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Sarah Palin's Public Relations Strategy: Presidential or Not?

4 years ago
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Sarah Palin may be the social media queen when it comes to going directly to her constituency (and the media), but she and her team have a ways to go when it comes to basic public relations skills.

The 2012 presumed GOP presidential hopeful proved that during the past week, when all eyes were on the mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz. And her exclusive interview Monday night with Sean Hannity on Fox News (the network that employs her) didn't help.

We're on board with Jared Loughner carrying the sole blame for the tragic assassination attempt on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that killed six people, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, and left Giffords fighting for her life.

Yet Monday, Palin insisted to Hannity that she was "being falsely accused, of being accessory to murder." Meanwhile, she called Loughner a "left-leaning criminal who killed these innocents."

Then, she insisted she would not be silenced.

"They can't make us sit down and shut up," Palin said "If they could ever succeed in doing that, then our republic would be destroyed."

There's no need to silence the former Alaska governor. But is it too much to ask that she hire some more effective advisers -- and take their advice? Palin didn't rule out a run for the presidency Monday. But if she intends her organization to be political and not simply a publicity machine to drive fans to her books, next TV series or political action committee, well, she needs to step up her game.

Palin couldn't have expected political foes to ignore the fact that she'd made Giffords' Tucson congressional district a target after the health care reform vote last March. Giffords sure didn't, decrying Palin's language to MSNBC at the time. And Palin wasn't the only one criticized for using seemingly violent rhetoric. Radio talk-show hosts and other politicians shared that spotlight. Even President Barack Obama took heat for his 2008 campaign remark about bringing a knife to a gunfight.

As The New York Times pointed out in a story Monday, however, few in the mainstream (to Palin, "lamestream") media actually drew a direct connection between Palin (or even conservative talkers Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh) and Loughner. Instead, the story concludes, much of the debate occurred in social media such as Twitter or on Palin's Facebook page.

But if the 2008 vice presidential candidate really wants to compete with the big boys for the 2012 GOP nomination, she -- and her team -- have some lessons to learn.

Here are a few spots where Palin and her chief communications adviser Rebecca Mansour could have done better.

The timing, Part I. Palin's people took down Sarah PAC's Take Back the 20 Web site shortly after the Jan. 8 shootings. It was one of the sources of the infamous graphic targeting Democrats, including Giffords, for their health care reform votes. Negative comments on a Saturday morning post promoting the final episode of "Sarah Palin's Alaska," her Learning Channel series, were quickly deleted. Palin finally issued a short statement offering prayers and condolences shortly after 3 p.m. EST, about three hours after the shootings began and about 20 minutes after Obama's initial statement. Offering a sympathetic statement first, then scrubbing the Web, would have engendered more positive reaction. But that wasn't the only timing issue . . .

The timing, Part II. On Monday or Tuesday, Palin could have had a 24-hour news cycle all to herself. Instead, she released her almost 8-minute video response to the shootings early the morning of the president's Wednesday evening speech. Palin and her people set up a direct comparison with the probable 2012 Democratic nominee, instead of filling the vacuum of an entire news cycle. The comparison didn't work well for Palin, in part because of . . .

The tone. Palin's Facebook note of the video script mentioned Giffords three times and the word "victims" four times. But she never specifically acknowledged the death of U.S. District Judge John Roll (appointed by a GOP president) or 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. Palin did use the world "political" four times, however, as she focused on criticizing "journalists and pundits" and "the mindless finger-pointing." Obama, meanwhile, struck a tone that focused on the victims of the tragedy and how Americans might honor them going forward. Many conservatives praised the president's speech, even Palin's 2008 running mate, Arizona Sen. John McCain in a Washington Post piece Sunday. But you wouldn't have known that if you'd been following some of . . .

The supporters. Talk-show hostess and Palin defender Tammy Bruce kept up a stream of criticism (some would say snark) on Twitter throughout Obama's speech, following up with a blog post summarizing her thoughts, referring to the president as a "classic Malignant Narcissist," among other things. Contrast that with the reaction of conservatives elsewhere and Palin's supporters come off as, well, pretty shrill. Bruce, Mansour and the folks at Conservatives4Palin helped promote the "Blame Palin" meme that trended on Twitter the Tuesday evening following the shootings. Is a prank that not everyone gets really a good joke? Is the aftermath of a shooting rampage in which six people die and 13 others are injured even a time for jokes? Do these people ...

Know when it's time to move on. Monday's interview with Hannity focused almost solely on Palin's response to her critics, especially those of last week's video: "My defense wasn't self-defense. It was defending those who were falsely accused." She offered a lukewarm assessment of Obama's speech: "There were parts of it that did hit home. ... I agree with those who said the setting was a bit bizarre, like a pep rally, a campaign stop." She defended her use of the "blood libel" meme. In other words, she guaranteed that folks will be talking about her and reading about her in the days to come. But they won't be talking and reading about her bright new ideas or vision of the future, just her defense of her prior actions.

On Monday, Palin managed to end her interview with more battle imagery.

