“Geez, Todd!” Sarah Palin shouts—fairly screeches, actually. “Geez, Todd!” she repeats, this time in a lower register. “You’re so lucky!”
The celebrated former Republican vice presidential nominee—who served as governor of Alaska for 19 months before quitting in the middle of her first term to make millions on the lecture and reality-show circuit—is barefoot on an outdoor basketball court at an unnamed desert resort. She’s wearing a purple T-shirt sporting a “john ‘08” logo in the middle of a fish-shaped symbol—a conflation of her two most important saviors and benefactors, Jesus Christ and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
And she’s getting beat, badly, by her First Dude in a game of HORSE.
Clearly, Palin’s “Sarah Barracuda” days—when she was sharp-elbowed Sarah Heath, point guard on the 1982 state championship-winning girls high school basketball team, the Wasilla Warriors—are very much behind her. On the other hand, unlike any other losing veep candidate in memory, she has managed to extend her 15 minutes of fame into six long years of monetizable stardom.
Her latest venture—for which Todd’s very ungallant hoop triumph is a featured attraction, at the tail-end of a video in which the ex-guv exalts the beauty of the desert landscape, “aggressive resource development,” and (in a burst of Palinesque verbiage) “this creation of God’s that we’ve been gifted with”—is the paid-subscription, Web-based Sarah Palin Channel.
“It’s going really well,” Klein says, while declining to reveal how many Palin fans have signed up for $9.95 monthly or $99.95 yearly subscriptions. “She asked us from the very beginning never to talk about specific numbers, because for her she says it’s not about the numbers. It’s about the message and enabling her followers to all get together and talk freely. So I can’t give you numbers. I can tell you that she’s hit all our milestones and that she’s posting content constantly.”
The content, not surprisingly, will be easily lampoonable by the “liberal elite intellectuals” that the channel’s namesake frequently rails against. There’s a surfeit of paeans to Ronald Reagan; a countdown of “DAYS LEFT IN THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION”; a regular “ASK ME ANYTHING” video in which just-plain-Sarah fields personal and political questions from inquiring subscribers; a featured link to “Bristol’s Blog,” in which the oldest Palin daughter (and single mom) muses on everything from a biblically correct Adam-and-Eve routine on Dancing With the Stars to the treachery of Lena Dunham and the Hollywood lefties who empower it; and “SALLY’S WORD OF THE DAY,” chosen by Palin’s mother Sally Heath.
Thursday’s word was “judicious.” Presumably, Sally Heath’s future words of the day will not include “revigorated,” as in her daughter’s “ASK ME ANYTHING” answer to a subscriber who was interested in supporting a third political party. “Reagan didn’t believe in a third party when he was running,” Palin chirped. “He believed in a revigorated GOP.” (Also, not to be a pedant about it, but the ex-guv is flat wrong when she goes on to assert in the same answer that Reagan “first ran for president in 1976”; Palin’s research team, if any, should note: The year was 1968.)
Yet Palin—a former local news sports reporter and a current Fox News political commentator—is undeniably telegenic. Even when she’s saying things that are arguably tendentious and counterfactual (a diplomatic way of describing what her elite detractors might simply call “silly lies”), the ex-guv is blessed with a sunny, accessible, larger-than-life persona that jumps out of the screen, grabs you by throat—and squeezes.
“She’s a very unpretentious person,” Klein says. “There aren’t a lot of layers of staff and security. She’s a very everyday kind of American person. So she’s doing this because she finds this an easy and fun way to communicate.”
The goal, Klein says, is to try to replicate, or at least approach, the astonishing success of former Fox News personality Glenn Beck, whose subscription-based Web TV operation, TheBlaze.com reportedly boasts hundreds of thousands of paying customers and is said to be minting money.
Yet while it’s impossible to know, absent hard figures, whether the Sarah Palin Channel is succeeding in attracting an audience, it’s significant that the channel’s Web traffic, expressed in terms of unique visitors, is a tiny fraction of The Blaze’s 15.3 million in September (the most recent available numbers from Media Trend). The Sarah Palin Channel, by contrast, had a barely measurable 36,000 visitors in September, according to Quantcast.
The channel's social-media profile might be equally anemic--for instance two followers on an account for SarahPalinTV as of Thursday night. After initially saying he wasn't sure, Klein said that account is not connected with the channel, calling it "a fake account [with] no content in it."
Klein argues that such an account would be superfluous in any case since Palin herself enjoys a combined five million followers on Twitter and Facebook—and that is the main avenue by which potential subscribers are lured. "Her channel is not affected by this kind of thing in the slightest because it's targeted at her community, which is already following her," Klein says, adding that @SarahPalinUSA, Palin's personal Twitter account, "is the only one we post content to."
Another issue is that TAPP failed to purchase several similar Internet addresses, or URLs, that currently are being used to skewer and mock the Sarah Palin Channel. A Facebook page purporting to represent TheSarahPalinChannel.org features a profile pic of the ex-guv with the headline, “I’m with stupid.” Meanwhile, TheSarahPalinChannel.com links to various episodes of The Colbert Report making fun of Klein’s star.
Klein says that while TAPP bought a number of Palin Channel-like Web addresses, “URLs aren’t nearly as important as they used to be, because most people don’t come directly to a channel by typing its name into a browser anymore. They get there via links, especially from social media. We focus on pushing a lot of content out to Governor Palin’s social-media followers, which they can then click to be taken to the channel.”
Klein—whose partner in TAPP is another kingpin of the “lamestream media” that Palin loves to deride, former NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin—claims his star is cutting through the clutter.
“A couple of weeks ago, somebody came up to her and said, ‘Oh my God! You blew me away because you responded to my comment on the channel by name! I’ll never forget that!’ So it’s had that kind of effect on her biggest supporters.”