Media Challenge: Will They Take The Palin Bait?

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Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice presidential candidate, has every right to submit an opinion piece on health care to the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page, and they've got every right to print it.

But Palin's existence in this debate does not (a) lend her voice any credibility and, beyond that, even if you believe that her experience as a state governor does give her at least a modicum of credibility, it does not follow that, because her voice is credible, it ought to be influential. Newt Gingrich is influential by rights; he's done the work, come up with original ideas, and been in the trenches. (Replacing Medicare with vouchers...not new or remotely plausible, even if GOPers do well in the next two elections. Quoting Ronald Reagan talking about that type of proposal...not new. Etc.)

The media -- by which I mean the cable news networks, primarily -- will determine whether Palin's view on health care becomes influential. There are many Republican, conservative health care spokespeople who have earned the right to speak for their party's principals, and, truth be told, can recite the talking points (complete with Ronald Reagan quote) better than Palin and her writer can.  They're the ones who should be offended if Palin's op-ed becomes the voice of the opposition tomorrow, because Palin isn't seen by most Americans as a particularly trenchent analyst of policy. Indeed, the reason why Palin's team wants to get her pieces in publications like the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal is that, in this next phase of her political career, Mrs. Palin has to burnish her policy skills.  And the Journal is all too willing to lend some space to this project, because plenty of people will see the piece.

So here's a challenge to the media: if you want to do justice to conservative ideas and find some balance in your coverage tomorrow, book serious Republicans with original ideas on your programs.  If you don't, Palin is giving herself a voice at your expense and through little effort of her own.

By implying, incidentally, that Palin gets help from a speechwriter, I mean to make an observation. Barack Obama didn't draft his op-ed, either.  But, reading Obama, it's not a leap to believe that the ideas are truly his.  Palin has no chops and no experience talking about health care and isn't participating in this debate; the content of her op-ed piece isn't original, and the points are points that Republicans make every day. 

This is the reality. Palin has policy credibility problems. Big ones.  A few op-eds aren't going to help her. But if the media treats her as as a legitimate and influential voice today, she won't need to do the hard work that will result in her learning more about policy and actually becoming conversant in the issues that she, as a potential presidential candidate, will deal with.

If Palin were writing about oil and energy, about her experience in state government on health care, if she were making a new argument -- then my umpiric objections would vanish.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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