Oprah exploited Sarah Palin.
Sarah Palin knew this, of course. She signed up for it. It’s all part of the deal that people opt in to when they’ve when got a platform that’s larger than their employment prospects.
It’s a bad deal, though. And one that tells us some things about our deeply flawed media.
The deal is supposed to work like this: A notable figure writes a book. They spend the better part of a month giving interviews to as many venues as they can in hopes that the attention will get people to purchase the book. Then they take the money earned by the book out of the bank in singles, cover their bed it in, and roll around happily.
This quid pro quo is a much better deal for broadcasters than it is for authors (as loosely defined as the term may be in this case), and it diminishes both mediums. It turns book publishing into a de facto money laundering operation. Is there any doubt that everything Sarah Palin wished to express and accomplish with “Going Rogue” could have been done just as well with a series of interviews? Or 20 pages of bullet-points?
Worse, the arrangement gives an enormous free pass to a “news” culture that’s become to celebrity newsmakers what the NCAA is to athletes. In a time when the book business is ever more troubled, and the ability to draw an audience together for anything longer than a youtube clip is ever more valuable, how does it make sense for books to serve as the near exclusive means of monetizing interest, while television newscasters get paid millions upon millions for asking softball questions in service of news broadcasts that serve as profit centers for multinational corporations?
Orpah and other broadcasters get a definable benefit, in ratings and advertising dollars, from having someone on who brings extra eye to the screen. If Sarah Palin brought one extra viewer to Oprah’s show, or to any of the other venues she’s been on in the last couple of weeks, why shouldn’t she be entitled to payment for the value she added?
Taking the idea a step further, imagine a broadcast where the journalists and their interview subjects shared the profits, in an above-board way.
Perhaps a profit motive might lead to someone like Palin answering questions that journalists typically don’t ask, like about Trig’s birth, or how she really feels about her political future. After all, nothing sells like conflict and revelations.
Most celebrity “news” interviews these days are non-confrontational to the point of propaganda. The news could cease showing their desperation for the ratings that come with a good “get,” and fearing that showing a semblance of spine would torpedo their chances. Instead, the could focus on offering the best financial deal, and preparing a show that would create the most possible interest.
We might even get more truth out of the deal.
(I, for one, would pony up $24.99 to watch Sarah Palin interviewed by Michael Moore on Pay-Per-View. Would the integrity of the news business really suffer in that kind of deal?)
It’s time for a new method of monetizing interest. (And if it only served to save us from all of those dubious books, that would be success enough.)