January 17, 2010
Palin's Curious First Week at FoxBy C. Edmund Wright
A few nights ago, I saw the most peculiar interview: Glenn Beck interviewed Glenn Beck about Glenn Beck. Oh, and Sarah Palin sat in. I'm not really sure why she was there, frankly.
So went a bizarre first week for Palin at FOX. Only Sean Hannity's segment was anything resembling a normal political interview. He actually allowed Palin to speak on the big issues -- like how Obama, Reid, and Pelosi are leading us down the exact wrong road. She did so, and well. That half-hour is the only firewall between week one and disaster.
That being said, the decision to jumpstart Palin's FOX News career with Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck bears comparison with the decision to start her media campaign with Katie Couric. And this time, the governor owns most, if not all, of the decision. This was not Steve Schmidt's doing. Palin is her own handler now. FOX, apparently left to its own preferences, opted to showcase its stars in order of their ratings strength.
So while the O'Reilly segment was first and full of interruptions, let's start with the unorthodox Beck interview.
Beck by the numbers
(22): Palin tends to get better as she can elaborate and expand on what she believes. This could not happen, as Beck spoke for over 22 of the 38 minutes. Who was interviewing whom?
(20): The number of times Beck managed to work Beck into the question. Can you say Obama and the Olympic pitch? Palin, ruminating on the subject of Glenn Beck, was less than spectacular. This was so awkward.
(3): There were 3 forced questions on the subject of trust -- as in how Palin and Beck have no one to trust in the universe other than each other -- according to Beck. He first said, "I have learned in the last year I can't trust anybody." When Palin responded, but not satisfactorily, he pushed more: "Will you share the moment? You realized 'I am surrounded by sharks.'"
While that exchange was uncomfortable enough, it really got smarmy when some ten minutes later, Beck again probed: "Do you feel like ... there's anybody that you can trust?"
OK, Glenn, I give up. I can trust only you in the entire universe. Oh, and maybe Todd. Happy now? Can we pleeeeze move on?
(32, 9): Beck showed SNL skits about each of them. Becks' parody lasted 32 seconds, Palin's 9.
(24, 25): Beck initiated a debate about whether the Statue of Liberty had 24 or 25 windows. And what that meant. Huh?
(11): The number of times Beck led the conversation into a "there is no difference between the parties" (paraphrase) mode. Twice he made a pretty hard push to get Palin to disavow the GOP. This is consistent with Beck's shows, where he will cap off 55 minutes of fabulous exposé of Obama-appointed Marxists (and he is very very good at this) with an obligatory "but it's not a Democrat or Republican issue" disclaimer. It is an intellectual disconnect, and it threw Palin -- not expecting a hard debate -- off-guard a bit. She should have gone Ann Coulter on this point.
(0): The number of references to how the GOP has been unanimous in opposing ObamaCare, a second stimulus, giving GM breaks on repaying TARP, etc. In fact, zero references to any GOP opposition to all of the issues Beck routinely opposes. Beck cannot bring himself to mention this, of course. It would counter his incessant nonpartisan disclaimers. Palin, a known GOP former office-holder, by the way, was left in an awkward position.
In fairness, there were some decent moments in the interview, especially Palin's personal faith segment.
O'Reilly by the numbers
(36): The number of times O'Reilly asked Palin to respond to attacks from the media or McCain's campaign. In fairness, O'Reilly did ask these questions from the point of view of a Palin advocate. However, it's hard for anyone to look strong when every question is a demand that you whine or complain.
(13): The number of times O'Reilly tried to elicit a Joe Wilson moment from Palin and get her to use the word "lie." It was a machine-gun rat-a-tat-tat pushing the lie angle. She did agree twice -- mainly to change the subject and move on.
(30): The longest response O'Reilly allowed Palin was 30 seconds. One more was about 29 seconds. Most of her responses were less than 5 seconds, as O'Reilly interrupted to push his agenda. There was no way for Palin to get on a roll. Even a teleprompter looks less than eloquent four words at a time.
(2): The number of questions related to issues of policy in the entire interview. Two! There was a question on Iran (and some follow-ups) and another question on terror and health care, but only as it related to Obama's poll numbers. There was nothing on tax policy, nothing of depth on health care reform, and nothing on terror (other than how it was playing into Obama's polls). (This did lead to Palin's two longest answers, by the way.) I wonder if Charles Krauthammer will still blame Palin for not being serious on the issues. How could she be? No one asked about them.
Hannity by comparison
Hannity allowed Palin to talk about what she favors of instead of about her detractors. She built momentum and was able to transition into how she puts her faith and beliefs into action. This is how Palin infuses credibility into her positions -- by avowing that her life is consistent with those positions. This has been her appeal from day one.
Hannity did swerve into some of the attacks during and after the campaign, but these were entrees into issues and not pity-parties. There was no pushing her into calling someone a liar and no rapid-fire interruptions. There was no clumsy attempt to go esoteric with misty-eyed "whom can you trust" questions.
As the McCain campaign was discussed, Palin spoke on Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers and Obama's associations. This coherently showed that Obama's left-leaning radicalism was so predictable -- yet McCain insisted on not predicting it.
Palin's focus on the campaign related to how it let down the American people, and not on how they were mean to poor Sarah. And that is the point. She gets it. Contrast O'Reilly, who still thinks that everyone understood how radical Obama was and voted for him anyway. Go figure.
While I would not call the Hannity interview a home run by any means, it was about Palin and issues, and not the interviewer. Hannity always sticks to a tight script, so it was not a free-flowing interview à la Rush or Levin -- but he did allow Palin to be Palin.
All of this serves to say that the decision to start the week with O'Reilly and Beck was not a good one from Palin's perspective. This has nothing to do with avoiding hard questions or difficult issues. Quite the opposite.
O'Reilly's questions were "easy" in that he was on her side vis-à-vis the media and McCain's advisers. He was impatient, rarely letting Palin finish a thought. And Beck is clearly friendly to Palin, too, but it was predictable that he would focus on himself and slamming both parties equally. He is also unconventional (normally a great trait), but he way overshot that with this curious show. It's Sarah Palin. Just ask her some serious questions and get out of the way!
Besides, Greta already handled the fluffy mommy stuff by chopping vegetables in her Wasilla kitchen for what seemed like months.
Frankly, there were superior options within FOX for a debut of Palin, from her perspective. A serious interview with Brit Hume/Chris Wallace would have been great, as would Palin's sitting in on the FOX Panels. She would have brought the ratings to any venue.
Imagine her debating health care and unemployment with Charles Krauthammer, Juan Williams, and Steve Hayes instead of discussing windows with Beck.
These interviews -- plus FOX deciding to use her for human interest stories -- will only play into the hands of those who say she is unserious. Most of this week was not serious. If Palin really does this hero's show, she'll make Huckabee look like gravitas personified in comparison.
So where was the uncanny decision-making and leadership Palin showed with her resignation? Where was the boldness that led her early entry into Doug Hoffman's campaign? Where is the foresight she has long shown on energy? Where were her instincts -- the ones that should be telling her what kinds of forum she should seek and avoid?
All were absent in a strangely unsettling week at FOX. Well gosh darn. At least she didn't start by making omelets on Fox and Friends.
The author has been writing positively about Palin since well before her selection by McCain.