More from me–and Media Matters–on my disinvitation from Sarah Palin’s Alaska podcast

Media Matters for America has weighed in on TLC’s decision to invite — and then uninvite — me to participate in a podcast about the reality show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska. (My previous two blog posts have discussed what I originally agreed to talk about on the podcast, followed by my response to my segment being scrapped.)

Media Matters’ post is headlined, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska cancels non-political guest’s podcast appearance, fearing politics (Yeah, right).” MM’s Jamison Foster writes:

If you’ve been paying attention to Sarah Palin’s Alaska, you probably know that the folks behind the show are obsessed with pretending that the show doesn’t have anything to do with politics. That obsession took an amusing turn this weekend as media critic Jennifer Pozner, author of a new book about so-called “reality television,” was invited to participate in a SPA podcast — then abruptly un-invited.

Foster quotes from podcast host Brian Reich’s explanation for the segment’s cancellation, and his statement that “Sarah Palin’s Alaska is not a political show.” (Reich’s comments are printed in full at the bottom of yesterday’s Reality Bites Back blog post.) Foster concludes:

So, according to Reich, Pozner is not a “political critic,” did not mislead SPA about her views abut the show, is not “a political commentator,” and doesn’t even “have a political view to offer in relation to the show.” Nevertheless, SPA cancelled Pozner’s appearance because her blog post created “a politically charged conversation.”

Yeah, sure. That makes sense.

More likely: SPA pulled the plug because of Pozner’s position that SPA is “the first show to allow a politician to use the unscripted television format to craft their image and get their message out in a way that flouts advertising and campaign spending regulations (since a “show” isn’t considered a political ad).” Reich’s initial post explaining the un-invitation of Pozner didn’t mention anything about that, but he later added an update acknowledging: “When we spoke with Jennifer in advance of scheduling the interview, she told us that she planned to discuss the unique way the series is allowing a politician to construct a message outside of political advertising.”

Reich claims Pozner’s blog post referring to Sarah Palin’s Alaska as “a series-long unpaid political advertisement” caused “a politically charged conversation.” But Reich acknowledges that Pozner had written similar things in the past and had told SPA she planned to discuss that point on the podcast. And Reich says Pozner is not a “political critic” and that “we do not consider Jennifer to be a political commentator, or even to have a political view to over in relation to the show.” So if, as Reich says, Pozner is to blame for causing a “politically charged conversation,” that isn’t because Pozner is a political actor, but because she planned to discuss the political nature of the show itself.

As I wrote last night, I understand podcast host Brian Reich’s desire to avoid the potential for a nasty flame war, since the podcast features a live call-in format. I was and still am open to communicating with and working with the #spalaska podcast to introduce media critique and media literacy concepts into a forum that does not usually feature such information.

Still, I disagree with the premise that a reality TV show executive produced by and starring a former VP nominee and future potential POTUS candidate could ever be considered “not political.” One angry Palin fan on Twitter demanded to know from Reich if he’d be bringing on someone with a “pro-Palin pov” to provide “balance” to any conversation the #SPAlaska team might have with me — not understanding that A) I am a media critic, not a pusher of party politics on either side; and more importantly, B) there is no need to have a “pro-Palin” commentator to “balance” my media analysis, since the entire show is executive produced by Palin, and crafted to emphasize only the messages and images Palin wants the public to believe about who the politician is, what her family is like, how they live, and what they value. And just as in any reality show, as I discuss in Reality Bites Back, we have no way to know if any of that is even remotely true, because reality shows are fundamentally manipulative fictions, crafted by producers often out of whole cloth, and fueled by product placement. In the case of #SPAlaska, Palin is one of those producers, and the politician herself is the product being placed. (For the record, I would be just as opposed to any politician, Republican, Democratic, or Independent, using the reality TV format to manipulate the public and flout campaign spending and political advertising rules.)

This means that even if I had planned to talk about Palin’s actual political viewpoints — which I did not — it’s ludicrous to insist that a “pro-Palin” commentator would need to be brought in to “balance” anything I’d say on a podcast run by a public relations team in support of a reality show produced by and starring Palin. It’s like those folks who whine about colleges organizing Black History Month events every February, demanding to know why why don’t study White History Month, too. Um, because the vast bulk of what American schools teach in literature, history, economics and even geopolitics focuses on white people’s experiences and accomplishments, often to the point of rendering the experiences and accomplishments of people of color invisible. Nothing I could say about Sarah Palin’s Alaska on a TLC-hosted podcast — regardless of how critical I might be — could ever possibly “balance” the fact that reality show itself is a series-long unpaid political advertisement for a former VP nominee, a former Governor of the state in which the show is set, and a potential future presidential candidate. The idea that one (media) critic’s comments would need to be “balanced” here — like the idea that a reality show about a politician could ever be “apolitical” — displays a fundamental misunderstanding of how both media and politics work.

I find myself wishing every adult in America was required to take a refresher course on civics right about now.

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