Twitter and the Cowardice of Sarah Palin
When I joined Twitter in July 2006 I was the 3,365th person to sign up for the 140-character message streaming social network. Now, with more than 190 million users having taken the plunge, I guess you could call me an early adopter of sorts.
See, I’ve always believed that the Internet -- and by extension new online tools like Twitter -- have the ability to create change because it levels the political playing field tearing down walls that have traditionally separated the powerless and the powerful.
It turns out I may have been wrong -- at least when it comes to a certain half-termer from Alaska.
Since prematurely leaving the Last Frontier State’s governorship in 2009, Sarah Palin has avoided potentially devastating repeat performances of her sit-down disasters from 2008 with Katie Couric and Charles Gibson by rarely if ever subjecting herself to questions from serious journalists.
Insulated by her role as a Fox News contributor, Palin instead turns to Twitter and Facebook to communicate with the legitimate media. Rather than tearing down the walls that shield the powerful, the medium is instead being used as a cudgel of self-preservation by Palin.
It was especially evident during the health care reform debate last summer when Palin claimed on Facebook that "Obama's 'death panel'" could decide the fate of her son who has Down syndrome or her parents. Repeated frequently by right-wing politicians, bloggers, talk radio hosts, and Fox News personalities, the assertion quickly became conservative conventional wisdom.
It mattered little that the non-partisan PolitiFact.com described such claims as "a ridiculous falsehood.” In the months following the “death panel” lie Palin was able to skate on by with the press returning time and again to breathlessly report her latest online musings despite her documented track record of misinformation.
For a medium designed to increase communication between people, Palin’s use of these social networks has been remarkably one sided.
Perhaps sensing that he may only be able to land a sit-down with Palin by propositioning her on Twitter, ABC News’ Jake Tapper embarked on a days-long campaign to convince the former GOP vice presidential nominee to join him for an on-air interview. Weeks later he remains unsuccessful in that mission.
Using Twitter, Palin also inserted herself into the debate surrounding the proposed Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan -- the “Ground Zero Mosque” as right-wingers call it -- making up a new word in the process. She initially wrote, “Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.”
After it was pointed out that “refudiate” isn’t actually a word, Palin compared herself to the Bard writing, “English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too.” She then replaced her original post with an equally extreme sentiment, saying “Peaceful New Yorkers, pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real.”
In other words, she sees all Muslims as a reminder of the horrific 9/11 attacks.
Again, for Palin this was an act of one-sided communication. She posted her views on Twitter and the press ran with it as news even though she refused to engage with them on the substance -- if there was any -- of her argument.
When Palin does avail herself for an interview it’s usually with the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, or Greta Van Susteren -- her Fox News colleagues. Lord knows they’ve never pitched a softball she wasn’t able to hit over right field.
Laughably, Palin had the gall to attack the “lamestream media” recently for supposedly failing to ask President Obama “those basic questions” by which I’m assuming she means the press hasn’t been hard enough on him. The irony of such a charge was obviously lost on her.
Palin often tells her followers “don’t retreat, instead reload!” Perhaps she should take her own advice and “reload” for another round of interviews with real reporters who will ask her “those basic questions.”
Of course, I’m not holding my breath. Palin prefers to hide behind her keyboard, showing her cowardice 140 characters at a time.