Wasn't it fitting that Sarah Palin's exit from Fox News was made official the same week President Obama celebrated his second inauguration? Didn't it just seem apt that the once-future star of Fox News and the Tea Party movement lost her national media platform just days after the president she tried to demonize for four years basked in the glow of his easy reelection victory?
Palin's breakup with Fox was expected, but it's still significant. A "milestone," is how former Bush speechwriter David Frum put it.
The move represents the end of a brief, ill-conceived era within the conservative media movement, and specifically at Fox, where in the wake of Obama's first White House win Palin, along with preposterous cohort Glenn Beck, was irresponsibly tapped to become a high-priced pundit who trafficked in hate.
At Fox, Palin represented a particularly angry and juvenile wing of the conservative movement. It's the part that appears deeply obsessed with Obama as a person; an unhealthy obsession that seemed to surpass any interest in his policies. With lazy name-calling as her weapon of choice, Palin served as Fox News' point person for misguided snark and sophomoric put-downs. Palin also epitomized the uber-aggressive anti-intellectual push that coincided with Obama's swearing in four years ago.
And for a while, it looked like the push might work. In 2010, it seemed like Palin and Beck might just succeed in helping Fox change the face of American politics with their signature calling cards of continuous conspiracies (Beck) and perpetual victimization (Palin).
But it never happened.
In the wake of Beck's cable TV departure in 2011, Obama's reelection win in 2012, and now Palin's farewell from Fox last week, it's obvious the blueprint drawn up by Fox chief Roger Ailes was a programming and political failure. Yes, the name-calling and conspiratorial chatter remains at Fox, but it's no longer delivered by Palin who was going to be star some loyalist thought the channel could ride all the way to the White House.
Let's also note that Fox's Palin era was marked by how the Beltway press often did everything in its power to prop her up as a "star" reaching new heights, when with each passing month Palin's standing with the public seemed to register new lows.
Belying claims of liberal bias, the political press seemed desperate for Palin to succeed and to become a lasting presence in American politics; a permanent TV foil during the Obama era. Can you think of another time when the press so enthusiastically heralded the losing vice presidential candidate as a political and media "phenomena"?
-- ABC's The Note: "There is precisely one superstar in the Republican Party."
--Time's Mark Halperin: Palin's "operating on a different plane, hovering higher than a mere celebrity, more buoyant than an average politician."
--Washington Post's David Broder: "A public figure at the top of her game."
Wrong, wrong and wrong.
Whatever success and momentum Palin enjoyed on Fox in terms of influencing the national conversation (i.e. "death panels"), it slowed in January 2011. That's when, responding to an Arizona shopping center shooting spree that nearly claimed the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Palin cast herself as a victim, and condemned the press for manufacturing a "blood libel." (Palin appeared to not understand that historically, "blood libel" relates to the anti-Semitic charge that Jews murder children and use their blood for religious rituals.)
The Beltway press seemed truly aghast by Palin's performance. And so did Roger Ailes. When Palin bowed out of the 2012 presidential race and did so on a right-wing talk show instead of on Fox, thereby robbing the channel of the spotlight, her star seemed to fade precipitously, to the point where her views and commentary were irrelevant to last year's presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, Palin's departure is also significant because it comes at a time when Fox is still reeling from Obama's reelection. (A reelection Palin was supposed to help derail.) Where the channel spent the previous four years with a laser-like focus rallying right-wing believers in an effort to drive Obama from the White House, while simultaneously, we were told, saving liberty and countless freedoms, Fox today seems utterly lost knowing it won't ever defeat Obama at the polls.
Clinging ever tighter to the gears on its phony outrage machine, Fox talkers take turns taking umbrage. Last week's relentless sobbing over Obama's inauguration speech (too partisan!) was a perfect example of how the channel can't stop lashing out at imaginary slights.
Writing for Esquire's website, Tom Junod noticed the same pervasive sense of bewilderment. A student of Fox who wrote a lengthy profile of Ailes two years ago, Junod labeled the Fox incarnation on display early in Obama's second term to be a "freak show" wallowing in defeat and an over-sized "sense of injury":
The question, of course, is whether [Ailes] knows what anyone else in the United States might like, or whether his network, even as it holds its captive audience, will descend further into political irrelevance. For all his instinctive showmanship, and for all his purported populist genius, Ailes saw Obama cobble together his new majority right under his nose, and knew neither what to call it or how to stop it.
In other words, Fox News got steamrolled by Obama's reelection. Palin's departure from the Fox payroll serves as a useful exclamation point to that fact.
Cross-posted at County Fair, a Media Matters blog.