The phenomenon known as Sarah Palin made her debut this week as an analyst on Fox News. You should have heard the braying from our competitors CNN and MSNBC. She's a dunce, they wailed, a conservative shill! Foaming at the mouth doesn't begin to describe the reaction.
Here's my question: If you guys are so smart, how come your ratings are softer than Jell-O?
Palin appeared on my program and began by knocking President Barack Obama around a bit on health care and terrorism, standard-issue right-wing stuff. But then I asked her about charges on "60 Minutes" that her frame of reference is so weak, she doesn't even understand why there are two Koreas. Palin just shook her head and said the man who made the charge, author John Heilemann, is a liberal who simply is not telling the truth.
Whatever your opinion of her, you have to admit the bashing of Palin is almost unprecedented in the media. Newspaper critics and uber-liberal TV commentators are the worst. Reviewing my interview with the former governor in The New York Times, Kate Zernike wrote: "After marveling that 60 Minutes' spent eight minutes on Ms. Palin on Sunday night, Mr. O'Reilly spent about 20 with her."
Well, yeah. She's a brand-new FNC analyst and was the lead guest on my program. The "60 Minutes" story was about a book featuring dozens of politicians. Palin, however, got most of the airtime, and it was all negative.
And that's the point. If you hammer Palin, the Times will have no beef. But give her a forum in which she can respond to her detractors, and watch out.
David Zurawik, television critic for The Baltimore Sun, makes that point better than I ever could. Reviewing the Palin chat, Zurawik said: "In a protected TV environment like the one Fox and O'Reilly skillfully provided for her Tuesday night, I think (Palin) could be a red-hot ratings winner. And the country and our political conversation are going to be the poorer for it.
"I can only imagine what kind of power these two might come to wield in the elections of 2010."
Never mind that I asked Palin about the perception that her intellect is not up to presidential standards, Zurawik and his soul brothers and sisters on the left are very worried about the fact that Palin now has a place to state her case. A very well-watched place.
That presents a clear and present danger to the liberal ideologues masquerading as press people. No longer can they mock Palin with impunity. Now she can mock them back, big time, and perhaps convince open-minded folks that her message is worthy, and that she is not a reincarnation of Georgette on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
Simply put, Palin has a big opportunity to balance the playing field. Boy, do her critics hate that.
Veteran TV news anchor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show "The O'Reilly Factor."