Discovery Defends Sarah Palin's TV Show as 'Not Political'

Sarah Palin - Discovery defends Palin's TV Show
Sarah Palin - Discovery defends Palin's TV Show

Many are unhappy that Sarah Palin's growing media profile now includes a show on the Discovery Channel, whose programming tends to glorify the kinds of wild places and creatures that she, during her time as Alaska's governor, tried to make it easier to exploit and/or kill.

So when I caught up with John Henricks, founder and chairman of Discovery Communications, at the Paley Center gala in his honor on Tuesday night, I asked him about the unsuccessful 2008 Republican Vice-Presidential candidate: How did he square Palin's legislative and regulatory record with Discovery's pro-nature stance?

Retreating Before Questions

"We've had success in the past where we've had people who've had an obvious connection to a region or a state," said Henricks. "Like, we did a travelogue with the former Prime Minister of New Zealand. We did the king of Jordan. So what we're doing is just -- she obviously loves her state. So this is not political. This is Sarah Palin kind of presenting the state to viewers. She has a great following in the country. So we just try to present people who can tell a good story."

Fair enough. But am I wrong in thinking that, in addition to liking good stories, Discovery Networks has an explicitly pro-environment mission?

"No, no. We've been at the forefront of environmental programming," said Henricks. "Anyone who watches Planet Earth, and we have something going on now called Life -- these are series that celebrate the majesty of life on the planet and how precious this planet is. So I think our record is pretty clear." Henricks then thanks me and beats a hasty retreat.

Putting Ratings Before the Planet

It's true, Discovery's record is pretty clear -- and Palin's record is also pretty clear. What's unclear is what, besides the naked profit motive, could possibly unite the two. For a different perspective, I asked Super Size Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who was also at the gala, for his thoughts.

"Maybe not the best face for that show, possibly. Do you think so?" Spurlock said. "They probably could've made a much better choice for an environmental show. I think that was a big ratings decision much more than it was a 'let's make a conscious, Earth-caring' decision."

Did Spurlock know, I wondered, that there was an online petition calling for Discovery to drop Palin on exactly those grounds? "That's fantastic," he said. "I'd sign that, absolutely."