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Sarah Palin and the rules of engagement

Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump on Jan. 19, 2016 at a rally in Iowa.Sam Hodgson/NYT

Sarah Palin wisely shed her sparkly, Donald Trump endorsement jacket for something more subdued during a Monday morning “Today’’ show appearance.

She should not have shed the expectation that her hosts would ask something she’d rather not answer. By now, Palin must know to prepare for the worst from the “lamestream media.” In this case, it was a question about a rambling statement she made that seemed to blame President Obama for policies that supposedly failed veterans like her son, Track, who was recently arrested for an alleged incident of domestic violence.

As others in the media world concluded, the query was fair game. Palin was asked about something she had said soon after her high-profile endorsement of Trump. You can’t bask in the spotlight and then duck questions about what you said while basking.


But the awkward exchange that played out after host Savannah Guthrie put it to the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee does make a viewer wonder what is said behind the scenes to lure sought-after subjects to news shows ever in search of ratings gold.

You guys brought me here to talk about Iowa politics and the caucus tonight — not to talk about my kids,” said Palin. “And that was a promise. But as things go in the world of media, you guys don’t always keep your promises, evidently.”

For the record, host Matt Lauer said during the Palin interview that “no specific promises” were made about content. Unless Palin has something written or recorded about conditions for participation, there’s no way to prove her right and Lauer wrong.

Still, the “Today’’ show back-and-forth brings to mind something similar that recently played out between Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and Trump, after the candidate said he was boycotting the cable network’s recent Republican debate.

During their interview, O’Reilly repeatedly tried to convince Trump that skipping the debate was a poor decision and asked him to reconsider. Tiring of that line of questioning, Trump replied, “Well, even though you and I had an agreement that you wouldn’t ask me that — which we did — I will, therefore, forget that you asked me that. Because I told you, upfront, I said, ‘Don’t ask me that question.’ ”


Trump, more than any other candidate, has had his way with the media. When it became clear the business magnate was a ratings magnet, the usual rules of engagement were suspended. For one thing, Trump got to call in to the most prestigious news shows, when other candidates had to show up in-studio. Besides Trump’s well-known war against Fox News host Megyn Kelly, the Trump campaign also banned journalists from The New York Times, Buzzfeed, Fusion, The Des Moines Register, and The Huffington Post from covering Trump events.

So, perhaps it’s a small victory for an independent press for O’Reilly to ask Trump something he didn’t want to address. The bigger journalistic issue is whether you break such a promise — implied or explicit — for Trump or Palin, but keep it for Hillary Clinton.

If there’s a double standard, that’s not right or fair.

Or, do you refuse to accept any conditions for an interview with any candidate from the start, and risk losing it to a competitor?

In today’s quest for ratings and clicks, it’s harder to take the journalistic high road when it comes to setting the terms for an interview. Once they’re set, every politician should understand the hunt for TV viewers and online eyeballs means anything goes once the interview starts.

Palin, of all people, must know that. Live for the limelight, die by it.


Watch: Sarah Palin’s ‘Today Show’ interview

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.