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Palin, Fox Continue Long Media Trend

WASHINGTON - In truth, it was a dog bites woman story when we learned Sarah Palin would be joining Fox News. Where else would a conservative with a best-seller, notoriety and big ambitions land?

MSNBC, where she is regularly lampooned? CNN, which likes its partisans with a '90s tint?

Yet Palin's move to the conservative network says much about the merger of media, politics and popular culture.

It also says something about media history, too. For all that conservatives lambast the "mainstream media," Palin's new job continues a half-century trend of conservative dominance of broadcast opinion.

Lately, liberals have largely shaped the political discourse of the Internet. But ever since Ronald Reagan used his 1960s gig as host of television's "GE Theater" to reshape his image in prime time, conservatives have gotten the best of talk television and talk radio. Over more than 20 years at the microphone, Rush Limbaugh has never had close to an equal on the center or left.

Fox, which has some of the highest-rated political talk shows on cable, now has two potential Republican presidential aspirants in 2012 on its payroll.

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, hosts a Saturday night show that mixes politics, music and popular culture in a folksy, Jim Nabors-goes-to-Washington way.

Huckabee likes it so much, he says, he may not run for president again. It's a lot better asking the questions than answering them.

And that begs a serious question: What's more attractive for a conservative politician who wants to make a difference - the considerable megaphone of Fox, or the down-and-dirty, 24-hour-a-day scrap to get and hold the world's hardest job?

"For Palin, Fox News could be the steppingstone for national politics, or her brief flirtation with national politics could have been a steppingstone for Fox News," said Matthew Kerbel, an expert in political communications at Villanova University. "Either way, it is an interesting commentary on the merger of popular culture and politics."

Kerbel is author of "Netroots: Online Progressives and the Transformation of American Politics." He said that while left-leaning communicators have helped drive the Internet into a powerful political force, conservatives continue to reap benefits from longer-term investment and focus on more traditional talk radio and TV.

"They have done it deliberately, with a lot of funding and concerted effort over a long period of time," Kerbel said.

Barack Obama won the presidency after organizing and capturing the most significant Internet movement yet.

Kerbel said left-leaning bloggers and others largely fell into the power of the new medium, and that they found its back-and-forth immediacy amenable to a decentralized, and constant, debate over progressive politics. Conservatives, he said, have made inroads but have been more likely to use Internet blogs to augment more traditional mediums.

The difference goes back to 1930s comedian Will Rogers' joke that he belonged to no organized political party, that he was a Democrat.

As a general rule, Democrats are more inclined to revel in the roiling. And so for the left in this country, the Internet has become a comfortable free-for-all zone, with its multitudes of bloggers, commentators and news karaoke artists swirling around fresh liberal fixtures like Daily Kos and Huffington Post.

Palin's new gig has been a hot topic on these blogs. Now she has the microphone to fire back.

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