01.12.10

Fox's New Leading Lady

Sarah Palin’s first appearance as a Fox News contributor was peppered with talk of “this game of racism,” the mainstream media “pinheads,” and “uncomfortableness” about Obama. Rebecca Dana on her new venture. Plus, view our gallery of Palin’s evolving style.

If there’s one word to describe Sarah Palin’s debut Tuesday night as a paid Fox News contributor, it is “uncomfortableness.”

That’s how the bestselling memoirist and former Republican vice-presidential nominee characterized the attitude of the 41 percent of Americans who, according to the latest CBS News poll, disapprove of the job President Obama is doing in office (compared to the 46 percent who approve). That number reflects “an uncomfortableness they feel toward this administration,” she told Bill O’Reilly during an appearance on his 8 p.m. talk show that was so convivial, so cozy, so downright cuddly-wuddly it was a surprise to see him follow up the interview merely with a glowing analysis of Palin’s performance—and not a full-on tongue kiss with the network’s brand-new star.

Palin said she met Nancy Pelosi once on the Hill, where Pelosi was leading a tour of schoolchildren. “I thought, ‘That’s nice that she has that time on her hands,’” said Palin, wrinkling her nose. O’Reilly’s response: “Do you think she’s a kook?”

To be fair, a certain level of uncomfortableness always attends a live televised appearance by Levi Johnston’s one-time future mother-in-law. Remember the vice-presidential debate? Have so many salivating journalists—the “crazy left-wing people who are failing at CNN or MSNBC,” in O’Reilly’s words—ever sat so close to their television sets?

Palin’s chit-chat with O’Reilly was about as benign and substance-free as her matchup with “O’Biden” those many months ago. Republicans and Democrats both took a pretty light drubbing, with most of the two firebrands’ mutual indignation aimed squarely at the long-suffering mainstream media—“these pinheads!”—who are so insane as to question, for example, whether Sarah Palin is very smart. During the roundtable discussion following Palin’s two interview segments, O’Reilly and guest Monica Crowley took turns guffawing at reports that Palin didn’t know the difference between North and South Korea while poor Alan Colmes ventured his usual tepid endorsement of the obvious truth.

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Shushannah Walshe: Palin’s Booze Hypocrisy Palin wore a black suit for the appearance, steering far clear of anything like the pink and red ones she favored in past television spots and opting for something much more in the Katie Couric style. She paired the suit with Donald Rumsfeld-style rimless glasses and a large eagle brooch on her lapel that, like so much costume jewelry Americana, fell halfway between patriotic and Reich-y. The one thing Palin shares with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, other than a professed ability to tell the difference between the two Koreas, is her affinity for statement-making pins. During the campaign, she seemed to prefer rhinestone American flags, but the eagle pin, stolid and geometric in its position right next to her heart, seems to mark a new phase in Palin’s ever-evolving public image. It is the pin of an elder statesman, of a pundit worthy of her Fox News chyron.

Tuesday’s appearance also gave Palin an opportunity to roll out another new hairstyle, this one with just the faintest frosting of blond over the top of her usual shiny brunette waves. Recalling earlier generations of the bold Palin ’do, her bangs were once again out in full force: round, proud, and starched to perfection.

She did offer up a few studiously unspecific opinions and policy proposals. One, on the economy, called for “reducing taxes on job creators.” Another had something to do with sanctions and Iran. A few times O’Reilly pretended to press her on some issue, including her position on bombing Iran to smithereens (she is not yet ready to endorse such a plan) and the old chestnut about her intelligence.

There were a few moments of characteristic temerity, the little winks at her base that will make Palin such a hit on cable news, no matter how many details she flubs or words she makes up.

Click Below to View Our Gallery of Sarah Palin’s Evolving Style

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One came when Palin, a woman who hosted giant campaign events where supporters shouted “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” about Obama, soberly discussed “this game of racism” that the left-wing is now playing in the wake of a report that Harry Reid once privately discussed Obama’s lack of “Negro dialect.” Another came when the two discussed House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whom Palin said she met once in Washington, when Pelosi was leading a tour of schoolchildren on the Hill.

“I thought, ‘That’s nice that she has that time on her hands,’” said Palin, wrinkling her nose. O’Reilly’s response: “Do you think she’s a kook?”

Following a breezy dismissal of the latest Palin-related controversies, including reports that she accepted a $100,000 speaking fee to keynote an upcoming Tea Party convention in Tennessee, O’Reilly and Palin closed out the interview by exchanging expressions of mutual respect. Palin said she “couldn’t ask for anything better than the big man on campus.” And O’Reilly candidly laid out the terms of their arrangement. “Any time you want to set the record straight,” he said, “we’re here for you.”

Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal, she has also written for The New York Times, The New York Observer, Rolling Stone, and Slate, among other publications.