Sarah Palin is no fan of the "lamestream media" -- except when she's using it to serve her ends. Is she using Newsweek to get free personal training? And, if so, is that entirely legal?
The former Alaska governor appears on the cover of the new issue of Newsweek wearing a gray sweatshirt with a logo on it reading "Edge Fitness." That's the name of a gym in Palin's hometown of Wasilla. Edge Fitness was featured last November in an episode of her TLC show "Sarah Palin's Alaska," and it also received a plug on a Facebook page Palin apparently created under an alias and used for posting pseudonymous comments.
A Newsweek spokesman says Palin selected her own clothing for the photo shoot; there was no stylist present. It could be that Palin is simply such a big fan of Edge's services, she can't resist proselytizing for them. But Palin is known for aggressive monetization of her personal brand and a taste for the material perquisites of Hollywood-style fame.
It seems probable, therefore, that she's getting something for her enthusiastic endorsements -- perhaps free personal training? I've emailed Palin, directly and via her SarahPAC, but haven't heard back. I also haven't heard back from Edge Fitness.
Palin's lack of respect for most journalists extends to a disregard for traditional journalistic norms. When she appeared on the cover of Time last December, she insisted on being interviewed solely by email. She has been known to seek payment from magazines in exchange for her participation in stories.
The American Society of Magazine Editors has rules governing paid product placement and other forms of advertising in editorial content, particularly on covers. "The cover and spine should not be used to advertise products other than the magazine itself," advises ASME. But those rules apply to advertising that financially benefits the magazine.
Product placement falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission, which, in 2009, issued guidelines requiring that any endorsement involving a "material connection" between sponsor and endorser be disclosed to the public. In determining what sort of disclosure is required, the FTC takes into account consumers' expectations. For instance, because well-informed consumers understand shoe companies send professional athletes free sneakers, a jock who appears on TV wearing Nikes or tweets about his new Adidas doesn't necessarily have to disclose anything.
Palin would seem to fall into a gray area. She's certainly a celebrity, but she's also a politician. People might assume that Sarah Palin the Reality TV Star is getting free stuff in exchange for promotion. But would they assume that of Sarah Palin the Presidential Candidate?