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Coverage of Political Campaigners: The Palin comparison

By Victoria Parker
Created 22/09/2008 - 12:22

This contribution has been submitted to Webdiary by a student in the Online Journalism unit for the Masters in Media Practice and Masters in Publishing courses at The University of Sydney as part of the unit's assessment. The topics covered in the pieces awaiting publication are interesting – and diverse. We hope that Webdiarists will enjoy reading them, as well as giving these aspiring journalists plenty of constructive commentary.

Coverage of Political Campaigners: The Palin comparison
by Victoria Parker

The name Sarah Palin is one that has resonated in Australia within the last month, for all the wrong reasons. Her personal life has been the focus in The Sydney Morning Herald [1] and The Australian [2] amongst others. I’m very aware of whom Sarah Palin is but if questioned on all of her political views, without thorough research, I’d be a little rusty.

Her policies [3] seem inferior to her personal life in the eyes of the media. Why has Palin been portrayed as a quasi- soap opera? Aren’t her views enough to warrant coverage of this magnitude?

Pictures of Obama’s children are not displayed online like Palin’s and many Australians would struggle to name the Democratic Vice- Presidential Candidate, Joe Biden. (As a Democrat supporter, I’d much rather hear about his policies [4] than Palin’s latest family scandal.)

So why is Palin the topic of choice? Are different expectations placed upon her because she is a woman? Dr. Marc Brennan, Lecturer of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney believes it plays a role in her portrayal, “[I think there’s] a problem in the print media where gender, unfortunately still matters. So, here is this woman who stands for all sorts of things but first and foremost she’s a woman, so they start to talk about her children”.

Surely times have changed though? It pains me to think that the portrayal of women is stuck in the dark ages. She has something to say, so let’s hear it. There has been coverage on her ‘electrifying’ acceptance speech [5] in various publications but overall the Australian coverage has been predominantly superficial.

However, since the announcement of her VP candidacy she has been pictured with her children and her husband on nearly every occasion. Is she contriving press attention of this nature? Dr. John Hart, Lecturer of Politics and Government at the Australian National University, says that reportage of Palin’s life is pivotal in McCain’s campaign. “The fact that [her daughter’s] going to have the baby and marry the husband was considered to be a plus not a minus. That kind of media attention is priceless” he says referring to the views of Conservatives Republicans. It’s vital to remember that this is the reason that McCain chose Palin, for the “redneck” [6] vote.

Palin has become a “celebrity” hence this salacious news appearing in the media. “It’s about… what the journalists think the readers want,” Brennan says. The ‘cult of celebrity’ [7] is so powerful in contemporary media that no-one is safe. As Charles Krauthammer explained in The Seattle Times on September 14th, the media emphasis has now moved from Obama to Palin.

It seems that the media dig-up everything they can and Palin is a journalist’s Holy Grail. As Hart states, “she has got this celebrity status and it clearly has paid off...you would have to say that whatever the reason for McCain’s selection, it’s doing quite well for him.”

The views of this woman should not be hidden beneath the gossip. We need to be more informed. It is important to understand that she could be the Vice-President of America in November and the impact this will have on Australians as one of their strongest allies. The press needs to stop generating these fluff pieces and start printing some real news.


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