The news flashes came just five hours apart last Wednesday, April 6. Both bulletins brought bad news for Fox News stars, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. And both headlines marked the end of a right-wing era of sorts in American media. Indeed, the simultaneous rise and fall of Beck and Palin stand as remarkable tales of Fox News failures, as well as for the radical, Obama-hating media movement they've helped champion on cable TV.
At 12:18 p.m. on Wednesday, the head-turning press release announcing Glenn Beck's pending departure from Fox News was published on Beck's website, The Blaze. Confirming speculation that Beck and Fox News were parting ways in the wake of Beck's falling ratings and the massive advertising boycott that was bleeding his program, the breakup was shocking nonetheless. The move would have been unthinkable one year earlier, when Beck was being toasted in the press as a cultural phenomena and battling Bill O'Reilly for the crown of Most Watched Show In Cable News.
That was bombshell Number One on Wednesday. Five hours later at 5:00 p.m., a smaller Fox News explosion went off when the Wall Street Journal and NBC News published the results of their latest polling effort. For Fox News' Palin, the findings were disastrous: Her disapproval rating fell to an all-time high of 53 percent. (Just 25 percent view her positively.)
And when Republican voters were asked which candidate they preferred to be the party's nominee in 2012, Palin, who often used to sit atop of that list, barely registered a double-digit response, which slotted her into fifth place among a weak field of contenders. (If Palin were the nominee, she'd likely turn Georgia and South Carolina blue, warned one pollster.)
It's true that Palin may have no interest in running for president. And yes, her personal polling numbers have been in the ditch for quite a while (although the Beltway press often ignored that fact.) But what must have stung Palin about the NBC/WSJ numbers were they came at a time when her overall cultural standing seemed to have evaporated.
For instance, as last week's budget and spending showdown loomed and the press obsessed over a possible shutdown of the federal government, Palin took to her Facebook page and posted a blistering attack on Obama.
Not that long ago an online missive like that from Palin would have generated headlines and been treated as a news event in and of itself. (Think "death panels.") Instead, last week it was mostly crickets as Palin's Facebook screed barely drew a passing glance from the Beltway press or the larger political arena.
The collective shoulder shrug, not to mention the brutal WSJ/NBC polling results, prompted Salon's Steve Kornacki to ask, "What Ever Happened to Sarah Palin?"
[A]t some point recently, she stopped simply being a polarizing lightning rod -- one with as many fanatical followers as diehard critics -- and transformed into a figure who even Republican-leaning voters have a hard time taking seriously.
The same questions were being asked last week about Beck's cable TV demise. How did Time's Person Of the Year contender and right-wing King Of All Media fall so far so fast? Was it because he claimed President Obama hated white people? He urged Catholics to leave the church during the holy season of Lent last year? Or was it because Beck illogically portrayed the pro-democracy movement that swept Egypt this winter as the unleashing of demonic forces that would soon threaten peace around the world? (That was too much even for Bill Kristol.)
Just over a year ago, Beck and Palin seemed poised to use their unique Fox News platforms to reshape the American political culture.
But it never happened.
Following the pep rally he threw himself last summer in Washington, D.C, Beck seemed to want to position him as a leader who transcended party politics. But Beck quickly slipped back into his dark, conspiratorial ways, advertising partisan demagoguery that was often laced with attacks that were unspeakably irresponsible.
As for Palin, she was going to change the political press by essentially ignoring it. Often refusing to engage with mainstream reporters, Palin for long stretches restricted her media interaction to right-wing talk radio hosts, bloggers and Fox News hosts. Palin was going around the Establishment media to prove just how irrelevant it had become. (And how powerful the GOP Noise Machine had become).
Incredibly, lots of Beltway scribes bought into, and promoted, the ruse. Time's Mark Halperin last year marveled at how Palin "can dominate the news cycle with a single tweet and generate three days of coverage with a single speech." He also toasted her "energy, charisma and popularity" and announced Palin was "operating on a different plane, hovering higher than a mere celebrity, more buoyant than an average politician." (Wow.)
In reality, the Fox News contributor Palin locked herself in the far-right media bubble where she became most famous for whining about her press coverage. "It was clear then that Palin is drunk on her own anger, self-regard and sense of victimization," wrote Steve Chapman of The Chicago Tribune last week.
We also can't escape the fact that both Fox News' Beck and Palin fell in love with their own hype; with their own press clippings and became convinced they were transcendent figures in American media.
April 6, both Beck and Palin received painful reminders that they are not.
Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters For America blog.
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