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Palin vs. 'Oprah': the anti-smackdown

November 16, 2009 |  4:06 pm

Palin-on-oprah

When former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin resigned as governor of Alaska this summer, she explained that she felt she could effect more change and deliver her message more effectively as a private citizen than as a lame-duck official.

During an appearance on Monday’s “Oprah,” Palin's first major appearance on her "Going Rogue: An American Life" book tour, her message seemed simple enough: None of what happened during the 2008 presidential campaign was her fault because she was beset by manipulative handlers and a hostile, badgering media. In the course of the one-hour interview, Palin referred to those who reported on her daughter Bristol Palin’s pregnancy as “haters” and called Katie Couric “the perky one.”

“You’re talking about Katie Couric,” Oprah Winfrey interjected as Palin was explaining her annoyance the Couric couldn’t let her just enjoy the “incredible rush of energy” she felt after a rousing John McCain rally. “Because you’re pretty perky yourself.”

The only thing she, Palin, did wrong was ... well, going by just her conversation with Winfrey, she didn’t do anything wrong. She and McCain lost because the economy tanked and Couric had an agenda to present her in the worst possible light no matter what she said.

Palin said she wished she had not been subjected to such a “double standard” in the media about her campaign wardrobe clothes and her children. And about that look of disappointment you saw on her face when she was not allowed to speak after McCain’s concession speech ... well, she had wanted one more opportunity to say that Americans needed to keep moving forward and that “united we stand.”

Even the inevitable “Levi question” could not take the lovely smile from her lips. Winfrey, hoping (as those badgering media types do) for some sort of emotional shift from her resolutely upbeat guest, pressed Palin about her feelings toward Levi Johnston, Bristol’s ex-fiancee. Johnston, who because of his connection to Palin has become a C-list celebrity (posing most recently for “Playgirl”), cannot say enough bad things about her, some of which Winfrey felt compelled to recount.

But Palin remained firmly on message: She was not going to discuss the intimate workings of her family on national TV. But she said she was sorry that Johnston was following a path of porn and profit and that she was praying for him and that he was certainly welcome at Thanksgiving dinner because he would always be the father of her beautiful grandson.

Charming, articulate, unflappable and firmly in control of her material, this was the Palin the McCain campaign had no doubt dreamed of all those long months ago. Of course, Winfrey wasn’t pushing her on the Bush Doctrine or even the newspapers of her choice, but watching a polished and possessed Palin as she once again made her case -- she’s just an ordinary working woman trying to do right by her kids and serve her country and is guilty of only a little naivete -- it’s hard not to see the formidable candidate she could have been if she had been given a little (OK, a lot) more time to prep. Or even if she had watched a few more episodes of “West Wing.”

“Do you wish you had just named some magazines?” Oprah asked Palin of her fateful Couric interview in which she seemed unable to name a news source she consulted regularly. “Yes, of course,” Palin answered, making it hard to know which was more worrisome: that Oprah used the word magazines (presumably because she doesn’t own a newspaper) or that Palin chose to not actually name one even now.

The two were quite fascinating to watch together, steel-spined divas treating each other with a graciousness Jane Austen would appreciate -- Winfrey called Palin’s book “interesting;” Palin thanked Winfrey for being an inspiration to her. In a clip available on the "Oprah" show's website, the two had a bonding moment over "journaling" -- both are practitioners and Palin's lifelong habit is one of the reasons she believed she could write a book. Both women have created “regular-folk” brands that belie their actual socioeconomic status, and no one knows better than Winfrey the power an individual can have over culture and policy.

Which may explain why, though Winfrey ended the interview by asking Palin if a talk show were in her future (a question Palin adroitly did not answer), she began the show by addressing the rumor (long forgotten, it must be said, by pretty much everyone) that she Winfrey had snubbed Palin during the campaign by not asking her to appear on her show. (After endorsing Obama, she had no political candidates as guests.)

Palin, bless her heart, looked Winfrey straight in the eye and said she had no idea that this was even part of the media conversation. “No offense to you,” Palin said with a winning smile, “but it wasn’t the center of the universe.”

Which certainly marks a milestone of some sort.

-- Mary McNamara

(Photo credit: AP Photo/Harpo Productions, Inc., George Burns)

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