Byline: Howard Kurtz
As her presidential poll numbers shrink, her Fox ratings and her media profile are waning.
There was a sense of celebration in the air when Fox News struck a $3 million deal with Sarah Palin, beating out a slew of networks, syndicators, and even Hollywood studios for the services of the hottest phenomenon on the political landscape. But 16 months after network chief Roger Ailes closed the deal in a meeting with Palin and her husband, Todd, the excitement has cooled. Palin's regular appearances as a commentator no longer move the ratings needle without a promotional push. Palin was supposed to host prime-time specials dubbed Real American Stories, but Fox insiders tell me the idea was shelved early on. The first one bombed, losing a chunk of its audience as the show progressed.
Palin is a remote presence, beaming in from the studio Ailes had built at her Alaska home when she wants to weigh in, which she sometimes signals with emails at odd hours. During a rare appearance in New York City on election night, Fox staffers scurried to fix a towering beehive hairdo created by an errant makeup artist. But many of Fox's top-line journalists have never met Palin, and at times the hallway chatter, at least among some of the men, is less about her political future than her appearance.
Her fortunes are such that Fox contributor Tucker Carlson recently tweeted: "Palin's popularity falling in Iowa, but maintains lead to become supreme commander of Milfistan"--a reference to Palin as a sexually desirable mom, or MILF. Todd Palin, according to sources, fired off an email asking what Fox planned to do about that (Carlson later apologized).
While Fox says it still values Palin, her relationship with the network treasured by red-state America has changed. Bill O'Reilly recently complained after a combative interview with her that she isn't engaging on the issues. Even longtime cheerleader Glenn Beck told viewers she should have published a policy book: "It should have shown that, yes, she knows where Russia is."
When Palin appeared from Alaska last week in a pink windbreaker that matched her lipstick, she castigated Barack Obama for a "befuddling foreign policy" in Libya and indirectly defended the birthers as "curious Americans" who shouldn't be depicted as crazy for challenging the president's birth certificate. Once, such thunderbolts would have ignited crackling headlines. But Palin made news only with a parting jab at departing CBS anchor Katie Couric, underscoring her lingering anger over their contentious campaign interviews in 2008.
As her poll numbers sink, Republican Party insiders assume she's unlikely to mount a presidential campaign, the possibility of which used to stoke endless interest in her every Facebook pronouncement. "Her real constituency is the media," says former John McCain adviser Mike Murphy, who views Palin as a "niche candidate" incapable of winning the nomination. "The media have always overestimated her appeal. They're drunk with interest in covering her. It's a partnership--they're in business together."
But the partnership, often fed by her fiery tweets (see chart), is suffering. Between February and April, according to an analysis for NEWSWEEK by General Sentiment, a company that tracks and measures online content, posts involving Palin fell 38.3 percent, to 235,032, over the past 30 days. Social-media …