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Sarah Palin back on the trail: What to watch for

November 16, 2009 |  4:04 am
 

ABCs Barbara Walters and Sarah Palin

Well, it looks like these ladies got the memo about Blue Monday.

This is Barbara Walters of ABC, shown here on the right, posing with the latest celebrity she's interviewed in her very long, diligent career of interviewing famous people about things we didn't know we wanted to know about them. Like their favorite tree, for example.

Walters is very good at it. Such conversations powered by public curiosity have proved addictive to Americans in a long tradition of popular American journalism since Dolley Madison captured the public's fascination as first lady for not one, but two, presidents -- her actual husband, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson, a widower who in those days couldn't really bring his black mistress in as White House hostess.

Anyway, about the latest, biggest political celebrity ever, Walters might happen to mention some of her favorite moments with Palin every few minutes on "The View" this week, which also happens to be on ABC.

It's a match made in PR heaven: A politician whose supporters can't wait to see....

...her and the politician's critics who can't keep themselves from watching either, if only to collect critical things to say about her because she's so unimportant.

What's to worry, then? It's a fascinating modern media phenomenon, someone who's said to be such an irrelevant, out-of-office non-factor that her critics can't wait to talk endlessly about her, as if she really does matter. Which, of course, she certainly doesn't.

Sarah Palin Book Cover HarperCollins

The ex-manager of Barack Obama's ongoing presidential campaign, who himself is on the road hawking a new book, said he hoped Palin's tour would last two years. Presumably he wasn't thinking of News Corp. shareholders when he said it.

To help Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins sell those 1.5 million copies of the 413-page "Going Rogue" allegedly already printed, we're all going to be learning a lot more about what we possibly already knew but forgot about the woman, pictured .

You might recognize Sarah Palin. She's the most recent ex-governor of Alaska who's trying to become the second successive U.S. president to use an electrifying political convention speech to launch a very long-shot run to the White House.

Except this Republican woman doesn't want to become first lady; she wants to become the first lady commander-in-chief.

The modern public road to the White House usually starts with a book. Or two. Or three. Ask the current guy, the son of a single mother who even wrote about his past drug use and still got elected.

Palin, however, has a lengthy image rehab road to travel first in the minds of many Americans.

Turns out for 20 years Palin faithfully attended and financially supported a church where the minister gave racist rants denouncing America as the devil and Americans and Israel as evil. And when videos of those "sermons" showed up, the Republican claimed never to have noticed such disturbing words during those long hours of attentive devotion in the pew every week. 

Oh, wait. No, that was Barack Obama. Not Palin. And the shocking tapes came from opponents within his own Democrat party. He won anyway.

Palin's rehab involves recovering from some dumb, faltering answers to piercing questions from a TV reporter about things like what newspapers she reads. So that'll be much harder for Palin to overcome in the next couple of years.

All of this, of course, will help sell books over the next month or six weeks, when most such sales occur. Palin's book tour has been meticulously planned. Why go for the 987 people watching Charlie Rose on TV? He never lets any non-N.Y.Times guest finish a sentence anyway.

Better to use Oprah to reach curious millions. Despite backing Obama (and attending the same church, btw), Oprah got first crack at Palin on today's show because of her audience clout. And today's show with Palin sure won't hurt her ratings.

Gritting her teeth, Barbara Walters had to settle for second crack. But her interview will be sliced and diced five times all week on various ABC platforms, ending with the whole conversation Friday on "20/20." Here's a little insight on the publicity struggle surrounding Palin.

Barbara Walters with Sarah Palin and daughters Piper and Willow

Oprah did a 54-second online video (link below) right after taping Palin last Wednesday. She revealed, well, not much to require a TiVo setting.

The pair, she said, talked about "everything."

But she only mentioned the Pregnancy of Palin's Daughter, now a single mother, and the no-longer-future-son-in-law named for the jeans maker Lucky or whatever his name is who has his own publicity wants.

But makeup-less Oprah looked bored and grudging.

So this weekend, the ABC promotional machine (think Disney owners) released video clips of Palin and stole a little pre-Monday thunder and a lot of online buzz.

New York and Washington and their political-media folks are accustomed to thinking of themselves as the nation's capitals of clout. But midweek in a savvy move by HarperColllins and the woman from Wasilla, she will set out in her book bus across Middle America. Bitter small-town people who cling to their religion and guns like, sniff, quaint smalltown people tend to do.

Tuesday, Palin's on-air with Rush Limbaugh and his millions of minions in their cars and kitchens. All Palin's people on their home turf. Not to mention the folks at Fox News where, oh look, more than a third of the audience is Democrats; they might buy a book if they're among the employed still.

Now, just offhand, where do you think Palin's arrival, presence and book would make a bigger splash -- a Fifth Avenue cocktail party, a D.C. hotel soiree or some Sam's Club in Putzville, Penn.? Bingo!

Obama's savvy media folks tried the same thing for him last winter over his economic stimulus bill. The president of the United States flew his 747, his entire chief executive's entourage and the Capitol press corps all the way out to Denver to sign a piece of paper. What do you suppose the carbon footprint of that legislative promotion was?

Now, here's something else to watch for this week. Book authors on tour are coached that some controversy would be really good for sales. An apparently angry radio or TV interview that can be replayed over and over all over.

Maybe make some headlines; share a newsy anecdote that isn't in the book. Blurt out a seemingly unrehearsed comment on someone or something else in the news. Something like, say, "No president should ever bow to any foreign head of state." Think that might draw some more attention?

Also, authors are instructed to repeat the title of their book at every opportunity. Sales are all about impressions on the minds of potential buyers. Do you think "Going Rogue" is short by accident?

Most authors ignore that request and say useless things like: "In my book..." Instead of: "In 'Going Rogue' I describe the moment John McCain said to me..." For many years Larry King has pleaded with every guest author something like, "Please don't say the name of your book over and over. I promise I'll mention it often." And he does. That's show biz. And book promotion.Sarah Palin Blows Kiss to supporters 2008

So let's see what happens with SP in coming days.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Related items:

Sarah's new Twitter account

Video clips of Sarah Palin with Oprah

Oprah talks about what Sarah Palin talks about

What's actually in Sarah Palin's book

Palin's roguish book tour schedule details

The secret Sarah Palin speeches we never heard

Sarah Palin breaks with GOP to endorse Conservative

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Photo: Steve Fenn / ABC (Walters, Palin, Piper and Willow); Joe Burbank / campaign pool (bottom).

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