I watched the Oprah/Sarah Palin interview last night once the kids were in bed, and I’m still digesting the experience. I’m approaching the question of Palin from a place of “what if she were my client?” and I can tell you, it’s an interesting place from which to examine the woman who nearly became Vice President.
Points on the board: If I were her coach, there are a few things she did well. Of course, she looked fantastic, but that’s no surprise. I thought she made an excellent point when she compared the level of scrutiny she received vs. Joe Biden. Let’s face it, while Vice President Biden is incredibly experienced, and has served this country in many ways, he is not exactly a “sure thing” in a spontaneous interview situation, and he emerged relatively unscathed by the press when compared to Palin. Also, as a woman and a mother, I certainly felt a connection and sense of deep compassion for what it must be like to be a working woman with 5 children, one of whom has special needs. Lastly, I thought it was fascinating to hear about how the McCain team suggested a diet plan for Palin (Atkins I believe it was). I imagine male candidates don’t face that as often as female candidates do.
Room for Improvement: I’m not even going to touch the Levi issue, because I think it’s so trashy, I don’t want to waste my time or anyone else’s (this would have been my counsel to Sarah Palin as well). I’ll just tackle the issue I was most curious about: “what happened? Why was she so desperately unprepared for some of her biggest interviews?”
Exhibit A: The Katie Couric train wreck.
Palin claimed that she was told the interview would be a “light hearted, working-mom to working-mom story.”
Let’s be very clear: one doesn’t assume a “light hearted” approach with the Anchor of the CBS Evening News. Not even a hungover junior staffer would make that kind of mistake. It almost sounds like a bizarre, outdated preconception of Couric from back in the Today Show era. This tells me that either a) Palin is not telling the truth, and her advance team (I’m assuming Nicolle Wallace) TRIED to prep her, or b) McCain’s staff was not involved at all. Because there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that an experienced media coach would suggest a “lighthearted” approach to CBS Evening News. According to this article in the PlumLine (a Washington Post blog):
“The truth is, she refused to prepare for the Katie Couric interview,” the adviser continued. “She refused to engage in any preparation. And it was a disaster.”
So if you logically unpack this – either McCain’s top staffers are lying, or Palin is.
But let’s give her the benefit of the doubt for a moment. Let’s assume that she was given ridiculously bad counsel. Palin wasn’t able to cite a single example of McCain’s “maverick” approach in action (one of her favorite sound bites of the campaign trail). Forget the PR people, the coaches, the campaign prep. If you were waving the Maverick flag, wouldn’t you hear a voice in your head saying, “Gee, I better have at least one example in my back pocket in case they ask”?
Exhibit B: Her Oprah interview yesterday.
Palin said that the reason she stepped down as Governor of Alaska was that she could make more of a difference as a private citizen. As her father famously states in her book, “She’s not retreating, she’s reloading.” This could almost be believable if we could see her actually “reloading.” Palin talks about how Going Rogue lays out a new vision for America – one based on unity. Yet after just having watched the other Oprah interview clips that didn’t make the final cut, I cannot find a single instance of Sarah explaining the vision. If she really had a political platform to launch, there is no bigger launch pad than the Oprah Show. So why would she not offer even a basic overview of said vision/plan? If politics still holds some allure for Sarah Palin, it seems very strange to have left money on the table during that interview.
So what do I think? Here’s my honest take. She reminds me of myself in college. Ok, you can stop laughing now. ;) Seriously though… I’ll never forget something that happened to me after I gave what I thought was a fantastic presentation. My professor clapped sarcastically and said, “That was all flash and no substance. Try again.” It was a lesson I will never forget, and to this day, I am always very conscious about making sure I have examples and support for my assertions. And believe me, my instinct is to do the opposite. So when I look at Sarah Palin, I wonder how she’s gotten so far in life without having had a good, close advisor look her square in the eye, and say “Sarah, that was all flash and no substance. Try again.”