By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 2010; C01
Sarah Palin, who has been broadcasting her political views on her Facebook page, has just acquired a far more potent media megaphone.
By joining Fox News in a deal announced Monday, the former Republican vice presidential nominee gains instant access to an audience that gives Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly the highest ratings in cable news -- and a clear boost if she attempts another run for national office.
"This gives her a platform she can use to stay relevant, to stay in the public eye and to flush out some of her policy positions," said Republican strategist Todd Harris, who once worked for Palin's 2008 running mate, John McCain. "To the degree it gives her a direct line to the kinds of people who vote in Republican primaries, it does give her an advantage."
Out-of-work politicians are increasingly using television and radio to stay on the political radar and keep their options open, which is one reason that former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, an also-ran in the 2008 White House race and possible 2012 contender, is now hosting a weekend show, also on Fox.
The former Alaska governor will appear as a pundit on various Fox shows, beginning Tuesday on "The O'Reilly Factor," and host an occasional series that was already in the works, "Real American Stories," which will examine inspirational tales involving ordinary citizens who have suffered setbacks. Palin has used similar language in speeches, and apologized during the presidential campaign for referring to small towns as "the real America" and the "pro-America areas of this great nation."
Palin said in a statement that she is "thrilled" to be joining Fox, adding, "It's wonderful to be part of a place that so values fair and balanced news."
While the Fox deal instantly ignited speculation that she is weighing a presidential bid, Palin has given no such indication. But even if she never seeks political office again, Rupert Murdoch's cable channel will provide her with added visibility -- and income -- in the wake of her tour for her best-selling memoir, "Going Rogue."
Dan Schnur, who directs the politics institute at the University of Southern California, said the impact may be muted. "Unless she gets her own show at some point, it might not be a huge direct benefit," said Schnur, who worked for McCain's 2000 presidential campaign. "If she just pops up from time to time without a set schedule for her supporters to plan for, she's just another talking head in a cast of thousands." In addition, Palin's appearances may largely be limited to when she is traveling, since satellite transmission is difficult from her Alaska home town of Wasilla.
Some Democrats scoffed at the melding of the Palin and Fox brands. "Not since Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag has there been a couple so well suited for one another," said Hari Sevugan, the Democratic National Committee's press secretary.
Bill Shine, Fox News senior vice president, called Palin "one of the most dynamic individuals in politics today. We want to know what she thinks."
Shine did not dispute the perception that Fox, whose contributors include former Bush White House adviser Karl Rove and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, has become a comfortable home for Republicans no longer in office. But he noted that the only other female vice presidential candidate -- Democrat Geraldine Ferraro -- is also a Fox analyst, although her appearances have been limited in recent years. Michael Steele was a Fox commentator before becoming the Republican National Committee chairman.
Fred Malek, a Republican donor and Palin loyalist, sees the arrangement as a strong match. "I do know that there was a lot of demand and opportunities" for Palin, he said. "It is a very good thing for her and a coup for Fox."
Broadcast outlets have served as a springboard for candidates since Ronald Reagan (a former host of "General Electric Theater") did regular radio commentaries in the years before his 1980 election as president. Pat Buchanan served as co-host of CNN's "Crossfire" before and after the first of his presidential campaigns in the 1990s. Al Franken was an Air America radio host (and "Saturday Night Live" alumnus) before being seated this year as a Democratic senator from Minnesota.
These days, former presidential candidate Howard Dean, a regular contributor to MSNBC and CNBC, is being talked up by some liberal bloggers as a future White House contender. Another MSNBC analyst, former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford Jr., is weighing a New York campaign for the Senate seat held by Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand. And MSNBC host Ed Schultz, who is from North Dakota, has not ruled out a campaign -- at the entreaty of Democratic leaders -- for the seat of retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan.
Lou Dobbs abruptly resigned as a CNN anchor in November and suggested that he may seek political office, possibly in his home state of New Jersey.
While potential candidates often use the airwaves to promote themselves, federal equal-time rules do not take effect until a person takes the tangible step of forming a political committee and started raising money.
But there can be a downside to relentless exposure. "The danger is that any time hundreds if not thousands of hours of a candidate on television exist, there's always the chance for a mistake," Harris said. "Once it's on TV, that video lives forever."
Fox, the highest-rated cable news channel, is in many ways a natural pit stop for Palin. After her disastrous campaign interviews with Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson, Palin was treated sympathetically by some Fox hosts, especially Hannity. When her book was published last fall, Palin granted Fox a number of interviews after her initial sit-downs with Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters.
Palin is extremely popular with her conservative base. But she is also a divisive figure who draws the ire not only of many liberals but some Republican pundits as well as former McCain staffers who been increasingly vocal in criticizing her.
Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."