Politics & Policy

Sarah’s Star Power

Checkout-counter glossies dish dirt on Palin — for now.

What did the women of America see at they waited in line at the checkout at Wal-Mart or Winn Dixie this past weekend ? Sarah, Sarah, Sarah on the covers of People, US, and OK! as well the front page of the National Enquirer. And they all were dishing the dirt and doing her dirt, especially the Enquirer and US.

The Enquirer’s “World Exclusive News” headline was “Sarah Palin’s Dark Secrets,” accusing the Alaska governor of having had an affair with her husband’s business partner – although the claim was attributed to an unnamed “enemy.” US, owned by Jann Wenner, who also owns Rolling Stone and is a longtime Democratic supporter, headlined its piece “Sarah Palin: Babies, Lies & Scandal” – though when one of the magazine’s editors was grilled on what exactly were the lies the magazine was enumerating, he didn’t seem exactly sure.

US also started their issue with a love note to Michelle Obama’s supposedly great sense of style. A month or so back, the magazine had a totally drooly piece on how much Barack loves the Missus. By the way, it is been reported that thousands of US’s readers have cancelled their subscription because they are so offended by the hatchet job the magazine has done.

OK! and People were a bit more evenhanded — in a skewed way: OK! had, for the first time, two covers: one featuring Palin; the other, the Obamas. The Sarah story had the usual sordid stuff, while the Obama story declared that their family was so “all-American they almost make the Brady family dysfunctional, mom goes to bake sales, dad balances the checkbook, and the girls love Harry Potter.” No mention that the Brady Bunch probably didn’t to a church where the minister spewed hatred, Sunday after Sunday.

But, hey, all these magazines one-upped Time and Newsweek, which also have Sarah on the cover. But neither newsweekly seemed capable of figuring out how to get the reflected glare off the corner of her glasses: both covers make it look like as if she has a piece of paper stuck on her specs. The celebrity weeklies at least know how to use Photoshop: Palin’s glasses look like glasses on their covers.

All these stories were likely put to bed before Palin’s speech last Wednesday night, and so the editors — especially those of the celeb weeklies — did not anticipate what a terrific impression Palin would make. I’m betting that many women watching, whether they agree with all her views or not, just plain liked her. (I know my Dem friends did.) They liked the way she looked (just try to find those glasses she was wearing, if you doubt that), they liked her sassiness, and they sympathized with her as the mom of both a special-needs infant and of a teenager who — dare I say — is a handful in her own right.

What is most important to these magazines, though, is that Sarah Palin became not merely a vice presidential candidate last week, she became a fresh new star. It was accomplished to some degree by her photogenic good looks, her gritty story, even the unusual twang tone in her voice. In one evening, with just one speech, she displayed more star personality than Hillary Clinton ever has. And checkout mags need stars, especially stars their readers find appealing.

Palin, at 44, is even the perfect demographic — the age of half these magazines’ readers or the mothers of their readers. And, yes, she fits so perfectly into one of US magazine’s favorite photo features — the one that shows famous folks doing ordinary things, under the regular feature called “Just Like Us.”

I don’t doubt we will be seeing a lot more of Palin on weekly covers as the campaign progresses. And the coverage in those magazines that appeal to millions of ordinary women unloading their shopping carts at the checkout counter could get considerably more sympathetic. Palin is a gift to the Republican ticket, but she is also a gift to a slew of magazine editors — and they know it. Attractive cover personalities are hard to find — well, except maybe for O. And though the media trashed Palin at the start, magazine editors are a practical and cynical lot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see many of them abandon the political loyalties most of them share if Sarah really sells. They might even hope Sarah actually wins!

Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.

Myrna BlythMyrna Blyth is senior vice president and editorial director of AARP Media. She is the former editor-in-chief and publishing director of Ladies’ Home Journal. She was the founding editor and ...


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