During the 2008 presidential campaign, rumors swirled that Oprah had snubbed Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin by not asking her to appear on The Oprah Show. Now, just about a year after the former governor of Alaska lost her VP bid, she and Oprah are meeting for the first time.
Oprah says the supposed snubbing was actually just an attempt to keep her show separate from her public support for a candidate as a private citizen. "Because of that, I had made a decision not to have any of the candidates on my show during the campaign," she says. "So for the record, I just want to say that Sarah Palin never asked ... to be on the show."
Now that the campaign's long over, all bets are off. Palin is opening up about her family, her future, her decision to step down as Alaska's governor and what went wrong during the election.
The world has been fascinated with Palin since Sen. John McCain announced she would be his running mate. In her new memoir, Going Rogue, she writes about the moment she got the call that changed her life. Palin was at the Alaska State Fair when her candidacy was set in motion. Though there had been talk that Palin was being considered for the vice presidency, she says she didn't take those rumors too seriously at first. "There were other names that were being really considered, it seemed much more seriously, and I had heard that interviews and vetting was going on with those other candidates."
When she got the phone call from Senator McCain, Palin says she had no hesitation before saying yes. "I didn't blink," she says. "I felt quite confident in my abilities and my executive experience, knowing that this is an executive administrative job."
After that phone call, Palin flew to Arizona to meet with Sen. McCain and start the vetting process. "It went on for hours through that evening," she says. "I thought after all that, 'Wow, I better confess it now. The one skeleton that is in my closet.' By then, you know, they already knew about [my daughter] Bristol being pregnant. I said, 'The one skeleton that I have to confess to is I did [get] a D 22 years ago in a college course.' And I thought that was going to be the extent of the controversy of Sarah Palin's life."
Palin says she was surprised the McCain camp knew about her then-17-year-old daughter's pregnancy because at the time only the family knew. She was also surprised by the way the information became public, she says. "If [Bristol and I] had been given the allowance to deal with the issue in a more productive way, we perhaps could have sent a better message: 'This is not to be glamorized. It is not to be emulated. It is a tough, tough challenge and it is a problem in America, so let's try and deal with it.'"
When the news of Bristol's pregnancy first broke, Palin says she tried to send that very message, but the message was rewritten and she and her husband were painted to be doting soon-to-be grandparents. "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 and seize opportunities to communicate better," she says.
Bristol called her mother when she saw her pregnancy on the news, Palin says. "She was quite devastated and, perfectly honestly, she was quite embarrassed," she says. "She called me in tears saying 'Oh, mom, now not just [in] Wasilla do they know what's going on in my life. Now the whole world knows.'"
Palin says she didn't expect her children would be such a popular topic in her campaign. "I would hope that my children would be kind of excluded from the controversy and any of the tabloidization of what's going to go on a campaign, but I knew right off the bat then with the episode that the kids were going to be part of it—good, bad or ugly, it was going to be quite taxing on them."
Sen. McCain did warn Palin that the campaign would be hard on the family, Palin says. "I said: 'You know what? No doubt it is, because I've been in elected office for a decade and a half. The kids have grown up with that.' Of course, though, not knowing how intriguing it would be for some of the haters, for some of the critics, to really delve into our personal life and make more of some of the issues than actually were there."
Palin says she was glad when then-Sen. Barack Obama spoke out to say their kids were off-limits. Still, she says she doesn't think her family got the same treatment as the Obamas. "I wasn't given that privilege of being able to protect my kids, my family. I think there was a little bit of a double...not a little bit, there was a double standard," she says. "There were some times that [Obama] was asked about the treatment of the Palin kids and, yes, he came to our defense and I so respect that."
Palin says she was surprised throughout the campaign that she was often told how to dress, what to say, who to talk to and even what to eat. "There were a lot of things 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," Palin says. "I would have liked to have focused on what the issues were that the American public needed to hear about."
Palin's clothes, and the fact that some pieces of her wardrobe were bought for her, also became a point of focus and controversy during the campaign. "I thought: 'Good. I don't like to shop,'" she says. "'That's going to be one less thing for me to worry about.' Never thinking it was going to be a big controversy, because it wasn't a controversy with other candidates—where did they get their clothes and who's styling their hair and all that. ... I think the male candidates have it a little bit easier in that arena."
In her book, Palin writes extensively about being instructed on how to answer questions and told to always stay on script.Still, Palin says she made the choice to abide by the campaign's wishes. "At the end of the day, I'm the candidate, and if I ever got sucked into that and allowed that handling of me to the detriment of the campaign, that's my fault. That's not their fault. They were just doing, I guess, what the staff was hired to do," she says.
Palin says she does not think the outcome of the election would have necessarily been different had her role been less scripted. "I think the reason that we lost, the economy tanked under a Republican administration. People were sincerely looking for change," she says. "I think, unfortunately, our ticket represented what was perceived as status quo. And so I don't think that I was to blame for losing the race any more than I could be credited with winning the race had I done a better job as the VP candidate."
