June 13, 2013

Sarah Palin (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Fox News exhibited savvy and forward thinking earlier this year when it issued this statement on the news that Sarah Palin would no longer serve as a network contributor: “We have thoroughly enjoyed our association with Governor Palin. We wish her the best in her future endeavors.”

Turns out that one of those future endeavors is … another association with Fox News. Via Mediaite and a press release comes the news that Palin is rejoining Fox News as a contributor.

The statement from Palin: “The power of Fox News is unparalleled. The role of Fox News in the important debates in our world is indispensable. I am pleased and proud to be rejoining Roger Ailes and the great people at FOX.”

The statement from Fox News chief Roger Ailes: “I’ve had several conversations with Governor Palin in the past few weeks about her rejoining FOX News as a contributor. I have great confidence in her and am pleased that she will once again add her commentary to our programming. I hope she continues to speak her mind.”

That, of course, is precisely the hazard. Breaking down the backward thinking in this move by Fox News requires only the most rudimentary critical skills: Once you’ve heard one Sarah Palin segment, you have heard them all. Cue up a recitation of conservative propaganda, narcissism and empty scolding of the “lamestream media,” and repeat.

Do not take the word of the Erik Wemple Blog, however. We have evidence that others reached the same conclusions.

On page 280 of his highly readable book “An Atheist in the Foxhole,” former Fox News “mole” Joe Muto details how Palin came to be regarded in the Fox News newsroom:

[H]er abilities as a pundit left much to be desired. She conversed entirely in shallow, empty platitudes, as if she’d just memorized a list of talking points instead of actually boning up on whatever issue was on her plate. … A few months into her tenure, O’Reilly exploded with frustration when he was told for the third time in a row that Palin wouldn’t be available. “I don’t know why this woman refuses to help us out,” he vented. “And when she does come on, she doesn’t say anything. It’s just the same BS talking points every time.”

Even the “conservative true believers,” writes Muto, came to admit over time that Palin was “every bit as uninformed as her liberal critics had charged.”

Another insight on Palin comes from Muto’s book: She “tended to play hard to get,” he writes, stiff-arming requests for appearances. She also allegedly refused to participate in pre-interview briefings, which “meant that we producers could never brief her on the segment, making it that much more likely she’d get hit with an unpleasant surprise or unexpected question on live television.”

So: As unfortunate as this is for Fox News viewers, it’s worse for Fox News producers.

With this announcement, the backstory of the rapprochement between Ailes and Palin becomes by far the most precious commodity on the media-news beat. Was Ailes concerned about ratings and wanted the Palin brand and Facebook audience behind his network? Did one of the parties beg and plead?

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.