Fox News tough guy Sean Hannity assured us this week he would press Sarah Palin for real answers -- no going easy on the woman who could be the next vice president of the United States.

"No topic," Hannity intoned, "is off limits."

A couple of nights earlier, Fox's hard-talking lawyer, Greta Van Susteren, promised to take us to unknown places in her exclusive interview with Alaska's so-called First Dude, Todd Palin.

"You will see this," Greta declared, "nowhere else!"

No, you won't. And mercifully so. Because Hannity and Van Susteren produced three nights of infotainment so frothy, slanted and off-point that they challenged even their cable network's low standards.

Fox boss man Roger Ailes would desperately like to have his stepchild accepted into the family of respected news sources. And the reporters who deliver many of Fox's reports have been known to battle their employer's partisan biases.

But given a chance to

address real issues, and possibly even make news in two encounters with America's most intriguing couple, Fox instead condescended to

both Palins, with Van Susteren's cringe-worthy paean to Arctic beauty and Todd Palin's machismo, and Hannity's weak-kneed idolization of Alaska's governor.

First, let's look at the two sessions on "Hannity & Colmes," where the host had the responsibility of interviewing a politician who aspires to help lead the nation and who is likely to subject herself to few unscripted moments between now and election day.

Sinking to the occasion, Hannity lobbed softball questions, led his pliant subject to safe responses and not so subtly sprinkled his queries with barbs aimed at Barack Obama.

He left the questions many Americans have about Palin's record to the end, then signaled that the "so-called controversies" weren't worthy of serious consideration.

At one point Hannity rhapsodized about Alaska's low taxes and actually added: "I have to move to Alaska."

I hadn't felt so queasy since the women of ABC's "The View" wriggled in their seats and giggled gleefully as Obama visited last spring.

Barbara Walters praised the young prince for his "passion, charisma and call for change," not to mention his "very sexy" looks. But at least "The View" ladies allowed Elisabeth Hasselbeck to pepper Obama with questions about his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

And that was daytime TV.

Newsman Hannity would countenance no such unpleasantness this week during his precious hour. He smiled dreamily at Palin and said he wished he had more time. And the Republican governor -- hair down, smiling, relaxed -- clearly knew she was playing on her home court.

The Fox commentator wasted no time in priming the partisan pump -- suggesting that Obama's recent statements on the economy were for "political gain" and that his call for higher taxes on the rich amounted to "class warfare."

If Fox had intended a probing interview, it wouldn't have assigned one of its most contentious mouthpieces.