One memorable moment during the Republican campaign was Palin's interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric. "It was supposed to be kind of light-hearted, fun working mom speaking with working mom and the challenges that we have with teenage daughters," she says. "I didn't do very well. I was annoyed with kind of her badgering of questions and didn't do so well. ... But I know that there were hours of tape that were shot, and I would think that those few minutes that were edited together, packaged together and shown to the American public, if people only know me from that interview, I don't blame people for thinking that I was not qualified, that I was ill-prepared, that those things that you would look for in a candidate, I was not."
Palin says she believes Couric did not intend to paint her in a good light or let her gaffes go unnoticed. "She had just interviewed Joe Biden and he had made mistakes, but those were dismissed. They were ignored, and she moved on to talk about very substantial issues, and I wish that I would have been given that."
One of the most news-making moments of that interview was when Couric asked Palin about the books and magazines she reads and Palin didn't give an answer. "Obviously, I have, of course, all my life read. I'm a lover of books and magazines and newspapers. By the time she asked me that question, even though it was kind of early on in the interview, I was already so annoyed and it was very unprofessional of me to wear that annoyance on my sleeve," she says. "I talk a lot about the Katie Couric interview in the book because I want the transcript to speak for itself. To show that she asked me 12 different times my position on abortion and the morning-after pill. She did not want, I guess, to hear my first candid, truthful response about being pro-life and wanting to usher in a culture of life and empower women to know that they were strong enough and smart enough to have that child."
Though Palin is pro-life, she says when she first found out she was pregnant with her fifth child, Trig, she was able to understand "why a woman would feel that it's easier to just do away with some less than ideal circumstances," she says. "It also, though, really solidified my position that, yep, there are less than ideal circumstances in so many of our lives. It's how we will react to those circumstances, how we will plow through them and make the most of what we've been given."
Palin says telling Todd that their fifth child was going to have Down syndrome was a hard conversation to have. "I said the baby has an extra chromosome. The baby will be born with Down syndrome," she sasy. "And Todd's reaction was, he probably had a better reaction than I did when I first heard the news. I was much more frightened, I think, than he. He said, 'Okay, it's going to be okay.'"
Palin's not the only person who was catapulted to fame once she was chosen as the vice presidential candidate. Levi Johnston, then Bristol's fiancé and the father of her baby, found himself in the public eye. The couple broke up in March 2009, about two-and-a-half months after their son, Tripp, was born. Since their break-up, Johnston has often spoken to the press, making unflattering comments about Palin and her family. He also has plans to appear in a Playgirl centerfold. "A bit heartbreaking to see the road that he is on right now," Palin says. "He's quite busy with his media tours, and he hasn't seen the baby for a while, but we will let that be the discussion between Bristol and Levi as they work out their relationship, because Levi forever will be the father of this most beautiful baby."
Palin says her daughter Bristol is in school and raising Tripp full time. "Bristol realizes, too, that she has it easier than a lot of other 19-year-old mothers," Palin says. "She has a lot of family support. But she is doing an amazing job, and her only public mission right now is to remind her sisters and to remind other young women, her peers, that there are consequences to unprotected sex."
When the campaign ended and President Obama was elected, Sen. McCain gave what Palin describes as a gracious concession speech. But Palin says she was silenced that evening. She says she was told that VP candidates never give speeches on election night. "I knew that was false because I've seen it over all the years. In fact, four years prior of course that had happened," she says. "[I was] 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. United we will stand as a country, and that's what I wanted to talk about."
As a woman running for office, Palin says she faced a lot of questions regarding family that her male counterparts did not. Specifically, many people questioned her ability to be a mother to five children while serving as the vice president. "I was asked those questions all along, and my answer was always, 'I will be able to do this job the same way that the men are able to do this job with five kids,'" she says. "It never occurred to me that I couldn't do the job because of the children. My children are my strength. They allow me to be grounded. They allow me to know at the end of the day what really matters."
Palin says so much of performing both roles is about balance. "I am a believer in making the choices that are appropriate for you at the time depending on how you can most efficiently use your time and what your support system is around you," she says.
One of the most vital contributors to that support system is her husband, who Palin says picks up the slack when she can't do everything at once. "There's a lot of equality in our marriage. We don't bicker and fight over who's going to do the dishes or pick up a kid or do what needs to be done. We both just pick up and get the work done, and it's a great partnership."
Since her failed bid for the vice presidency, Palin has also stepped down as governor of Alaska. The controversial decision put her back in the spotlight in the summer of 2009. "I resigned as the governor of Alaska because I wasn't going to run for a second term," she says. "It was at a point where...my state of Alaska was being hampered by my presence there, being shackled behind a governor's desk."
Palin says she can better serve Alaskans by fighting for their needs on a different plane. "I'm going to get out there, and I'm going to fight for Alaska's issues ... as an ordinary citizen without having to worry that everything that I were to say would result in another lawsuit or ethics violation charge."
As for Palin's future, there has been plenty of buzz that she's gearing up for a 2012 presidential campaign. "I'm concentrating on 2010 and making sure that we have issues tackled as Americans to make sure that we're on the right road," she says.
"I don't know what I'm going to be doing in 2012."
Another rumor is that Palin will be getting her own talk show. So does Oprah have some new competition to worry about? "Oprah, you're the queen of talk shows. There's nothing to ever worry about," Palin says.