Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Devil seeks work: Sarah Palin to Fox News?

Thanks to recent disclosures about life in the orbit of Sarah Palin — an interview with once-and-never son-in-law Levi Johnston, published last week in Vanity Fair — the former Alaska governor needs a break, needs something to escape the widening tabloid gyre she’s whirled herself into lately.

A modest prediction more than half-serious, and ventured with the certainty that other minds are already moving down the same track:

Between now and year’s end, the Fox News Channel will offer Palin a prime-time talk-show slot, the better to position her for a White House run in 2012.

No, I do not smoke crack, nor am I given to hallucinations or delusional episodes. This isn’t an idle exercise of what-if, and certainly not wishful thinking. But a look at the reflexively conservative, self-protective, Machiavellian tendencies of Fox News — and the political predilections of Fox News Emperor Roger Ailes — suggests that putting Sarah Palin on the air makes sense, from their perspective.

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Palin’s been said to be looking around for a high-profile media gig. It’s a given that most of the cable networks that feature talk-show programming — MSNBC and CNN — don’t have room for her in their expansive lineups, and wouldn’t make room for her smug, ardent, passive-aggressive right-wing vitriol in the first place.

That pretty much leaves Fox, the network that, politically speaking, would be the perfect media scaffold for her views and values.

Palin has had experience on television before, in her twenties, in a brief stint as a sports reporter for two stations in Anchorage, Alaska. Since her ascension to the national stage as the vice-presidential choice for John McCain’s abortive presidential run last year, she’s developed abilities, if not exactly skills, speaking extemporaneously on television. Updating what she does now with a TelePrompTer shouldn't be that hard for the shapeshifters at Fox.

Going with Palin lets Fox continue what seems to be a repositioning of programs in the public eye (witness Don Imus’ pending arrival at the Fox Business Channel). Putting Palin on Fox gives that network at least a quick, cheap short-term bump in its perceived willingness to step further outside the white-male mold of talk-show hosts. They did it with Greta van Susteren in a high-profile way; bringing Palin aboard shores up those bona fides with conservative women viewers.

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And Fox can use both a fresh face and a real diversion from one of its biggest, most inescapable bottom-line headaches, a ranting, unhinged, unprincipled headache that’s costing Fox dearly in advertisers and credibility: the headache known as Glenn Beck.

Since Beck called President Obama a racist on the air, advertisers for his “Glenn Beck Program” have been deserting his slot at a very brisk clip, adding to the economic woes of Fox, and certainly its parent company, the News Corporation.

You have to believe that the same advertisers who’ve vacated Beck’s sinking ship would be likely to sign on to a Palin program, at least in the short term, out of curiosity to see how she handles herself. It would come down to how she’s groomed for the position, and how well. But given Beck’s increasingly insane behavior on the air, Sarah Palin could read the Wasilla Yellow Pages and bring advertisers back.

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Granted, there’s a certain dismay in such a prediction. It’s a cautionary forecast, one that’s based on observance of the political realities of Palin and Fox, and a cold recognition of the mutual benefit such a tie-up would create.

Given what we know about Sarah Palin and Fox News, their cynical like-mindedness about the American people, their repeated appeal to our baser instincts, the question isn’t how one could think of such a marriage; the question is how one could think anything else was possible.

This is not a fantasy; this is not a dream. If a dream is a wish your heart makes, a nightmare is a fear your head recognizes. Hoping I’m wrong but fearing I won’t be, I’ll propose that we watch for this nightmare on a cable operator frighteningly near you.
Image credit: Palin top: Still from BBC video. Palin bottom: Rachel Dickson, republished under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license. Beck: Still from Fox News.

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