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Palin, Trump, pizza - and a debased media in tow

I ignored her when she tried to exploit the symbolic importance of Rolling Thunder for her own selfish, exhibitionist glory in Washington over the weekend.

I looked the other other way so hard I almost wrenched my neck when she showed up at Baltimore's Ft. McHenry Monday in a gaudy, tricked-out campaign bus looking like like anything but the average American tourist she disingenuously claimed to be.

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But when she shows up in Manhattan with Donald Trump Tuesday night, I have to deal with it. Some commentators are dismissing it as surreal. And from a certain point of view, that's not a crazy take on these two flimflammers sharing a pizza.

But surreal misses the larger and scarier point of seeing these two together with the press breathlessly waiting for any comment they might deign to share, It misses the point that we have become such a debased culture here at the tail end of a 50-year Age-of-Television epoch that we are now treating reality TV show hosts as serious presidential candidates.

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Forget the 18th-century founders, or even the last of the 20th-century giants like FDR, LBJ or Reagan, we have become so downsized and sadly diminished in what we can imagine for American leadership, that we treat the trashy, reality-TV likes of Trump and Palin as contenders to be taken seriously. Poor, pathetic us. Look honey, they shrunk our imaginations. Forget the trade deficit. It's our inability to dream of great leaders that will make us a third-rate nation before long.

And we are treating these two TV hustlers seriously -- with analysts wondering on the 24/7 cable channels what they talked about. For all of Palin's talk about how she wanted to remind us of our history with this bus trip, I'll guarantee you that's not what they discussed. Neither knows enough of America's real past to fill three minutes of polite chatter. The only media figure who knows less real history is Glenn Beck, but he knows hours worth of grade-school hagiography that he's happy to go on and on and on about to the point of tears.

But not these two. Given Palin's low-rent, money-grubbing behavior the last two years, I would not be surprised if she made the pilgrimage to The Donald to see if she could get Bristol on next season's "Celebrity Apprentice." But only if he guarateed to keep her on long after she deserves to be -- like ABC did on "Dancing with the Stars."

Seriously, though, someone needs to throw a bucket of ice water over the head of the America press, slap it in the face and demand that it wake from its page-view, click-click stupor. We have entered a kind of zombie-like behavior in recent years in which we will religiously chronicle the comings and goings and idiot utterances of the sorriest celebrities on the face of the earth if we think it will get us web traffic. Does Charlie Sheen ring a bell?

And the folks panting after the Palin bus tour as she laughs at the New York Times and talks only to her fellow bought-and-owned colleagues at Fox News are the latest example of our decline.

We need to stop it, and now is a good time with an election cycle kicking into gear. But instead of getting serious, we are getting too stupid to believe.

There are values and judgment calls that the press needs to make, but for the most part, isn't.

For example, Rolling Thunder is about sacrifice and service -- the remembrance of men and women in the military who might be forgotten if not for the mighty motorcycle caravan in DC on Memorial Day.

What the press should have asked is what moral right Palin has to partake in that when her sense of public service is largely defined by resigning as governor of Alaska halfway through her term so that she could sign up to host a reality TV show for TLC and and become an analyst for Fox News. The price tag for each: $1 million. And she couldn't even wait to finish out her term before reaching for that easy money.

But there she was ready for her closeup last weekend, Mr. DeMille, in her Harley-Davidson helmet. Vroom, vroom. Knowing her, she probably got a product placement fee for wearing it.

And I am too outraged by her talk of this phony bus trip as an attempt to "remind" Americans of our shared history to comment on it at length without my head exploding.

Some of us, Sarah, actually studied American history in school instead of hopscotching from college to college until we could find one that would give us a degree. A 30-minute stop at a fort or battlefield before grabbing an ice cream cone, a couple of photo ops and heading for an air conditioned bus or hotel suite isn't exactly an act of deep historical engagement. But even our shared history is seen as only another prop for you, isn't it?

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There have been a few voices calling Palin's trip out for what it is, an exercise in political calculation, brand inflation and narcissism. Joe Scarborough did that Tuesday, and good for him, because he was one of the few doing so on cable TV.

As for Fox News and its on-the-bus "scoop" by Greta Van Susteren Tuesday night, the Fox News host herself inadvertently explained how that happened when she tried in a blog post Monday to defend Palin for not talking to the the rest of the mainstream press.

On her blog, Van Susteren Monday asked the question: "Is she giving a press conference today? or is she giving an interview?" (The punctuation and capitalization are Van Susteren's, not mine.)

"I don't think so," Van Susteren answered. "She can't -- or at least as far as I know she can't. She works for Fox, and just as with any employee or someone on contract with another network, she is contractually obligated NOT to speak to others...."

Contractually obligated NOT to speak to others -- as Fox News makes up one arbitrary and crazy rule after another as to when one of its analysts can or cannot talk to other press outlets -- or, on a less important note, run for president of the United States.  Can you imagine FDR or, better yet,  Eisenhower being under the thumb of a self-important, pumped-up media potentate like Roger Ailes?

Sarah Palin, pilgrim poseur of American history -- TLC reality-TV host and potential political candidate, bought and owned by Fox News.

And the media mindlessly chases along -- happy to be diverted by the spectacle and the sound of the online clicks she generates.

All that was missing at Tuesday night's dinner was Kate Gosselin. She's coming back on the air Monday night in an episode featuring a trip to New York City no less. How in the world did TLC miss lining her up with these other two media con artists?

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