ABC’s John Berman reports:
When does reality end and campaigning begin? That’s one question that comes to mind for some regular viewers of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” on TLC. Because last night, in between whitewater rafting, dog sledding, and expositions on antler piles, the former Governor of Alaska managed to slip-in a political zinger directed at First Lady Michelle Obama.
While in an ostensibly spontaneous moment, preparing for a family cook-out, Palin is searching for the different products that make-up the “s’more,” that much beloved great American treat.
She mutters, “Where are the s’mores ingredients? This is in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert.” Just in case the viewer could not hear the very audible utterance, TLC, which airs her weekly reality/travel show, put the words up on the screen.
In her political and paid speeches, Palin has been highly critical of Michelle Obama’s campaign to combat childhood obesity. She brought cookies to a Pennsylvania High School to argue that what kids eat should be a parent’s choice, not the governments. But this is the first time she has mentioned it on her TLC entertainment show.
Casual television viewers and amateur politicos might wonder, does this type of politicking during prime-time violate any of the so-called equal time rules? After all, TLC is not airing any show called, “Michelle Obama’s Garden.”
The simple answer the question of whether equal time applies here is, no. Not at all. First off, equal time is only an issue for broadcast channels, not cable. Because in the (increasingly imaginary) antiquated world of programming, broadcast stations like ABC use public airspace to broadcast their signal, while cable stations are on privately-owned wires.
What’s more, equal time only applies to times when there are actual contests going on, and when there are legally qualified candidates for office. Right now, there is no official race for anything, and Palin isn’t an official candidate for anything. So she can say what she wants, where she wants and when she wants.
The show, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” has provided a window into the breathtaking landscape of Alaska. It has also presented Palin with an unparalleled platform to present her family and her views in a favorable light. It is the kind of positive biographic narrative that candidates pay big money for in an election season. (Though remember, it isn’t yet an election season, and Sarah Palin is not, at this moment, a candidate.) We meet her father Chuck who is a gregarious former science teacher. And we see Palin on adventures with all of her children.
What’s more, the issues she chooses to emphasize on the show, hard work and individualism are the same that she stresses in her recent book, “America by Heart.” These issues are not, in and of themselves, inherently political. But in her book, Palin does quickly turn such ideas into political messages. Her support of hard work and individualism is presented in contrast to what calls “voices,” who believe, “the purpose of government—the purpose of America—isn’t to promise equal opportunity, but equal outcomes.” And within paragraphs she pivots to attack President Obama for his oft-quoted campaign statement that the government should be “spreading the wealth.”
Last night’s direct mention of the First Lady, subtitled for our convenience, is the latest step in the evolution of Palin’s cross-platform, cross-media, all-encompassing presentation. There are sometimes very few degrees of separation between what Sarah Palin does and says on her reality show, and what she says and does on the stump for Republican candidates.