Alaska’s Half-Term Governor Makes Half-Baked Debut As Fox News Contributor

Karl Frisch

By Karl Frisch

This week, Sarah Palin, the half-term governor of Alaska-turned-Facebook terror analyst, joined Fox News as a contributor — the third such politician eyeing a bid for the GOP nomination in 2012 now working at the right-wing cable network.

Palin’s appearances on Fox News this week are worth looking at, if only for the bizarre, false claims she made and her creative use of the English language.

In her debut as contributor, Palin sat down with Bill O’Reilly for an interview on The O’Reilly Factor. If Bill-O’s softball sit-down is a sign of things to come for Palin, we’re in for an … interesting ride. As Media Matters‘ Simon Maloy noted after the broadcast, "the financial terms of Palin’s agreement with Fox News have not been disclosed, but it’s safe to assume that she isn’t working for peanuts. With that in mind, it’s worth pointing out that Palin spent much of her Fox News debut defending her own record and reputation, hawking the biography she pretended to write, and promoting the Tea Party convention at which she is being paid to speak (though she claimed that the money she makes from the event will go towards campaign donations). She was essentially paid by Fox News to put on an infomercial for herself."

During her debut on The Factor, Palin said she was looking forward "to providing the fair and the balanced reporting and analysis that voters in this country deserve." Apparently speaking directly from network talking points, Palin also claimed that Americans are "turning into Fox News" because they oppose "biased journalism." Believe it or not, Palin also admitted that in 2008 — yes, 2008 — she asked "questions" about whether there were ties between Saddam Hussein and 9-11.

Perhaps no one at Fox anticipated Palin’s arrival — which Andrew Breitbart’s Big Journalism called "an awful shrinking feeling in the groin" for Fox’s competitors — like Glenn Beck. Leading up to his hour-long interview with Palin, the network’s resident conspiracy theorist:

  • teased the interview at the top of his program the day before;
  • revealed that he’s talked to Palin "for quite a while," but this would be their first face-to-face meeting;
  • said that the interview would happen unless Palin "come[s] to her senses and realizes this isn’t a good idea at all" (she didn’t); and
  • perhaps hoping Palin wasn’t listening, told his radio audience that she won’t get the Republican nomination in 2012.

When they finally sat down together in a room with a view of the Statue of Liberty — as The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart said, "she’s from Alaska, she’s not an immigrant" — things got off to a rather awkward start as Beck proceeded to read to Palin from what appeared to be his personal diary in which he called her "one of the only people … that can possibly lead us out of where we are." He went on to note that a list of his similarities with Palin "goes on and on."

It wasn’t all a drool-fest. Beck did manage to ask Palin a few tough questions. Tough for Palin anyway. For instance, asked to name her "favorite" founding father, Palin took a page from her infamous campaign interview with CBS’ Katie Couric and told Beck, "all of them" without a hint of irony. Apparently Palin likes her founders like she likes her newspapers. Pressed by Beck, Palin would eventually cite George Washington as her fav.

Oddly enough, Beck criticized John McCain as a "progressive" for his support of bank bailouts without noting that both he and Palin expressed support for the 2009 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Beck also attacked those who support windfall profit taxes on oil companies but ignore the Federal Reserve’s "record profits." Again, what he didn’t say is that Palin, while Alaska governor, increased taxes on oil companies operating in Alaska.

The interview really was stupid in stereo.

Of Palin’s founding fathers answer, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews later asked, "how come she can’t answer the most simple questions?"

The Fox & Friends crew wasn’t nearly as critical as Matthews. In fact, the interview led Gretchen Carlson to advance the possibility of a Beck-Palin presidential ticket. Yes Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus. Then again, the wacky morning show seems to be one of Palin’s biggest boosters. As Media Matters‘ Julie Millican noted, they "spent a good chunk of their show … discussing Palin’s appearance and her ‘common sense conservatism,’ but there was one part of Palin’s interview that really struck a chord with them — when she declared that the negative stories about her in the recently released book on the 2008 elections, Game Change, were ‘a bunch of B.S.’" It was a claim the co-hosts were quick to advance. Of course, "prior to Palin’s remarks, Fox & Friends had spent a considerable amount of time breathlessly reporting on numerous thinly sourced rumors that appear in Game Change with nary a hint of skepticism …so long as the rumors related to Democratic politicians."

