Two Fox News Channel analysts said Thursday they were joking when they spoke on the air about going easy on fellow Fox employee Sarah Palin.
The comments by Greg Gutfeld and Bob Beckel were taken seriously and given wide circulation after being made on Wednesday's edition of "The Five," the summer replacement series for Glenn Beck.
The talk show's Monica Crowley introduced a segment showing Palin angrily taking on critics of the tea party.
"I say, `Amen, sister,'" Crowley said before asking other panelists how they felt.
Gutfeld said that "the only problem talking about Sarah Palin is that she works here and it's like a co-worker. And if I say something bad and I see her in the hallway I feel really awkward and wrong. So I just kind of say, `That was a good job.'"
Beckel, a longtime Democratic strategist and 1984 campaign manager for Walter Mondale, immediately picked up on Gutfeld's comment.
"It has nothing to do with that," he said. "It has everything to do with your paycheck. That's why you feel awkward about it. I know exactly what you mean. Many times, I'll be honest, I've pulled my punches on it."
The only indication he wasn't serious came when Beckel then proceeded to criticize Palin. The former Republican vice presidential candidate had defended the tea party after there were suggestions they acted like "terrorists" in the debt ceiling debate. Beckel noted that a campaigning Palin had questioned the patriotism of Democrats.
"I was playing off what Greg was saying," Beckel said in an interview Thursday, noting that it's a mandate of producers to try to be funny on "The Five." "People are so sensitive."
Beckel said that nobody at Fox had ever asked him to go easy on anyone, adding, "I'd punch them out if they did."
Gutfeld is host of Fox's satirical late-night show "Red Eye." He said that he's met Palin only once and that he'd have little opportunity to see her at Fox's New York headquarters since the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate does most of her appearances on the network from a studio in Alaska.
"It was clearly a joke" that should be apparent to anyone who watches "Red Eye," he said.
"I don't pull punches," he said. "I've been fired from some jobs for not pulling punches." Asked for details, he said, "Check my Wikipedia page." Gutfeld has lost editing jobs at Men's Health, Stuff and Maxim UK.
When a clip of their Wednesday discussion was posted on the Mediaite website, it was spread by reporters on Twitter and was the subject of stories taking the comments seriously on Politico and the Huffington Post. CNN referred to it in its news crawl.
Palin has said she will decide later this summer whether she is running for president next year. Fox terminated contracts with contributors Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum after they took steps to run for president, while Mike Huckabee decided not to run and kept his Fox News weekend program.