"I speak for many and will continue to do so," she said. "I'll take the darts and the arrows because I know others have my back and I have their backs."
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Sarah Palin hit pieces is about all this liberal AOL "journalist" ( among others) writes about. Palin and her family are almost daily bombarded wiith hit pieces from TV,blogs and the liberal AOL writers

January 19 2011 at 8:07 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

When is this obsession with Sarah Palin going to end , I have nothing against her but the Media's obsession with her is just driving me to just stop watching TV because there is never a station that just will not go a day without trashing her . They say she is spreading hate but as I listen to her I here no such thing coming out of her mouth at all . They want people to hate her so they just seem to fear her and I can't understand why?

January 18 2011 at 10:55 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
Kiki O'Quinn

Every time I hear people criticize Sarah Palin I think, wow, she must be terrible. So I listen to her with more intense interest. Every time I listen to her I think she is really very sound with a very good message. I admire her confidence, her resiliance, and her inteeligence. It is the media that loses my respect every time they talk about her. That is because what they are saying is not supported when i watch and listen to her. Why are they so inclined to criticize her? That is the bewilderment here. If she were so incapable the media would pass her up as a harmless home maker busy with her children. But the media refuses to stop focusing on her. That is very telling. That is where Sarah wants to be. Good job, Sarah!

January 18 2011 at 9:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kiki O'Quinn's comment

And what exactly is her messege? For a few years now I have listened to her blab about how terrible the government is, how we need to take out country back(from who), but never ever says what she would do to fix things. I woudl never vote for someone that only knows how to undermne everyone else without them explaining what they would do. This woman is so full of herself, makes huge demands to listen to her speak (best Hotel rooms, 1st class airfare ect..) just some of her demands. Then she laughs all the way to the bank on the backs of all the people she is duping.

January 18 2011 at 10:23 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

I live in Tucson where "Crosshair Rhetoric" inflames those with very limited judgement capabilities. It is very easy for Sarah Palin to deny her culpability. If she really believed in her message, she wouldn't be back peddaling so hard. But the truth is that she has blood on her hands and is now trying to wash it off. Gabby called her out on the "Crosshair Ad" back in March. She voiced her concern about those who are swayed by this kind of rhetoric. Ironiclly our community has suffered many losses because of a madman with a gun. Ideology created by a "Lock and Load" mindset about gun control that continues to lead our children to the slaughter.

January 18 2011 at 8:17 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply

Ms. Palin loves her some freedom of speech. what she doesn't seem to like is the responsibility that goes with that freedom. it is illegal to yell "fire" in a crowded theater unless of course if there actually is fire in said theater. it is not illegal to use inflammatory rhetoric, to "target" polical opponents or say that there are "second amendment remedies"; however, not using such language is the responsible thing to do. to expect some civility in our political discourse is not censorship nor is it an attempt to curb freedom of speech. it is an attempt to make things less volitile and nasty and violent.
All of this reminds me of something I read recently. It is a joke that harkens back to a day when people really knew how to insult each other with style.
George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill: "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend...if you have one."

Winston Churchill, in response: "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second...if there is one."
And then there is this quote from William Karr: "He had delusions of adequacy".

January 18 2011 at 7:32 PM Report abuse +19 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Rebecca's comment

Sarah was just letting everyone know that she is not going to be silenced by the verbal attacks on her nor is she going to alter the language that she uses because some critics say she is not politically correct. Would the people that are constantly spouting the hate speech against Sarah be willing to take the blame if Sarah was physically attacked????

January 18 2011 at 7:26 PM Report abuse -16 rate up rate down Reply
Uncle Eddy

Palin is a personality and nothing else. She has very little else to give the country.

January 18 2011 at 7:11 PM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply

Critics have probably tanked Palin's political candidate prospects with a barrage of parodies and snarky attacks. That does not mean that she has nothing to offer, or that her political policy thinking is invalid. Think of it this way: she was running for Joe Biden's job...

January 18 2011 at 7:08 PM Report abuse -14 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Michael's comment

Sara Palin tanked her own Political Career. The interview with Catic Curic started it all. She cannot be sucessful as a national candidate on a local or specific media base. She cannot speak only to her own belief's and not addresss why she would be against others and answer questions that are involved in thoes issues. Her appearance on Fox is planned with pre-planned answers and as a top political candadate or even running as President she has to be able to stand on her feet in front of all and stand her ground and she is unable to do that. Her interview that flubbed with Catie Couric still has her afraid to truly Meet The Press and that a President does not Make

January 18 2011 at 7:37 PM Report abuse +17 rate up rate down Reply
WD Simmons

While is was not her fault Palin now admits that they were crosshairs. I was trying to rembember who was the first person to equate Palin's name with rhetoric with potential for violence. Oh yes, it was Gabrielle Giffords. Hard to argue with her.

January 18 2011 at 6:59 PM Report abuse +18 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to WD Simmons's comment

But was Giffords also decrying the hateful rhetoric from the left? Perhaps she should have been, since apparently the madman who shot her was left leaning! Neither Palin nor Giffords is responsible for this mass murder...Jarid Loughner was a mentally ill man who had been angry with Giffords since talking to her in 2007, long before the last presidential election, much less the last midterm election!

January 18 2011 at 8:46 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

I liked watching the Alaska Show. It's a beautiful place. A better narrator could have been used. Sarah Palin should stay in Alaska and raise her nice family. Enjoy her aging parents. The policical arena will chew her up. No chance at winning..Running would be a waste of energy and a unnecessay selfish burden on her family..Be a good Wife and Mother stay home.

January 18 2011 at 6:26 PM Report abuse +20 rate up rate down Reply

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