If you thought Palin’s verbal gymnastics couldn’t get any more confusing, you’d be wrong. Appearing on Hannity on Thursday, the former governor claimed that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is, and this is a direct quote, "driving a bus that is headed towards a train wreck." I’m not going to even try to decode that one.

Yes, it was quite a week for Fox News’ newest contributor. Heck, even hosts of the National Tea Party Convention, which Palin is being paid to keynote next month, announced a ban on press at the event, except of course for Palin’s employer Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, which, like Fox, is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, and a few fringe right-wing blogs. Now she can peddle lies to a few thousand people without those pesky fact-checkers getting in the way.

It’s like former McCain aide Mark McKinnon said of Palin’s new gig: "It’s an easy job with very little accountability."

Other major stories

Haitian disaster brings out best in world community, worst in Robertson, Limbaugh

This week, while the world community responded to news of the massive earthquake in Haiti in the only appropriate way, doing whatever is necessary to help, conservative leader Rush Limbaugh and Christian Broadcasting Network televangelist Pat Robertson were an entirely different story.

Following the devastating quake, Limbaugh, among other things: claimed that Haiti produces "zilch, zero, nada"; predicted that President Obama will use Haiti to boost credibility with the "light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country"; noted that Obama discussed the Haitian earthquake sooner than the attempted Christmas bombing — a claim echoed by Fox Nation; asked of Obama, "Did he apologize for America?"; "[W]e’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the U.S. income tax"; and asserted that the Haiti earthquake was "made to order" for Obama."

After all of that, and more, Limbaugh had the temerity to claim that his comments about the earthquake were an attempt to "play the media like a violin" — an… interesting reaction to the deaths of thousands. Then again, Limbaugh has a history of politicizing tragedies while accusing others of doing the same. When a caller asked him about his comments from the week, Limbaugh actually defended them, calling her a "blockhead" who has "tampons" in her ears.

El Rushbo wasn’t alone in the "sad," "pathetic," "deplorable," "shocking," "indefensible" commentary department, as the folks at Morning Joe put it.

Pat Robertson told his audience in the wake of the earthquake the "true story" that Haiti "swore a pact to the devil" to get "free from the French" and "ever since, they have been cursed." You heard that right. According to Robertson, the Haitian people are cursed and were hit by this horrible disaster because they made a pact with the devil for their freedom.

Robertson’s comments were quickly ridiculed throughout the media — even at Fox News where anchor Shepard Smith somberly critiqued them saying, "[the Haitian people] don’t need that." MSNBC’s Chris Matthews called the comment "weird hostility from a churchman" while ABC reported on the "stunned silence" from ministers and evangelist Franklin Graham’s disagreement with the comments.

As the week wore on, criticism from media figures mounted. On Fox News, Rev. Jonathan Morris called the comments "loony" and "out of line." Over on MSNBC, Ed Schultz labeled the Robertson’s remarks "Psycho Talk" while Rachel Maddow hosted the Haitian ambassador, who assailed the televangelist and one-time Republican presidential candidate. On ABC’s The View, Elizabeth Hasselbeck said he was casting, "sin on somebody else, and how dare he," adding that the comments were "deplorable."

Asked to comment on Robertson’s comments, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs described them as "utterly stupid." He went on to call Limbaugh’s tirades "sad," and "really stupid."

How would Robertson respond on the following day’s broadcast? Silence.

We shouldn’t be too surprised by Robertson’s latest outburst. His comments follow a pattern in which he has assigned blame for tragedies and disasters like the 9-11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

Robertson and Limbaugh are far from the only conservative media figures to fail in their coverage of the Haitian disaster. According to a special report released by Media Matters this week: "On January 13, Fox News’ three top-rated programs for 2009 — The O’Reilly Factor, Hannity, and Glenn Beck — devoted a combined total of less than 7 minutes of coverage to the earthquake in Haiti, instead choosing to air such things as Beck’s hour-long interview with Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly’s discussion of Comedy Central host Jon Stewart, and Sean Hannity’s advocacy for Massachusetts candidate Scott Brown’s Senate campaign. By contrast, the content of MSNBC’s three top-rated shows underscored the significance of the Haiti disaster; Countdown, The Rachel Maddow Show, and Hardball devoted a total of more than two hours to the earthquake."

