- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2010

NEW YORK | For more than a year, Sarah Palin has been one of the most famous political and cultural figures in America. Even by that standard, though, last week was an extraordinary one.

On Thursday came word that the former Alaska governor was working on a TV series about her home state, currently being pitched by one of television’s top producers. A day before that, her publishers announced she was embarking on a second book, a follow-up to her blockbuster “Going Rogue.”

And a day before that, she was the prize guest on Jay Leno’s second day back as host of NBC’s “Tonight” show, along with Olympic champion Shaun White and “American Idol” star Adam Lambert. She ruminated on politics, praising the “tea party” movement, and on journalism, discussing her gig as a Fox News Channel political analyst.

Then she went behind a curtain and returned to perform a full standup comedy routine: “The truth is, though, I’m glad that I’m not vice president,” she said. “I would not know what to do with all that free time.”

A little politics, a little journalism, and a whole lot of celebrity, all in a week’s work. (Her foray to an Oscar gift suite made news, too.) But toward what end? A 2012 presidential bid? A daily talk show? An Oprah-like dominance of the pop culture sphere? Everybody’s dying to know Mrs. Palin’s plans, and that makes her celebrity all the more potent.

But beyond that, many see her as just the most prominent example of a phenomenon that is larger than even her: the gradual blurring of the worlds of politics, celebrity and the media.

The shifting boundaries of politics and media have been apparent for some time. The networks, especially cable news, have opened doors - sometimes revolving ones - for former speechwriters and campaign operatives. More recent, though, are the trips through those doors of the candidates themselves. Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has his own weekend show on Fox News Channel, for example.

MSNBC pundit Harold Ford Jr., a former congressman, recently decided not to run for the U.S. Senate from New York, but said he hopes another opportunity presents itself. MSNBC’s “Hardball” host Chris Matthews, who worked as a Democratic congressional staffer and a presidential speechwriter, has talked about a Senate run from Pennsylvania.

To analyst Marty Kaplan, who often examines the nexus between politics and culture, the phenomenon is troubling. Equal-time rules don’t come into play for those merely considering running.

“The question becomes, when does this turn into a conflict?” asks Mr. Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School of Communication. It’s especially dicey when a former politician is using the platform to mull a re-entry into politics, he says. “The networks are in effect being used by these people to rebuild their political futures. There’s enough evidence that they should be thinking twice about this.”

But there would seem to be little incentive for Fox to think twice when they have a ratings draw like Mrs. Palin. As for her, where’s the downside? Fox gives her a platform larger and more potent than her Facebook page, with its nearly 1.5 million fans.

“I wish there was a downside for some of these politicians,” Mr. Kaplan laughs. “But experience has shown that’s not the case. There’s just no downside to being famous these days.”

In other words, it’s all about exposure. Sometimes literally. Consider Scott Brown, the recently elected senator from Massachusetts, who as a law student posed nude for Cosmopolitan, a strategically placed magazine fold his only fig leaf.

“In the past something like that would have been a nail in the coffin for a politician,” says Mr. Kaplan. “Now it’s just seen as humorous and colorful.” And maybe even helpful.

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