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.
But the comments by Greg Gutfeld and Bob Beckel on Wednesday's edition of "The Five," the summer replacement series for Glenn Beck, were taken seriously and given wide circulation.
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, "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 Democratic strategist and 1984 campaign manager for presidential candidate Walter Mondale, 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 proceeded to criticize Palin, the former Republican vice presidential candidate who 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 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 he has met Palin only once and that he would have little opportunity to see her at Fox's New York headquarters since the former Alaska governor 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.