Last week, Sarah Palin guest-hosted on The Today Show. That single PR stop has created more controversy than almost anything the former Governor and VP Candidate has done in 2012 so far. And that’s saying something, considering the level of press her every move and statement seems to garner. As we reported, the appearance got off to a rocky start when Matt Lauer made a particularly snide comment about the politician’s “preparation” for her co-hosting duties. Lauer asked if Palin was “reading any newspapers,” obviously referring to the infamous interview with another Today alum Katie Couric, that seriously damaged Palin’s credibility and John McCain‘s candidacy.
At the time, I thought the insult showed Matt Lauer in a negative light, making fun at his co-worker’s expense and creating a hostile work environment before Palin even showed up on set. While I don’t agree with her politics, I argued that Palin has proven herself as a media personality and professional pundit, qualifying her to be Lauer’s co-worker and demonstrating that she deserves respect in the entertainment industry.
Some of our commenters cried foul, pointing out that Palin routinely creates drama herself and isn’t actually a qualified anchor or journalist, she’s an exercise in branding and public relations. “Fig” made a very well-reasoned argument on why Palin shouldn’t be on the show at all, saying:
“Someone so mired in the swamp of partisan distortion (I would say the same of similar figures on the left like Michael Moore) don’t deserve a seat at the forefront of the world of journalism. They belong in the opinion pages and as a talking head. She has no business hosting a show like Today. Let her step in for Huckabee or Hannity. Don’t let her sub for someone who’s an actual journalist. It lends false credence to the idea that she is non-partisan.”
And Fig, it looks like Bryant Gumbel agrees with you. The well-respected journalist told The Daily Beast‘s Howard Kurtz that hosts “used to be judged not just on their popularity level but the extent to which they were capable of interviewing someone or reporting on a situation, or able to have a degree of gravitas. Now that is secondary to being popular.” He also said that he was “embarrassed” that his former employer chose to have Palin on to host.
I have to admit, seeing it from Gumbel and Fig’s point of view, I can completely understand their point. Although I do think that it takes the conversation in a very different direction than one of co-worker relations. This appearance and media controversy has made me think about professional credentials and if they’re becoming secondary to recognizable branding.
Sarah Palin is a businesswoman. She may not be everyone’s favorite, but that’s part of her appeal to her fanbase. Her followers love defending her and seem even more enraptured every time she gets attacked. Whether we like it or not, Palin has ability to get attention and to lead the conversation. But is she a qualified journalist? Obviously not.
In choosing to have her co-host The Today Show, even for a day, that program placed controversy and media attention above it’s own moral integrity as a journalistic endeavor. And it’s understandable why that would make professional journalists who are associated with the show angry. Though I would argue that Matt Lauer probably should have talked to his employers instead of venting at Palin on-air.
Is this simply a new media obsession that will continue trading out the Bryant Gumbel’s of the world in favor of a few more Ryan Seacrest’s? Do you think that other businesses will begin looking for employees that can establish themselves as a brand or bring in publicity instead of actual talented professionals? One could argue that the fashion industry has been doing this for years now. It’s the only way to explain leggings by Lindsay Lohan or anything by Lauren Conrad. What industry will the “popularity” bug move to next?
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