Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sarah Palin and Fox News: A tale of two declines

NEXT GIG ... Harley-Davidson Dealership Grand Openings.”

Matty2Shoes, commenting at The Daily Beast, offered that prediction of the next professional adventure for Sarah Palin®, political personality, former nominal governor of Alaska and reality TV trivia question answer whose 15 minutes of fame (or certainly notoriety) on the Fox News Channel have come to an end.

Various media outlets reported that Palin, Arizona Sen. John McCain’s running mate in 2008, would not be renewing her $1 million-a-year contract as a Fox News analyst. Palin was reportedly offered a new contract at a significantly lower salary, but rejected it.

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Some folks at Smart Politics (a political Web site affiliated with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota) have entirely too much time on their hands.

Editors at the Web site parsed the totality of Palin’s Fox verbiage, providing a count for words uttered on “Fox News Sunday,” “The O’Reilly Factor,” even her presumably sage financial advice on “Your Money With Neil Cavuto.” Palin gave good word count in all the more meaningful Fox News dayparts (until she was taken off the air in mid-December).

“Overall, with reported payments of $3 million across her three-year tenure at FOX, that means Palin was paid an average of $15.85 for [each of] the 189,221 words of analysis she provided the network,” Smart Politics reported.

What’s next? Assuming Palin doesn’t take Matty2Shoes advice, there may be some kernel of information about her plans in a Palin interview with Breitbart News: “I’m taking my own advice here as I free up opportunities to share more broadly the message of the beauty of freedom and the imperative of defending our republic and restoring this most exceptional nation.”

Translation from the original Claptrap tongue: She’ll be in one of the busier lanes of the information superhighway real soon. Ya betcha®.

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IN SEPTEMBER 2009, I wrote that a Palin tie-up with Fox News made a kind of sense:

“Fox [is] the network that, politically speaking, would be the perfect media scaffold for her views and values.” ...

“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.” ...

“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.”

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And to think it all started with such promise in January 2010. “She is one of the most talked about and politically polarizing figures in the country. First off, we hope she brings that,” said Bill Shine, Fox News executive vice president, to the Los Angeles Times, that month. “The expectation that Palin will utter something controversial will likely drive viewership.”

But the bloom got off the Palin rose in a hurry. Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg News laid it out for Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC in January 2010. “Populists historically have pretended not to know anything. They’ve actually been part of a fairly intellectual group of people. But she really doesn’t know anything, and it’s in God’s plan that she not learn anything.”

It’s telling that, even after the short-term wildfire exposure she achieved in the aftermath of the 2008 campaign (a best-selling book, magazine covers, reality TV), only 11 percent of those voters surveyed in a February 2010 Gallup poll supported the notion of a Palin presidential campaign in 2012.

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PALIN’S BEING cashiered from Fox makes two indelible statements. It’s a clear indicator of how far and how fast Palin’s stock has fallen on the media commodities market. Her first book, “Going Rogue,” stormed the culture in November 2009, and was a healthy bestseller. The 432-page, five-chapter tome distilled her freewheeling, iconoclastic style. A style that extended to what was between the covers.

In a November 2009 e-mail to Politico, John Weaver, a former McCain strategist, expressed his misgivings with Palin’s recall of certain campaign events. “Sarah Palin reminds me of Jimmy Stewart in the movie 'Harvey,' complete with imaginary conversations. All books like these are revisionist and self-serving, by definition. But the score-settling by someone who wants to be considered a serious national player is petty and pathetic.”

Things like this, and the nonstop non sequiturs, the tiresome Alaska Chamber of Commerce rhetoric, the passive-aggressive jabbering ungrounded in fact or even scholarship all meant that her value to Fox News as anything more than a ... a political personality was always debatable at best.

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No matter; Palin started the year 2010 on fire. No one could know then: That was the high point. That was as good as it was going to get.

I noted in late December 2010:

Palin’s second book, “America by Heart,” hasn’t been moving. Shannyn Moore, an Alaska radio host, Huffington Post contributor and longtime Palin monitor, notes that Alaskans won’t even show up at her book signings now. “Sarah Palin has really fallen in Alaska,” Moore said last night on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show.” “… Just recently Costco is sending back pallets of her books. They had a thousand wristbands to hand out for signing her books and I think they gave out three hundred. She's really not a big deal here. We're not that into her.”

And on and on. She got rhetorically slapped around by everyone from Juan Williams to Aaron Sorkin, who went on CNN and called her “a remarkably, stunningly, jaw-droppingly incompetent and mean woman.”

IT’S COME a cropper since then. And for good reasons I noted in December 2010:

... [A]fter two years of relentless exposure, Sarah Palin has finally hit the wall of media saturation, reached the point at which her ubiquity crosses from asset to liability.

It’s all come so fast. Palin published the first book, last year; then the lecture circuit beckoned, profitably. Then she landed an analyst’s gig at Fox News. Then she secured a prime-time miniseries on the Discovery Channel. And now we get a second book. (And let’s not forget Palin’s adventures in Haiti, a trip to the earthquake-stricken country for just long enough to put in face time in a global hot zone...)

All of it done, of course, with a mind to burnishing her reputation as political king- or queen-maker, and cultivating the punditburo’s handicapping of the 2012 presidential race — and whether she will or won’t be in it.

[Palin is] on the verge of violating one of the fundamental laws of popular culture: At some indeterminate point, the benefit of media exposure becomes inversely proportional to the amount of that exposure. Put another way: Getting too big too soon and for too long has a way of being too much. You undermine your credibility and your popular appeal if we don’t get to miss you, and we
can’t get to miss you if you never go away.

That was two years ago. Clearly, Fox News has had enough. Right along with everyone else.

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But there’s also evidence that Palin's exit from Fox News points to that network's status as a media player in a marked decline. The Fair & Balanced One ends January 2013 with its lowest prime-time ratings among viewers in the highly prized 25-54 demographic since August 2001, and its lowest total daytime ratings since June 2008.

“This continues a pattern that emerged in 2012: Fox News viewers tuned out en masse from Democratic-themed events, causing the network's ratings to plunge during the Democratic National Convention, the hours immediately following Obama's re-election, and the president's inauguration. MSNBC, meanwhile, benefited from the solidification of its Democratic-friendly lineup, and drew a lion's share of eager liberal viewers,” reported Katherine Fung and Jack Mirkinson of The Huffington Post, on Tuesday.

As the nation settles in around the idea of an Obama White House for the next four years, some of the reflexive right-wing venom has leached out of Fox News. There’s a sense that, whether they like President Obama or hate him, the Fox crew realizes that the waters around them have grown. The conservative agenda Fox champions is now reckoning with an unraveling from within, and a viewership looking for other voices and viewpoints that better reflect where the country’s really at, politically and culturally, these days.

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THAT STARTS to explain why Dennis Kucinich, the former unstintingly progressive Ohio Democratic congressman, was just brought on as a contributor to ... Fox News. Kucinich, one-time anathema to conservatives, debuted on the Jan. 17 “O’Reilly Report.”

“I've always been impressed with Rep. Kucinich's fearlessness and thoughtfulness about important issues,” Fox News chairman Roger Ailes said in a statement. “His willingness to take a stand from his point of view makes him a valuable voice in our country's debate.” Do elections have consequences? Apparently so.

Fox News sent Sarah Palin a message: We’re just not that into you anymore. Damnedest thing: Apparently the viewing public told Fox News exactly the same thing.

Image credits: Palin top: David Shankbone, republished under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported license. Going Rogue cover: © 2009 HarperCollins. Fox News logo, Palin lower image, Kucinich: © 2013 Fox News Channel

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