By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 2, 2010; C01
The debut on the Fox News Channel of Sarah Palin's "Real American Stories" Thursday night turned out to be like one of those shows that's on when nothing's on and yet there is air to fill -- like infotainment you sometimes see on empty channels in hotel rooms, or the stuff that's playing on the little TV screen at the gas pump nearest the rental-car center. What are we watching exactly? (A commercial? News?)
I dunno, but hush: The mother of the dead Marine is talking about the day a naval destroyer was named after her son. The millionaire is about to give away millions to send underprivileged minority kids to college for free. The loyal service dog is going to help the sweet little boy walk again. A woman is about the save a man from a burning tanker truck. Toby Keith is singing about patriotic veterans. Flags are billowing. A piano is playing.
Not moved? Well, what's wrong with you, sicko? You can almost imagine Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow popping lefty corn and gathering 'neath the flat screen to excitedly parse over "Real American Stories" and savor it -- would it be merely terrible or simply godawful?
Neither, and what a letdown.
No hopey-changey. No missed cues. Palin's show, which Fox News will air "periodically," is innocuous, flat and political in only the most coded of ways. It's like a Barbara Walters special for that particular media consumer who always complains that they never report any good news.
That, of course, is crazy. In the Oprah age, we are deluged every day with stories that inspire -- I would argue, despite all those violence-and-sex-in-TV studies, that television spends so much time beaming sunshine into our eyeballs that we've become oblivious to it. Who on TV isn't running a marathon, saving animals, rebuilding slums, delivering canned goods to food banks? As we say in America, it's all good.
Not for Palin. It's only vaguely implied, but her America is in crisis. "Tonight," she says, at last, we will meet people whose life stories teach us something that will "reaffirm" the spark of America in all -- people who are "real," consistently her most loaded word.
And after what seems like years (really just 18 months) of being incessantly informed by the left of Palin's shortcomings -- of endlessly debating her perceived deficiencies as a former vice-presidential candidate and governor -- it's sort of interesting to watch her do something she's really good at: doling out warm fuzzies, emphasis on fuzzy.
Television was her original career plan, after all, and she is never more believable than in the land of nebulous platitude, hosting a show made up of curiously unrelated, seemingly freeze-dried profiles that all fit under the giant label of "inspiring."
She brought out the inner-city schoolkids and asked them about their college plans. She brought out the boy and his dog. She brought out the woman who rescued the man from the fire. She praised them up and down. Everyone had smiles plastered on their faces, including Palin's studio audience, and an odd nervousness went out over the airwaves. It's a commercial? It's news?
It's Palin. You might find her annoying, but since when was being annoying any barrier to doing bad television? (Or good television, for that matter?)
So for an hour she glommed on to some of her real Americans' realness and turned it all into something that is pointless to argue: America is great. People can do whatever they set their mind to because they are exceptional, because America is exceptional. The search continues for a tune that Palin and Fox News seem forever convinced goes under-sung.