O’Reilly responded to viewer criticism of his coverage by saying, "I did my job."

Sorry, Bill, you guys didn’t.

Mass. assistance: Fox News jumps head-first into race for Kennedy Senate seat

It’s down to the wire in the Massachusetts special election for the Senate seat previously held by the late Ted Kennedy — and that means the conservative media machine has ramped up its "Free Press Express" in the hope that it can help put GOP candidate Scott Brown over the top.

The Wall Street Journal started the week off by parroting some of Brown’s deceptive attacks against his Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. Soon, Greta Van Susteren had turned her Fox News program into a "Brown for Senate!" campaign event, while Matt Drudge and the Fox Nation rolled out the red carpet for the conservative candidate. Indeed, at Fox, the fund-race was on, as the network repeatedly allowed both Brown and Fox News contributor Dick Morris to appeal for donations on air in support of the GOP candidate (a fact Bret Baier’s Special Report ignored). Not content to allow Fox to be the only conservative network misrepresenting Coakley’s record, numerous right-wing blogs and papers did the same.

But by far the most exciting anti-Coakley canard of the week involved Weekly Standard reporter John McCormack, who fell to the ground while pursuing the candidate in Washington. (In case you were worried, he’s fine.) Soon, the conservative press was reporting that McCormack had been "rough[ed] up" by a "Coakley thug." Apparently, that’s the Left’s new way of dealing with people it doesn’t like. Who could forget the saga of Kenneth Gladney, the noble and innocent man who was so savagely beaten by SEIU hitmen in a coordinated operation with the White House? (After all, that’s just what unions do.) Lucky, Sean Hannity was following the race closely, and he wanted the facts, and only the facts. He hosted McCormack to discuss the incident — misspelling his name in the process (after, for extra irony, mocking the Coakley campaign for a spelling error of its own).

For the record, as Media Matters‘ Dianna Parker noted, "it’s not entirely clear what happened, but shaky video shows McCormack following Coakley, losing his balance after some contact with Meehan, and falling over a metal gate. There’s also a photo of McCormack splayed on the ground, with Meehan leaning over to help him up. Meehan issued an apology for the incident, saying he was "a little too aggressive in the confusion of trying to help the Attorney General get to her car," but that he "clearly did not intend to cause John McCormack to trip and fall over that low fence." McCormack even said that he thinks Meehan "didn’t intend to knock me into a fence and for me to go down."

 Yes, it seems that when elections are involved, Fox asks the few fact-checkers it has on staff to take the rest of the week off. And so, it was a real shock to see a Fox reporter correcting one of the network’s most blatant falsehoods concerning the race: that Democrats in the state were "trying to change Massachusetts law" in order to delay the certification of votes. Unlike Fox’s crack fact-checking staff, Fox reporter Molly Line actually showed up for work on Thursday, just in time to debunk the claim.

With a few days to go, don’t expect anything to change. There’s still time for the Fox Nation and others to continue claiming that Coakley said Catholics shouldn’t work in emergency rooms because of abortions (false), and for National Review‘s Kathryn Jean Lopez to echo the attack (still false), and for Glenn Beck to tell his audience that Coakley isn’t that interested in protecting children because of her abortion stance. But who knows what will happen on Tuesday. Either way, things are looking good for Scott Brown, who might soon be following in the footsteps of new Fox hire Sarah Palin. "If this doesn’t work out," said Fox’s Brian Kilmeade, "he could probably do a morning show."

I wonder which network would host it? 

This week’s media columns

This week’s media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert looks at how the press let Palin and Cheney rig the system; Jamison Foser analyzes the right-wing media reaction to Haiti; and Karl Frisch discusses the Proposition 8 federal trial and right-wing media homophobia.

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This weekly wrap-up was compiled and edited by Karl Frisch, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the web as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube or sign-up to receive his columns by email.