24 February 2012

In Defense of Sarah

The AP ran an article today about when Sarah Palin retired from the job of governor of Alaska. In emails leading up to the decision she decried the expense  ($500,000 in legal fees) and distraction of defending herself from what were essentially blind attacks from the media looking for dirt of some kind. It was the same kind of harassment Clinton faced and it's ridiculous. This kind of media is inevitable because we're all interested in personalities.

But this sort of investigative reporting also misses the point. The illegal things that one person can do is no match for the legal things that a government can do. Policies make far more difference to people's lives than do scandals. If Sarah Palin or Bill Clinton steal millions it is trivial in comparison to how they allocate billions and trillions in budgets.

The challenge isn't finding a personal story that people read about; the challenge is finding a way to write about systems issues in a way that makes them personal. But as Stalin knew, the murder of one person is a tragedy, whereas the murder of a million is a statistic. A really gifted reporter would know how to reverse that, and rather than dig for secrets that no one knows would write about the consequences of something everyone knows in ways that they'd never thought about.

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