One prominent female national figure is looking pretty good on TV these days, and it's not vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Palin's joint appearance last night with running mate John McCain on The CBS Evening News With Katie Couric was a public-relations disaster, conveying the impression of a father coming to the defense of his naïve daughter who had gotten into trouble at school.
"I'm so proud of the work she is doing," said the beaming poppa.
But Couric herself is on a roll. The House of Representatives balked on the Wall Street bailout yesterday, and the Dow Jones fell 777 points. As news displaced a ballyhooed one-on-one Palin interview, the anchor had hard-hitting questions for House party bosses.
To House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio: "What in the world are you people doing?"
To House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland: "Why weren't you able to deliver more Democrats, so you could prevent this major failure of American government today?"
But it was Palin many tuned to see last night, following Couric's interview last week in which the candidate's already-legendary feistiness and self-confidence (how quickly we illuminate our stars these days) got sidetracked.
It seemed last night as if McCain were called in to right the ship, but his performance did his running mate no favors. He couldn't help interrupting a question asked to her, and he went on a bit before realizing the boo-boo: "I'll let Gov. Palin speak for herself."
When she did, she said this: "Not only am I ready but willing and able to serve as vice president with Sen. McCain if Americans so bless us and privilege us with the opportunity of serving them, ready with my executive experience as a city mayor and manager, as a governor, as a commissioner, a regulator of oil and gas."
She has not been performing recently with the aplomb evinced in her few earlier national appearances. She began well, with a sensational nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention and a credible performance at her home in Alaska under the withering stare, if reasonably straight-ahead questioning, of ABC anchor Charles Gibson.
For a post-convention vice presidential candidate, her sequestration from the news media is virtually unprecedented: Between her nomination and the Gibson sit-down, the New Yorker's Steve Coll reported, Palin gave no interviews or news conferences, while Democrat candidate Joe Biden participated in 54.
And now, after exposing herself to a total of three TV questioners (the third was Fox News' Sean Hannity), she shows up with her running mate. It was impossible not to draw the impression that he was there to make sure she didn't falter again.
In another context, her gaffes might go unnoticed, but the rarity of sightings focuses attention that much more closely on each one.
The Alaska governor's troubles started Thursday, with this response to a Couric question about how her state's proximity to Russia gave her foreign-policy experience:
"That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land boundary that we have with Canada. It's funny that a comment like that was kind of made to - I don't know, you know - reporters."
"Mocked?" asked Couric.
Saturday Night Live guest mocker Tina Fey, so much Palin's flesh-and-blood doppelganger that she has appeared twice recently on a show she quit in 2006, had a field day on her most recent appearance Saturday, offering ridiculously nonsensical replies to questions from colleague Amy Poehler, who played Couric.
Sunday and Monday, reports whizzed around the World Wide Web that Fey's responses were taken word-for-word from the CBS transcript, in the sort of never-ending disinformation process that plagues all candidates in the Internet age.
But Couric has been showing the power of plain old TV, too.
Watch the McCain-Palin interview with Couric via http://go.philly.com/cbspalin EndText