Why Palin Going to Fox News Makes No Sense

January 12, 2010
By | 14 Comments

When news broke yesterday that Fox News has hired former Alaska governor Sarah Palin as a commentator, the air of inevitability seemed to drip from many observers’ tongues. One headline shouted “Fox News Hires Sarah Palin as Commentator Because Of Course They Do,” while the New York Times simply noted that “many suspected that when Ms. Palin retired as the governor of Alaska last summer she was doing so to pursue some sort of career in television.”

I understand why Fox would want her, and I understand why some people might see this as naturally as seeing Darth Vader returning to the Death Star after his pursuits throughout the galaxies. But upon reflection, it actually doesn’t make much sense if you are Sarah Palin or if you wish to see Palin elected to the presidency. The reason why is that television is not her best medium. With few exceptions (her Republican Party nominating convention speech being foremost among them), television has not been kind to Palin. Whether we are talking the early news interviews with Gibson and Couric or more recent ones on Fox News, or whether we look at the Saturday Night Live parodies or even her appearance on the program, she simply performs poorly in the medium.

She was, of course, a sports anchor years ago at a local news station, so the medium isn’t unfamiliar to her. And given her relative attractiveness, many viewers will go with appearances over substance. Nevertheless and more often than not, when she appears on television, she comes across looking like the bumbling airhead she is. Witness her appearance on Oprah, for instance. When asked about Levi Johnson, she could not have been more rambling and incoherent. In her interview with Bill O’Reilly, when asked if she was smart enough to be president, so comes off looking worse than George Bush:

O’REILLY: Do you believe that you are smart enough, incisive enough, intellectual enough to handle the most powerful job in the world?

PALIN: I believe that I am because I have common sense, and I have, I believe, the values that are reflective of so many other American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fact resume that’s based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership. I’m not saying that has to be me.

If Palin and her supporters have ambitions for higher office, she needs to employ the same strategy used by the Bushies prior to W’s election in 2000—keep her as far away from television cameras as possible.

The perfect medium for Palin, though, is digital/mobile media such as Facebook and Twitter, which she has used very adroitly over the last year. She is limited in what she can say with the comments, needing little in the way of substance to attract media attention. In the process, she can fuel the flames of any fire with such few words. Most importantly, these media give her supporters just what they want—the whiff of greatness and the brevity of appearances that so often sustain celebrity. Perhaps her commentator role on Fox can achieve the same result. But she does run the risk of allowing television as medium to display a bit too much.


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14 Responses to “ Why Palin Going to Fox News Makes No Sense ”

  1. Nick Marx on January 12, 2010 at 12:32 PM

    But isn’t the point of Fox hiring her precisely that they’re exploiting her “relative attractiveness?” I agree that she’s terrible at passing air over her vocal cords in a way that resembles human speech patterns, but isn’t it in Fox’s interest to micromanage this now that she’s pundit Palin and not saboteur-of-the-McCain-campaign Palin?

    I wish I had a fact resume.

    • Jeffrey Jones on January 12, 2010 at 1:57 PM

      Yeah, I should have said “makes no sense for Palin the candidate and politician.” For Fox, it makes perfect sense. And as Matt notes below, they’ll do everything possible to make her look good (that is, make good TV of her).

  2. Matt Sienkiewicz on January 12, 2010 at 1:05 PM

    Well, there’s certainly some real potential for her to embarrass herself. But she’s really only at her worst when trying to justify herself as a potential leader. She’s not memorably terrible when reciting Republican base talking points, as evidenced by what was a generally well-received nomination speech. I would think you’d get more of the latter. I also imagine that they’ll be working hard to limit the amount of extemporaneous speaking she has to do and what you’ll have is a good-looking, otherwise mediocre personality rehashing old ideas about new events. Sounds like TV to me.

    I’m not sure if Palin is really a serious contender for future office, but if she is then she has to remain in the public eye one way or another. I just don’t think twitter can really do that, but call me old-fashioned. I see this as a reasonable risk for all parties involved.

    • Jeffrey Jones on January 12, 2010 at 2:01 PM

      Good point in paragraph one–Fox knows precisely how to use such idiots. Case in point: Fox and Friends in the morning.

      As for your last thought, perhaps, but TV can work against one’s aura. Being in the public eye is one thing, but becoming old hat is another. Maybe she won’t appear a lot (we’ll see if Fox trys to exploit her appearances for ratings gains with promotions prior to the appearance), and hence, will achieve what you say. But she could also become like Mike Huckabee and wear out her welcome.

  3. Jonathan Gray on January 12, 2010 at 6:47 PM

    What might be the big danger here (for her, not for sanity, who might win as a result) is that by working for Fox, she’s now become the competition for NBC, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, and HLN.

    While television hasn’t been kind to her at the level of her adeptness (or complete lack thereof) at using it, it’s been remarkably kind in giving her coverage no matter what she does or says. Slow news day = run something on Sarah. But now covering her is not smart business, since you’re effectively telling your viewers to go watch Fox instead of you. When have you seen any of the nets give good coverage to one another’s “stars,” unless it’s negative?

    In other words, while Palin was someone the media loved to cover, she’s made it financially unwise to cover her. And while Fox love reporting on their own stars, it’s probably even harder for them to report on her now. So Palin may’ve just cut off the fresh flow of helium that her ego’s been getting from the media.

    • Jeffrey Jones on January 12, 2010 at 8:18 PM

      Really great observation!

    • Matt Sienkiewicz on January 13, 2010 at 4:26 AM

      But how long could that have lasted really? It’s been a long fifteen minutes, but given her lack of accomplishments, what exactly would these other outlets be reporting on in six months, a year, two years? I’d cash in my chips at this point and guarantee a nice pay check and a chance to establish a long term place in the public conscience.

    • Chuck on January 21, 2010 at 3:27 PM

      And let’s not forget the fact that she will be arming Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert with hours of material to mock on their late night shows. Although this may provide her with further attention, much of it will be negative.

  4. Jason Mittell on January 13, 2010 at 7:26 AM

    Agreed that conventional TV is not her forte, but Fox will certainly create a bulletproof aura for her. But my guess is that she will not run for Prez, and looks more to become the next Glenn Beck – she clearly is less interested in governing (and getting the scrutiny that a run would entail) than getting paid & worshipped. Fox News is perfect for those ambitions, and if successful as becoming Fox’s breakout female personality, she can tease a run for higher office every 4 years and generate more attention.

    • Jeffrey Jones on January 13, 2010 at 9:35 AM

      Man, I love that thought–using political ambitions as ratings generator. If you are right, brilliant!

    • Jonathan Gray on January 13, 2010 at 9:58 AM

      Which means there’s a potential happy ending here — right-of-Genghis Khan demagogues could realize that it’s way cooler and better for them to become a Fox News personality, thereby leaving the spots for actual political office inhabited by the sane. Fox thereby becomes a holding pen for demagogues? Well, I can dream, right?

  5. Heather Hendershot on January 20, 2010 at 12:02 AM

    Have you guys seen Shatner reciting Palin’s resignation speech? http://www.usnews.com/blogs/robert-schlesinger/2009/07/28/william-shatner-stephen-colbert-take-on-sarah-palins-farewell.html

    Rather amazing to see Shatner–the master of mediated self-reinvention, the old tugboat who just never gives up–doing Palin, whom we all wish would give up.

    Close your eyes and imagine Shatner in a “rebooted” TJ Hooker, with Palin in Heather Locklear’s role.