Palin faces off with Oprah, sort of

The former governor gets her big hostile interview out of the way, and without having to face tough questions

Published November 16, 2009 10:25PM (EST)

Whatever it is, it is not Sarah Palin's fault. Whether it's the emotional damage her daughter suffered as a result of her pregnancy becoming national news, the wardrobe she and her family were given during last year's presidential campaign, her slamming her own campaign over its decision to pull out of Michigan or anything else, someone else is to blame.

That, at least, is the message Palin hit repeatedly during her interview with Oprah Winfrey, broadcast Monday afternoon -- from what we know of it so far, it's a frequent theme in her memoir, "Going Rogue," as well.

Often, these excuses stretched the bounds of the former Alaska governor's credibility. When, for example, Winfrey pressed Palin about her daughter Bristol's pregnancy and the way it was handled during the presidential campaign, Palin tried to portray herself as having no role whatsoever in Bristol's being "devastated" when the news broke. It wasn't Palin's decision to accept the Republican vice-presidential nomination that made the pregnancy a national story -- it was "the haters," "the critics," who just wanted to delve into her personal life. If she was naïve, well, it's just that she was "naïve to think that the media would leave my kids alone." Also, the McCain campaign was at fault for an overly "giddy" statement about Bristol being pregnant -- Palin herself wouldn't have glamorized it so much. (Presumably the McCain campaign also forced her to bring Bristol and then-boyfriend Levi Johnston to the Republican National Convention.)

And the new wardrobe? Well, that was the McCain campaign's fault, of course -- and the media's, for a "double standard," covering her clothing and no one else's. (No one else has been shown to be getting personal clothing paid for out of campaign funds, but never you mind.)

The statement that prompted the "Going Rogue" title for Palin's book, when she criticized the McCain camp's choice to pull out of Michigan once it became clear states that lean blue were out of reach? The McCain campaign's fault: They hadn't told her, so how was she supposed to know she shouldn't be publicly slamming their decisions?

There are, no doubt, serious problems with the former governor's media strategy. But on this score, she actually did pretty well for herself. Her sit-down with Winfrey was naturally going to be seen as the big adversarial interview of her book tour -- but it was almost completely free of the difficult questions, the probing, that a newsperson might have asked. Winfrey pressed her a couple times, most obviously on the subject of Bristol, but for the most part, Palin was only asked to recount the version of events from her book, and not to worry about anything interrupting the narrative in which she is blameless.

There was even an extra bonus to the whole thing -- footage from Alaska, a day with the super-ordinary Palin family. Here's the former governor getting her kids ready for Halloween, here's the whole extended clan coming over to make caramel apples. Just a normal day, things they would of course have done even if there weren't cameras there to record every minute for a national audience.

And if you believe that, Palin also has a Bridge to Nowhere she'd like to sell you. Just wait until she talks to Rush Limbaugh tomorrow.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Oprah Winfrey Sarah Palin War Room