Fox News Channel’s Stuart Varney came up with a hilarious excuse for Sarah Palin’s surprise decision to resign as governor of Alaska before her term’s completed.

It’s David Letterman’s fault!

Throughout Fox’s breaking coverage Friday, fill-in anchor Varney kept repeating the question of whether Palin was hounded out of politics by the “vicious” and “scurrilous” attacks against her, citing Letterman’s joke about her daughter (and the subsequent controversy that Palin and her supporters stoked) as a prime example.

Sorry, it doesn’t wash.

Even if you accept that Letterman’s poorly constructed joke was beyond the pale — and for the record, I feel all that righteous indignation was highly calculated and overblown — it’s hard to defend buckling to such comments as the rationale behind Palin’s action. After all, if she truly aspires to higher office, the criticisms will be a lot more pointed than the kind that get delivered by latenight comedians.

Of course, the notion that Palin is nobly stepping aside to A) advance her political career or B) for the greater good of Alaska doesn’t endure close scrutiny, either, so Varney was in essence grasping at straws. As Fox News’ Carl Cameron put it — summing up the hanging curve that Palin has served up to detractors — the political ads against her in any future race will simply say, “Sarah Palin wants to be president, but she quit her last job.”

Meanwhile, the unhappiest man in America is probably John Ziegler, the conservative talkshow host turned documentary filmmaker who has sought to transform defending Palin — or rather, lambasting the mainstream media’s handling of her — into a cottage industry. If Palin is truly out of politics — as some, in the frenzy of instant analysis, suggested she might be — it’s another sign that the Wasilla native was out of her depth all along.

Strictly as TV theater, Palin’s rambling speech — with her bizarre basketball analogy about when to “pass the ball for victory” — rightfully should mark the end of her time on the national political stage. As the New York Times’ increasingly indispensable Gail Collins noted, not only was the delivery bizarre, but the timing served to “interrupt the plans of TV newscasters to spend the entire weekend pointing out that Michael Jackson is still dead.”

The Jackson experience, however, might also explain why Palin is destined to be with us for awhile. Because as with the so-called King of Pop, the Palin circus is just too outlandish, too irresistible a story, to go away anytime soon.

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