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From Wasilla, With Love

  |  September 5, 2008   |  Comments

Republican presidential nominee John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin underscores a new chapter in online political marketing.

Dear John McCain,

Thank you for choosing Sarah Palin as your running mate.

By selecting Gov. Palin, you're helping to write a new chapter in online political marketing. Your announcement one week ago demonstrates just how fast information travels about one person, even if that person -- who's the first Republican woman vice presidential nominee -- lives in the remote town of Wasilla, Alaska.

Living up to journalistic credos to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable -- and to sell more newspapers -- reporters from "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," and other traditional media moved quickly to delve into the Alaska governor's background. Reports examined how Palin sought to get a former brother-in-law fired from the state police and hired a lobbyist to help get $27 million in federal funds for small town projects.

Sophisticated political marketing machinery cannot solely shape Palin's image. Nor can traditional media totally own Sarah Palin's life story.

Small Town, Small World

Let's start with my Facebook friend, James. To be sure, James has an independent streak and isn't involved in partisan politics. But he works and lives inside the Beltway -- so he drinks the same water and breathes the same air as other political animals like you.

Hours after Palin was named as your running mate, James posted a photo of Wasilla City Hall on his Facebook profile page. The photo was originally posted by djcn0te on photo-sharing site Flickr.com in 2005. Since Palin ascended into national politics, so too has this photo. It's now accompanied by wisecracks (or insightful observations, depending on your political persuasion). Wrote clockwerks: "so McCain's VP pick was mayor of a laundromat?" And this from emasscouple: "She really is for reducing the size of government, eh?"

One blogger asked djcn0te to post the image on Wikimedia Commons, a place where people can post images for use by others. And djcn0te obliged, enabling him to make a small but significant contribution to politics and history.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Sorry, Sen. McCain. Not everyone has nice things to say about the governor and her family -- and that includes some very hurtful lies being spread online. Headlines on left-leaning blogs initially screamed that Palin's fifth child, Trig, was rumored to be the child of her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol. But that was a lie, though it didn't die until Palin disclosed that Bristol was five months pregnant, attracting media attention worthy of Jamie Lynn Spears.

The Morning After

As I write this, it's the morning after Palin's historical speech at the GOP convention. And things are looking brighter -- at least online.

A Google search for "Sarah Palin" turns up such headlines as "Palin rises above the feeding frenzy" for a "Boston Herald" editorial and "A forceful advocate for McCain," a news article in "The Baltimore Sun."

Bottom line, Senator? In the coming weeks and months, keep in mind a quote from Winston Churchill: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

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Anna Maria Virzi

Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at Forbes.com, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.

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