Monday, November 16, 2009

Kicking off Phase One of her reputation reclamation project with a world exclusive on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate debuted a new persona — Sarah Palin: Victim.

Over and over in her hourlong sit-down with the talk-show queen, the de facto leader of the Republican Party blamed handlers, staff, the media — even running mate Sen. John McCain — for the campaign’s missteps and mistakes last fall.

Her ill-fated interview with CBS News’ anchor Katie Couric? “I think this is the problem with the state of journalism today is no matter what I say to her, it will probably be twisted, perceived as a bit negative.”

The brouhaha over her wardrobe? A McCain camp decision: “It was, practically speaking, ‘Oh, good,’ because I don’t like to shop and that’s going to be one less thing for me to have to worry about, never thinking that it was going to be a big controversy.”

Her decision to step down as governor of Alaska? “There were so many opposition researchers up there that were — some of them by the Obama camp — who were sent up there to start the FOIA requests and the ethics violations charges.”

Her teenage daughter’s pregnancy? The McCain camp put out a statement without her approval: “I was surprised, too, that we didn’t handle that issue, that challenge, better. … ”

“Just a little bit of an indication of 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,” Mrs. Palin said.

On her first stop of a tour to hype her new book, “Going Rogue: An American Life,” the 45-year-old Mrs. Palin, almost completely unknown before her Aug. 29, 2008, selection as Mr. McCain’s running mate, fielded friendly questions from the most powerful woman in television.

Mrs. Palin, now one of the most famous women in America, was poised and pleasant throughout, smiling often, her perfect teeth almost impossibly white. She walked onstage to applause, dressed in a black pencil skirt with a teal-green jacket, black stockings and black high heels, her long brown hair tousled and tinted with blond highlights — along with those famous frameless designer glasses.

Her skin perfect — even on HDTV — the almost certain 2012 candidate for president who talked of empowering women even sought to blame the wardrobe debacle on the disparity between the sexes.

“How easy it for a man, they’re wearing the same thing over and over again. … Male candidates have it a little bit easier in that arena,” she said.

Miss Winfrey fed her sense of victimhood throughout, picking up on Mrs. Palin’s claims that she was so micromanaged by the McCain campaign that she couldn’t be herself. “You talk extensively about how you were told to stay on script. Were you surprised at how they were trying to, in many ways, control and force you to say things you were not comfortable with?” Miss Winfrey softballed.

“They were just doing what the staff was hired to do, which I guess was to write the script, though my team, the vice-presidential candidate’s team, my handlers if you will, we never did really find that script, so we couldn’t really stay on the script,” Mrs. Palin said.

She added flatly: “I don’t think that I was to blame for losing the race.”

Again and again, Miss Winfrey posed leading questions, not unlike a defense attorney cross-examining her own witness. The process produced some odd — and hitherto unreported — moments.

“You write about being told how to dress and what to say and what not to say and who to talk to and even what to eat,” Miss Winfrey said. “One of the surprising moments is when you’re being coached by one of the members of Team McCain, who said to you about the Adkins Diet. Do you recall that?”

“I do,” the witness said, “because of all things to worry about while the McCain campaign numbers — we were kind of tanking, President Obama, they were soaring — there were a lot of things that we should have been worried about, what I don’t think we should have spent a lot of time on was what I eat. And that was a focus of some of the campaign operatives, which was odd,” Mrs. Palin said.

Her disgruntlement continued straight to election night, when Mr. McCain, she said, refused to allow his running mate to deliver her own concession speech at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix.

“Were you disappointed … that you weren’t allowed to speak that night?” the talk-show host said.

“Disappointed that the explanation that was given why I wouldn’t be able to speak was A, that V.P. candidates never give a speech on an election night, I knew that was false, I’ve seen it happen. … But disappointed, too, that we didn’t take one last opportunity to remind Americans that all of us together need to be able to move forward together. United, we will stand, and that’s what I wanted to talk about.”

Actually, the losing presidential candidate did just that. “I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences,” Mr. McCain said that night.

Mrs. Palin apparently got over her disappointment quickly. She spent the following day poolside at the expensive resort, greeting well-wishers, smiling for pictures with curiosity seekers and plotting her next move — Operation Reputation Reclamation.

Tune in Tuesday for the second installment — an interview with Barbara Walters.

— Joseph Curl can be reached at

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