to be a victim of biased coverage by the "mainstream media."

She cries foul but has done nothing to rectify whatever wrongdoing the media has done to her or that she perceives the media has done to her. What she has done is easily find time for flattering national photo shoots and to talk with non-threatening magazines or commentators on friendly conservative national or local radio and television shows.

Among Alaska media, The Alaska Journal of Commerce noted in a June 19 editorial that "A quick, albeit unscientific survey of the state's larger media outlets suggests that in the past six months there have been few - if any - one-on-one interviews where more than a couple of targeted questions were answered. Meanwhile, there were at least four exclusive interviews with national broadcast media within a few days of the Exxon/TransCanada (gas pipeline) announcement." The word from the Anchorage Daily News is that she hasn't spoken to that newspaper's editorial board "for a long time." As for her resignation, she invited some national news networks to Dillingham, gave them 10 minutes each on the beach, and stuck to the same talking points in each of those interviews.

For nearly seven months I have tried, with various degrees of effort, to get the governor to speak with the editorial board of the Daily News-Miner. The last time she appeared in our office was in December for a session consumed largely by comments from people accompanying her. She displayed the same reluctance to talk in an earlier session, preferring instead to ask those around her to answer questions.

I desperately would like the governor to tell me I'm wrong on this, to rip me apart on this or on any other matter - like her two immediate predecessors, Republican Frank Murkowski and Democrat Tony Knowles, would do without blinking. They had no difficulty finding time to come here and sit for an honest, tough discussion of the issues confronting Alaska. And they, not their aides, would do the talking.

Not Gov. Palin.

I wish the governor would have tried to persuade our editorial board where she thinks we need persuading. I wish we could have had the opportunity to tell her we agree with her on Topic A and disagree with her on Topic B. I wish we could have had a civil, respectful discussion of the things that matter. We've had our differences, notably on her Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, her nomination of Wayne Ross as attorney general and her qualifications to serve as vice president and, if necessary, president. But we've also given her support when necessary - most recently in her valid criticism that the ethics complaints filed against her are a gross abuse of the state's ethics law.

I also think Gov. Palin wouldn't and won't meet with us, or most any other media outlet that doesn't express adulation over her, because she wants to preserve her "media victim" image as much as possible.

To regularly interact with editorial boards and to engage in substantive discussions with journalists and commentators who could challenge her ideas could undercut that self-made "victim" status.

And if she really is a "media victim," shouldn't she be lambasting the editors and journalists directly, in face-to-face meetings or in on-the-record interviews? That's what other politicians and state leaders regularly do.

As for me, if the governor had specific complaints with the Daily News-Miner, I didn't hear about them.

It's worth noting that she did find time to talk to several News-Miner editors about the issues, for two hours, back in 2006 while she was campaigning for governor.

That seems like a long time ago now.

We haven't changed much since then, but she sure has.

• Rod Boyce is managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

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