Personally, I'm all for opening the nation's most influential opinion pages to semi-talented writers, otherwise I wouldn't ever get anything published. But playing so neatly into the marketing plans of the former governor and former candidate turned best-selling author - whose greatest talent seems to be whipping up media coverage - may, as Palin wrote about "Climate-gate," bring the issue of op-ed worthiness to "a tipping point."
It was, after all, the Post's sister publication, Newsweek, that stirred Palin's publicity efforts a few weeks ago with the cover photo of her in a jogging outfit. But magazine editors, especially those working for struggling publications, can be forgiven if their primary basis for selecting cover art is to sell magazines. Op-ed editors, on the other hand, are presumably more concerned with promoting intelligent thinking.
Although Palin does little more than rehash the arguments of radio hosts for whom the smoking e-mails about global warming were early Christmas gifts, her column is timely and provocative. So the debate among the Post's editors must have been spirited...
Run it: She's hot...it will be the most-read piece on the page...she's a bona fide spokesperson for conservatives...she ran for vice president...she ties in some local angles from her brief stint as governor in Alaska...it will confirm that we're open to all opinions and opinion-makers...even if she didn't really write it herself, that's nothing new; most politicians and celebrities put their names on things written by aides.
Don't run it: We can't be a tool in her current marketing campaign...we're giving credibility to a person who hasn't earned it...she doesn't break new ground on the issue of climate change...it will appear as if we're pandering to the far right by giving her this forum.
It's worth noting that back in the summer of '08, at the height of the presidential campaign, The New York Times rejected an op-ed column by John McCain dealing with the war in Iraq. The editor, David Shipley, said McCain's writing wasn't good enough, and said he would reconsider if the senator cared to try a rewrite, which never happened.
At least McCain was the presumptive nominee of his party at the time, and a legitimate expert on military matters. Moreover, The Times had run an op-ed about Iraq by Barack Obama just a week earlier.
Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is in the midst of a magical ride across the media landscape. At a book signing in Minnesota Tuesday a guy in the crowd tossed two tomatoes her way, striking two nearby cops. Wednesday's schedule included the whistle stop at The WaPo's op-ed page, plus a Barbara Walters special on ABC-TV in which Palin was (again) named one of Ms. Walters' "most fascinating people." Others on Walters' list of deep thinkers included Kate Gosselin, Jenny Sanford and Glenn Beck.
The issue isn't freedom of speech or press. Those are givens. Sarah Palin is free to write books - or columns - and promote them, and anyone who tries to censor her is out of line.
The Washington Post is also entitled to run op-eds from anyone it wishes, without the need for explanation. But space is limited and important issues are pressing.
Readers, of course, are always free to ask: where's a tomato when you really need one?
© Peter Funt.