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CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK : In control on the guest seat : Sarah Palin stays on message during 'Oprah' interview and the gracious interplay is fascinating to behold.


When former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin resigned as governor of Alaska this summer, she explained that she felt she could effect more change and deliver her message more effectively as a private citizen than as a lame-duck public official.

During an appearance on Monday's "Oprah," Palin's first major appearance on her "Going Rogue: An American Life" book tour, her message seemed simple enough: None of what happened during the 2008 presidential campaign was her fault because she was beset by manipulative handlers and a hostile, badgering media. In the course of the one-hour interview, Palin referred to those who reported on her daughter Bristol Palin's pregnancy as "haters" and called Katie Couric "the perky one."

"You're talking about Katie Couric," Oprah Winfrey interjected as Palin was explaining her annoyance that Couric couldn't let her just enjoy the "incredible rush of energy" she felt after a rousing John McCain rally. "Because you're pretty perky yourself."

Even the inevitable "Levi question" could not take the lovely smile from Palin's lips. Winfrey, hoping (as those badgering media types do) for some sort of emotional shift from her resolutely upbeat guest, pressed Palin about her feelings toward Levi Johnston, Bristol's ex-fiance. Johnston, who because of his connection to Palin has become a C-list celebrity (posing most recently for Playgirl), cannot say enough bad things about her, some of which Winfrey felt compelled to recount.

But Palin remained firmly on message: She was not going to discuss the intimate workings of her family on national TV. But she said she was sorry that Johnston was following a path of porn and profit and that she was praying for him and that he was certainly welcome at Thanksgiving dinner because he would always be the father of her beautiful grandson. Charming, articulate, unflappable and firmly in control of her material, this was the Palin the McCain campaign had no doubt dreamed of all those long months ago.

The two were quite fascinating to watch together, steel-spined divas treating each other with a graciousness Jane Austen would appreciate -- Winfrey called Palin's book "interesting"; Palin thanked Winfrey for being an inspiration to her. Both women have created "regular-folk" brands that belie their actual socioeconomic status, and no one knows better than Winfrey the power an individual can have over culture and policy.

Which may explain why, though Winfrey ended the interview by asking Palin if a talk show was in her future (a question Palin adroitly did not answer), she began the show by addressing the rumor that she had snubbed Palin during the campaign by not asking her to appear on her show. (After endorsing Obama, she had no political candidates as guests.)

Palin, bless her heart, looked Winfrey straight in the eye and said she had no idea that this was even part of the media conversation. "No offense to you," Palin said with a winning smile, "but it wasn't the center of the universe."

Which certainly marks a milestone of some sort.


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