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Fox News presents: a much paler Palin

AMERICA had barely had time to savour the prospect of Sarah Palin showing up on the Fox News Channel as a "regular contributor" before the former governor made her first appearance.

There she was on Tuesday night chit-chatting with conservative host Bill O'Reilly saying things like "crap", "b.s" and "uncomfortableness".

We only learned on Monday of the deal struck between Rupert Murdoch's Fox News and the one-time vice-presidential candidate, and truth to tell, many viewers who saw her debut on The O'Reilly Factor, the highest-rated of the channel's primetime shows, may have felt a bit let down. She was smooth and more or less self-confident, not at all like the Palin we saw interviewed by Katie Couric last year or parodied by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live.

When it was over, she declared that she couldn't have imagined anything better than the preceding 10 minutes talking to O'Reilly, who she teasingly called "the big man on campus". But not everyone will have seen it the same way. There was just a chance that Palin on Fox would become genuinely gripping, if she would only get off being a candidate and politician for a second and utter some honest, genuine thoughts.

Her role in American politics, after all, is to represent the "real people" of America. As O'Reilly reminded us, she is a mum with one special-needs child and she likes to hunt game. And she contrasted herself with President Barack Obama who does not "get" ordinary American folk. It's why his poll numbers are on the skids, she said.

"Of course they're sinking. It was just a matter of time before more of that reflection of the people's uncomfortableness that they feel towards this administration is manifesting in these poll numbers," she offered. "There is an obvious disconnect between President Obama and the White House, what they are doing to our economy and what they are doing in terms of not allowing Americans to feel as safe as we had felt."

On screen were the two most popular icons of the conservative movement in America today. But O'Reilly knew better than simply to snuggle up to the ex-Governor. Instead he spent most of the 10-minute segment asking her about the new book out this week about the 2008 campaign – Game Change by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann – that lingered so extensively on her and her shortcomings as a candidate. And he solicited her opinion on the furore that the same book triggered by citing a remark from Harry Reid, the Senate Majority leader, who said during the campaign that Mr Obama had a chance to prevail because he was a "light-skinned" African-American who lacked the "negro dialect".

All of this gave Ms Palin the opportunity to return with honesty and thoughtfulness. But still she blew it. "A lot of us don't think along those lines that somebody's skin tone would be criteria for a qualification for the presidency," she said of Reid's remarks. But that is claptrap. The Obama phenomenon has surely pointed up the degree to which Americans precisely think in those terms.

As for that book, which includes unflattering recollections by Steve Schmidt, the former campaign chief of John McCain, for instance about her troubles preparing for the debate against Joe Biden, the Democrat running mate, she was mostly just dismissive of the "bunch of B.S. from Schmidt" and others involved in the campaign. The authors are just "political establishment reporters" trying to, "gin up controversy and spin up gossip. The rest of America doesn't care about that kind of crap." She even mocked the CBS current affairs programme 60 Minutes as an irrelevancy – ignoring the fact that it is still in the top 10 of most-watched TV shows.

Of course "the rest of America" cares about what happened in the campaign. That's why she has been invited to be a contributor on Fox. There are still people who believe Sarah Palin would make a decent presidential candidate in 2012. But until she ditches all thought of being a candidate she cannot reveal anything of herself or her thinking process that is not "on message" in the run up to the next campaign. And thus she will continue to be dull and predictable on TV.

In Game Change, the new book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, long passages are dedicated to Sarah Palin's difficulties after she was picked as Republican John McCain's running mate. Her troubles allegedly included:

  • Revealing that she did not properly understand what distinguishes North Korea from South Korea.
  • Expressing the view to the McCain handlers that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks.
  • In practice sessions for the vice-presidential debate she kept referring to her opponent as Joe O'Biden. She asked at the start of the debate proper if she could call him Joe to neutralise the problem. She said O'Biden once anyway.
  • With her son about to ship out to Iraq, Palin was apparently unable to say who it was he would be fighting exactly.
  • She showed signs of mental instability. "One minute, Palin would be her perky self; the next she would fall into a strange blue funk," the authors write.
  • She went into a tailspin after her infamously bad interview with Katie Couric of CBS, refusing to eat or sleep properly.
  • She conceded that "if I had known all this" about the McCain campaign and its people she would never have agreed to be running mate.