The XX Factor

Why Palin Should Have Cooperated With Vanity Fair

The PR template for savvy politicians has long been to cooperate with major outlets on stories, because it’s easier to control the message that way. Even if the principal won’t sit for an interview, at the very least the principal’s staff and publicist should be talking to the reporter on background, knocking down rumors and promoting a positive perception of the boss.

Michael Joseph Gross’ Vanity Fair profile of Palin , which we’ve been discussing at some length , suggests he got bupkis . “Despite many requests, neither Palin nor her current staff would comment for this article,” he writes. He goes on to describe an atmosphere of fear and closedmouthedness among those who know her, Palin’s “real and rhetorical antagonism” toward the media, her spokesperson’s habit of “barely” speaking to the press, and a media consultant who’s apparently a rather shrill “novice.” (Of course you never really know-might Palin’s staff have commented off the record? Might they have given Gross backstage access for that opening scene of her speech in Missouri?)

Is this refusal to cooperate with Vanity Fair the smart tack for Palin or the stupid one? I can think of two recent magazine articles-one on Sally Quinn’s complicated family relationships , also in Vanity Fair , and one on Newt Gingrich in Esquire , containing those ruthless quotes from his ex-wife-in which the principals cooperated on controversial stories about them. As for whether this worked in their respective favors, I’d say yes for Quinn and probably for Gingrich. (The former House speaker may have lost out on the opportunity to humanize himself by being so Newty. But I think a profile of Gingrich using only Marianne Gringrich’s quotes and no interview with the pol himself could have been even less sympathetic.)

A good deal of real and virtual ink have been spilled over the way Palin controls her public image, relying on Facebook and Twitter to get her opinions out and rarely consenting to interviews. Press accounts are often critical of her approach but also grudgingly admiring-it appears to be working. Gross writes that since resigning as governor “she has submitted to authentic, unpaid interviews with only a handful of journalists, none of whom have posed notably challenging questions. … She injects herself into the news almost every day, but on a strictly one-way basis, through a steady stream of messages on Twitter and Facebook. The press plays along.”

And yet, I wonder if, had her people worked more closely than they apparently did with Vanity Fair , they might have shed some skeptical light on the shotgun wedding anecdote that Rachael and David Weigel and Ben Smith find questionable. Rachael also wonders about an account in which Sarah and Todd Palin threw canned goods at each other until the fridge “looked like it had got shot up with a shotgun.” Here’s the anecdote from a “friend” of the Palins that I found myself wondering about: “Once, while Sarah was preparing for a city-council meeting, she said, ‘I’m gonna put on one of my push-up bras so I can get what I want tonight.’ ”

Wow. Just, wow. A savvy press shop would cooperate with a reporter precisely for the opportunity to respond to an anecdote of this sort. You already know the potential rejoinders: a) It didn’t happen, b) Palin doesn’t remember whether it happened, c) Palin confesses that she may have once said something like this- in jest.

Instead, the story just hangs there, shocking in its brazenness, confirming Palin-haters’ most disdainful assumptions.