This marks something of a turning point for Palin. More so than daytime media, late night shows seem to have the power to define a public persona.
Usually, late night references to Palin are of the demeaning variety, most notably David Letterman’s near continuous anti-Palin jihad and the Saturday Night Live Tina Fay skits mocking Palin. When Palin appeared on SNL during the campaign, the appearance was damage control, at best.
Palin’s appearance on Conan’s show was very, very different on a variety of levels. Most obviously, Palin was presented in a sympathetic, humorous manner, and allowed to present a side of her personality most media viewers never see. Palin was part of the show, not the target of the show.
Perhaps even more important was the context. The segment started out with Palin being mocked, mildly, by William Shatner, in the manner of making sentences from Going Rogue seem so silly when presented in Shatner’s signature style. If that’s all there was to the segment, it would have been par for the course.
By bringing Palin onto the stage with Shatner, and having Palin mock sentences from Shatner’s own book, the show sent an enormous subliminal message: Perhaps some of the mocking of Palin that goes on in the entertainment media was not justified since anyone could be the subject of such mockery.
Palin thus took on the pervasive liberal and Democratic caricature of Palin, and did so in a humorous and sympathetic way. Palin was allowed to fight mockery with mockery. Touché.
Palin’s appearance on the Conan show may mark a turning point. The mainstream media, very begrudgingly and in small steps, is shifting its approach to Palin as polls show Palin’s popularity rising. Palin’s appearance on Oprah brought the show ratings it had not seen in years.
Obama used his appearance on Oprah, and other entertainment media love, to establish his popularity. Which is why it damages Obama’s image so badly when SNL mocks Obama. At this point, Obama needs the media more than the media needs Obama.
Palin, by contrast, established her popularity independent of, and despite, the entertainment media. When it comes to Palin, the entertainment media is following not leading. We have reached the point where the mainstream entertainment media needs Palin more than Palin needs the media.