Palin's Pyrrhic Comedy War

Jibes at Griffin and Stewart likely will lead to more jokes – and not much sympathy, post-Letterman feud

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Former Republican vice Presidential candidate and Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin speaking at the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara, Friday Feb. 4, 2011. Palin was the headline speaker for the Ronald Reagan Centennial celebration opening reception hosted by the Young Americans Foundation. (AP Photo/Spencer Weiner)

    Whether Sarah Palin will become president one day is anyone's guess, but it's a good bet she won't emerge a winner from her silly war of words with comedian Kathy Griffin.

    There are as many ways to view Palin's dare to the tart-tongued “bully” to "come up to Alaska" as there are Palin personas.

    There's Palin, the ostensibly serious politician, wrestling in the media mud with an admitted D-list celebrity. There's Palin, the reality show star, scrapping with a fellow Reality TV veteran.

    The guise Palin seems to be donning in this instance is her Mama Grizzly getup, lashing out at Griffin – already the bane of her adult daughter Bristol – for vowing to target 16-year-old middle daughter Willow.

    “She's a 50-year-old, adult bully… a kind of has-been comedienne," Palin told Fox News over the weekend. "Kathy, come up to Alaska and pick on me, but leave my kids alone."

    Nearly two years ago, Palin very effectively slammed David Letterman for making a tasteless pregnancy joke about then-14-year-old Willow. It didn't matter that Letterman intended to make the crack about unwed mom Bristol, then 18. The “Late Show” host eventually apologized.

    At that point, Palin was still governor of Alaska and her children were in the public eye primarily because of her public service.

    Since then, Bristol has become a celebrity, with her stint on "Dancing With The Stars," and plans to write a book and perhaps enter politics someday. Her mother made the family (and their scenic home state) the stars of "Sarah Palin's Alaska," exposing them on TV for a payday – a virtual ceding of moral high ground, even if comedians generally should avoid being cruel to kids.

    Odds are the pre-emptive strike on Griffin isn’t going to win Palin much sympathy, and quite possibly will add to the feeling in old-school GOP circles and elsewhere that she’s more about publicity than policy. Griffin – who has flaunted her odd friendship with Levi Johnston, the father of Bristol Palin's son, and is set to play a Sarah Palin-like character on "Glee" – knows all about publicity herself, and is milking the Fox interview.

    Griffin, through her publicist, offered Palin tickets to her upcoming Broadway show. “Kathy supports all reality stars regardless of what they say about her,” the publicist told ABCNews.com.

    The characterization of Palin underscored the murky waters in which Tea Party pal treads – is she a reality star? A pundit? A politician? And how – if at all – should she respond to comics?

    During the 2008 campaign, the then-vice presidential candidate gamely stood glasses-to-glasses with her comedic doppelganger, Tina Fey, on "Saturday Night Live," because that's what big-time politicians do during election season to display a sense of humor.

    Now she's apparently viewing some comics as she sees much of the non-Fox press: like a branch of the opposing party. Palin has steered clear of invites from Letterman, as well as Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show.”  The Huffington Post reported this week that Palin aide Rebecca Mansour insisted the former governor is "not afraid" of  Stewart, who has lambasted her and has all-but dared her to come on the show.

    “If you continue to imply that she's afraid of appearing on a comedian's satire news show, then you're just plain wrong,” Mansour said in an email to The Huffington Post. “She's stared down big oil companies and won. Jon Stewart isn't all that intimidating."

    Neither is Kathy Griffin. But the “has-been comedienne” emerged as a likely victor the moment Palin let herself be lured to battle on the D-list.

    Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.