Tuned In

Palin on Oprah: Can You See the Real Me?

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If you didn’t like Sarah Palin during the 2008 campaign, she has a message for you: it was really the McCain campaign PR staff that you didn’t like. The real Sarah, you like just fine! Sitting down with Oprah Winfrey, Palin took up much of her interview blaming her performance in 2008 on–besides the media, of course–her campaign’s staffers, who she says cosseted her, handled her, and micromanaged her and her family as to what to say, who to talk to, what to wear and even what to eat.

It’s an understandable strategy for a media relaunch: explain that any problematic parts of your first launch were not the real you. And if it’s true that Palin’s image among undecided voters was hurt by poor interviews–especially hers with Katie Couric, which Palin also talked about–then it makes sense to decide the way to undo that is with a string of better interviews.

Thus Oprah. In the campaign, of course, Palin had the specific task of persuading America that she was qualified to be vice president. Here–plugging a book but cannily deflecting questions about 2012–she had no such bar to meet. “You don’t need a title to make a difference,” she said, in a very Oprah-esque formulation. And as a bonus, if you’re not seeking a title, no one has to vet you.

So Palin went on Oprah and got an Oprah interview. (The talk queen may have plugged Obama, but unless you peddle a fake drug memoir on her show, she’s not going to grill you.) Oprah hewed closely to Palin’s book (especially her grievances with her campaign handlers) and close-to-home issues.

It was, perhaps, a little closer to what Palin had expected from the Couric Q&A, which she said she believed would be “light-hearted, fun.” Instead, she says now, Couric asked about Supreme Court rulings and, excruciatingly, what newspapers and magazines Palin reads, a question for which she had no specific answer.

Or so it seemed! It turns out, Palin tells us, that she simply let her annoyance with Couric get the best of her, as she thought the anchor was implying she was an ill-read hayseed. (In which case she did an admirable job masking it at the time, because “annoyed” was not the first adjective her rambling, filling-up-airspace answer brought to mind at the time.)

Oprah spent a lot of time on Palin’s home life and family matters, which Palin seemed more comfortable with (though she answered a question about grandbabydaddy Levi Johnston by first saying a TV show was the wrong forum, then launching into a dig about his “porn” career in Playgirl). Talking about how learning of her pregnancy with a Down Syndrome baby made her understand how women could consider abortion, she sound much less the culture warrior than she often did on the trail. And Oprah’s cameras spent some time with her in Alaska, at the gym and with baby Trig, showing off the rural-idyll lifestyle that was an asset for her in the campaign.

There was also a long list of what Oprah didn’t ask about. Very little about policy. No talk about “death panels,” energy, the Khalid Sheik Muhammad trial or any of the other issues Palin has very publicly weighed in on. Oprah did press her on why she resigned as Alaska governor this summer: “Even after finishing the book, I don’t know why you stepped down.” (I’d say the same after seeing her on Oprah, although–much as in her comments last summer–she seemed to peg it partly, and vaguely, on political enemies.)

It was not an interview for the conservative base, or even, necessarily, for people interested in politics at all. If you watched only this interview, you’d hardly know Palin had politics—you’d think that the reason she has such fervent fans and ardent detractors had to do with her clothing expenses and her daughter’s pregnancy.

Palin’s media blitz lasts all week, and there’ll be a temptation to judge how she did and whether she “won” each interview. But it’s hard to say, simply because we don’t actually know what she’s trying to accomplish. A run for office? A kingmaker role? Media stardom? Just selling more copies of Going Rogue?

For that last goal, obviously, she came to the right place. Palin closed out by thanking “God and Todd” (Todd bless America!) and reminding us that there’s more to read in Going Rogue, which comes out on sale tomorrow. It’s an auspicious start for Palin’s new career as author.

But if somehow that ends up going badly–well, there’s always the next media tour to blame the publisher.