Campaign continues: Rating Sarah Palin as a TV host
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A Marine who sacrificed his life to save his fellows, a millionaire who has paid the college tuition of thousands of underprivileged kids, a boy who was inspired to walk through the friendship of an adorable black dog, a woman who risked her life to save a fire victim — surely only the most jaded among us could object to a television show devoted to inspiring tales of “real Americans.”
That seems to be what former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is counting on with “Real American Stories,” which debuted Thursday night on Fox News. Resplendent in red, Palin’s participation in the hourlong show was limited to narrating five segments and doing a few short follow-up interviews in front of an enthusiastic audience.
The segments themselves were based on interviews conducted by someone other than Palin. Indeed, LL Cool J, who is starring in the top-rated “NCIS: Los Angeles” caused a bit of a ruckus Wednesday when he tweeted his shock at being included in promos for the show. The interview being used to advertise his participation in “Real American Stories” took place in 2008 and no one had asked his permission to include it in what he considered a vehicle for Palin. His segment was subsequently cut. Country star Toby Keith expressed similar surprise — his interview is also an old one, used without his knowledge — but no objection to the show or the host and his segment stayed.
Certainly the people featured in the debut hour are genuine heroes, their actions undeniably worthy of all the accolades Palin showers on them. But taken as a whole, the show has no over-arching point beyond the one sketchily provided by Palin’s intro — that Americans are a courageous and ingenious bunch and this is a country where anything is possible.
‘Without government intervention’ is undeniably something of a subtext, especially in the first segment, which featured George Weiss as the benevolent millionaire whose Say Yes program has sent thousands of poor children to college. After bringing out a few of the youngsters currently involved in Say Yes, Palin praised “the power in the idea of a voluntary private sector” and wondered “how we can encourage others to jump in” before reminding the kids that America’s “eyes will be on you,” expecting great things after their free ride to college.
A few minutes later, General Electric’s chief executive, Jack Welch, appears to tell his American story and reiterates the belief that with hard work anything is possible in America.
As a host, Palin brings little besides her name and all that it has come to mean. Despite her time on the campaign trail and in front of often-unfriendly cameras, Palin still has an eyes-locked-on-the-teleprompter stiffness. Not surprisingly, she finally relaxed when speaking to the parents of Cole Massie, the special-needs child who endured excruciating surgeries and physical therapy so he could walk his dog Elia. “When you get that diagnosis, the universe sort of stops spinning,” Palin said before turning the floor over to Cole’s mother, giving the audience a glimpse of something beyond frozen smiles and rhetoric.
Certainly there’s nothing wrong with having a show devoted to inspiring people, as the daytime talk shows have known for years. But it’s hard not to see Palin, who, after abdicating her own governorship is hardly an icon of stick-to-itiveness, as using this platform, and these people, to further the idea that she has a special relationship with “real Americans.” Which makes anyone who finds her less than enchanting at best a heartless cynic and, at worst, a traitor.