Photo Credit: Harpo Productions, George Burns
Maybe you'd rather eat glass than listen to Sarah Palin, or maybe you consider her a huge inspiration. But love her or loathe her, she was riveting to watch on Oprah today--her first stop on her publicity tour to promote her book out tomorrow, Going Rogue. And whether Oprah planned to or not, she allowed Palin to shine.
It could have gone either way, really. This interview had the potential to be contentious, since the politician is one of the rare celebrities who is not Oprah's BFF. Remember how loudly O rooted against Palin's team before the election? Considering how slavishly loyal her fan base is, there's no doubt that she pulled some hockey moms out of Palin's corner last fall. These are two women who are probably not on each others' Christmas card lists.
But right from the start, the tone of the interview was cordial. Oprah could have asked pointed questions about Palin's stand on any number of women's issues. (Palin has often come down against laws protecting women -- like equal wages for equal work and subsidized childcare). But Oprah didn't go there. Instead, she geared the interview around the subjects Palin wrote about in her book -- and gently.
First off, Oprah cleared up the misconception that Palin had asked to be on the show before the election, and that Oprah had snubbed her. Untrue, said Oprah. "For the record, Sarah Palin never asked to be on the show," she insisted. It was an awkward way to start -- kind of like saying, "You think we hate each other, but really, it's so not true." Then, politely, she started asking questions at a fast clip. On topics ranging from Levi Johnston, to campaign backbiting, to Palin's future plans, Oprah wasted no time giving Palin the chance to explain many of her gaffes and public controversies. Palin seized the opportunity and ran with it.
Early on, they discussed Palin's pregnant teen, Bristol. Back when America heard the news about Bristol's pregnancy, the Palins came across as proud of Bristol, even though "most parents would not be happy about that," said Oprah. Turns out, the Palins' response to the pregnancy was all scripted by McCain's campaign advisors. "I did not want that message sent out that we were giddy-happy to become grandparents, and that's what that message said," said Palin. "I said, 'Let's try to tackle the issue of teen pregnancy in America. If we were given the allowance to deal with the issue in a more productive way, we could have perhaps sent a better message: This is not to be emulated." Palin said that she did rewrite the message, but the McCain camp ended up writing their own press release. "[It was] just a little indication about problems to come about what I would be able to say and how I would be able to speak, or not speak, my heart and my values," said Palin.
Oprah also gave Palin time to answer her critics about wardrobe and hair and makeup costs. Remember when the Palin family strode onto the stage at the Republican National Convention, looking as classy and stylish as the Kennedys? Well, they weren't feeling that way. Palin says that their wardrobes were chosen for them (and hers continued to be in the months following). "I thought this was like one of those relationships you have, when you're young, and somebody says, 'I just love you the way that you are; now let me change you. We felt like we were starring in an episode of What Not To Wear."
When Oprah asked Palin about the infamous and disastrous Katie Couric interview, Palin came off even more sympathetically. "Were you prepped for it?" Oprah queried. The answer: not so much. Palin recounted that the McCain advisors said it was supposed to be an easy interview, "working mom speaking to working mom," and dealing with teenaged daughters. Referring to the famous question about Palin's preferred reading material, Oprah said, "Afterwards, did you think, 'Why didn't I just name some magazines?'" She sounded like a loving big sister at that moment. (The answer, of course, was 'Yes.')
But Oprah was nicest when it came to the Levi Johnston questions. She breezed through the allegations that Levi has made -- that the Palin marriage was a sham, that Sarah was an absentee mom, that Bristol had basically raised Piper -- and gave Palin plenty of time to brush them off. Palin was diplomatic and gracious, taking the high road. "That's Levi's gig right now," she said. "He's a teenager, and I don't think he realizes what other people are orchestrating for him."
Yes, there was much Oprah could have asked. There were many, many punches she could have chosen not to pull. But on the other hand, she did have a lot of ground to cover in only an hour. It seems it wasn't the best time to pick a fight.