MEDIA MANIPULATION AT ITS MOST INANE…. You’ve probably noticed the phenomenon. Former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin will say something ridiculous on Facebook or Twitter, which immediately becomes “news,” regardless of merit. There’s a problem with this that goes beyond news outlets’ comically poor judgment on what constitutes a noteworthy political development.

Take the “death panels” garbage. Palin made the insane claim on Facebook, which effectively became a press release that outlets were only too happy to embrace, without scrutiny. When reality huggers noted that the argument had no connection to the truth, Palin had another Facebook entry, which was effectively another press release, which generated a new round of coverage. Now that the nonsense has been labeled the “Lie of the Year,” Palin has published another Facebook message, which has again generated a new round of coverage, despite being completely inaccurate.

It’s a familiar pattern. Indeed, it happened just last week when the former governor relied on Facebook entries to “argue” with those who accept science, reason, and evidence on climate change. Palin didn’t actually do any real interviews with journalists, but she, or someone she pays, kept writing little messages online, each of which garnered scrutiny-free news stories. Indeed, a few weeks ago, NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell interviewed Al Gore, asking questions about global warming by simply reading from Palin’s Facebook page.

Dave Weigel has a very smart piece today, describing the entire journalistic dynamic as “a humiliating exercise.”

The problem is that Palin has put the political press in a submissive position, one in which the only information it prints about her comes from prepared statements or from Q&As with friendly interviewers. This isn’t something most politicians get away with, or would be allowed to get away with. But Palin has leveraged her celebrity — her ability to get ratings, the ardor of her fans and the bitterness of her critics — to win a truly unique relationship with the press. She is allowed to shape the public debate without actually engaging in it. […]

I think what Palin’s doing here is incredibly savvy. She knows that anything that goes out under her name will be accepted as fact by conservatives … and she knows that liberals despise her and will pick apart everything that goes out under her name. It was liberals, after all, who obsessed over the “death panel” claim, because for whatever reason they thought it was vitally important to prove that Palin was misleading people about what was in the health care bill.

At the same time, I think that the media’s indulgence of Palin’s strategy — which often results in pure stenography of press releases that may or may not have been written by her — is ridiculous, bordering on pathetic.

It’s a very compelling point. I’ll admit, I’m often torn on this. While I’ve largely blown off most of Palin’s post-resignation nonsense, occasionally, I’m so overwhelmed by the stupidity of her poorly-written missives that I find them noteworthy. It’s hard not to marvel at the fact that the conservative movement has made a hero out of (another) dim-witted clown. Indeed, I’m often concerned that if some of her more unhinged policy claims go unchallenged, people may not realize how absurd they are. (A key difference between blog coverage of Palin and, say, CNN’s coverage of Palin is that we tend to do fact-checking.)

But Weigel’s observation is an important one — outlets need not treat barely-coherent Facebook messages from an unemployed politician as major developments. She’s playing the media for fools, and too many major outlets are only to pleased to be the sucker.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.