In a story published last night, New York Magazine reports that after the tragedy in Tucson Sarah Palin called Fox News boss Roger Ailes for advice on how she should combat the libelous claims that she contributed to the shooting. Is the story a peek inside an uneasy detente at the network between Palin and Ailes, or strictly beltway gossip? You decide.

Palin told Ailes she wanted to respond, according to a person with knowledge of the call. It wasn’t fair the media was making this about her. Ailes told Palin that she should stay quiet.

“Lie low,” he said. “There’s no need to inject yourself into the story.”…

But, this being Sarah Palin, she did it anyway.

Ailes was not pleased with her decision, which turned out to be a political debacle for Palin, especially her use of the historically loaded term “blood libel” to describe the actions of the media. “The Tucson thing was horrible,” said a person familiar with Ailes’s thinking. “Before she responded, she was making herself look like a victim. She was winning. She went out and did the blood libel thing, and Roger is thinking, ‘Why did you call me for advice?’”

Ailes’s displeasure matters, not only because his network is a holding pen for Republican candidates-in-waiting, but because he is paying Palin a hefty $1 million annual salary while she strings out her decision over whether to run for president

NY Magazine’s story isn’t deeply sourced. A “person familiar” is not exactly iron-clad proof the conversation took place — though 1.) odds are that a conversation did take place and 2.) there’s nothing wrong with it if it did — and much of the story is rehash that weaves three separate events together: the Tucson shooting, the supposed Ailes-Palin conversation and fallout, and the departures of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum from the network.

But if there are problems brewing at Fox News, it adds an interesting wrinkle to discussions about the Fox contracts of Republican Presidential candidates, particularly since the NY Mag story adds a tinge of turmoil to the FNC-Palin relationship. Arguments can be made on both sides whether a strained relationship would have made it more or less likely Palin and Fox would have parted ways at the time Gingrich and Santorum did. Indeed, NY Mag introduces far more questions into the Fox paid-contributor debate than it does answers.

Here’s the most important question, though: What should Palin do if her relationship with FNC is souring now in the run up to the Presidential primaries?

On the one hand, Palin has a $1 million annual salary with the network that no one would want to leave. On the other hand, she made the equivalent of about $1 million a month during a one year period ending in 2010; she could afford to bow out at the network on her own terms. She’d lose Fox’s platform, but does she really need it?

And moreover, why should she let Fox News force her out? When Fox cut ties with Gingrich and Santorum, I don’t think there’s any doubt it harmed their candidacies, not least of which reasons it put out a perception that the two were clinging on to FNC financially by misrepresenting their intentions. Not very statesman-y.

I argued back in 2009 that Palin would be more powerful and effective out of office than she was in it, and that pols and voters shouldn’t “misunderestimate” her move from the Alaskan governor’s mansion back into (a very public) private life.

[W]hile Palin’s resignation certainly risks her own personal ambitions for higher office, it also opens up her hand to do the some of the free-wheeling, unfiltered campaigning she couldn’t do last year, with the prime beneficiary the center-right cause. If Palin wants to strengthen her political future, I can’t think of a better way to do it.

Taking NY Mag’s report with the Gingrich-Santorum dust-up, I think it’s more important than ever that Palin declare her Presidential intentions, however nascent or non-existent, not only to remove any pretense for FNC to let her go, but also to unbind her from the sort of sketchy “I’m getting paid by Fox while I run” situation in which Gingrich and Santorum found themselves. The latter point I’ve made before; NY Mag’s article spurs the former.

Palin’s credibility is her authenticity, and if she does want to “strengthen her political future,” she shouldn’t let her dealings with Fox News undermine it.

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