(GREENVILLE, N.C.) The long, gloomy reign of what one journalist dubbed the "No-Talk Express" has come to an end. For the first time since becoming a vice presidential candidate on Aug. 29, Sarah Palin ventured to the back of her charter plane to answer reporters' questions for almost 15 minutes.
Though video cameras were not allowed to shoot the unexpected media availability, Palin answered questions on subjects ranging from Troopergate ("Tasergate," as she put it) to Tina Fey. She was warm and friendly to reporters, shaking everyone's hand and addressing some by name. Still, most of her responses were sprinkled with the same talking points she delivers regularly in stump speech across the nation.
Asked why she has been focusing her remarks over the last few days on the questionable connection between Barack Obama and 1960s radical William Ayers, rather than on the tanking economy, Palin defended her tactic.
"Well, Americans are caring about the problems in the economy, of course, and wanting to know what those long-term solutions are that our ticket can provide and what the other ticket is proposing," Palin said. "So when you talk though about what it is that we are proposing and what it is that Barack Obama is proposing, again it is relevant to connect that association that he has with Ayers, not so much he as a person—Ayers—but the whole situation and the truthfulness and the judgment there that you must question if again he's not being forthright in all of his answers as to how did you know him, when did you know him, why would you continue to be associated with him?"
When asked directly by a reporter, Palin denied that she was suggesting Obama was dishonest. But she did seem to question the Democrat's integrity during another portion of the press conference.
"It makes you wonder about the forthrightedness (sic), the truthfulness of the plans that he is telling America in regards to the economic recovery because that is first and foremost on American's minds," Palin said.
Asked why her husband Todd changed his mind and decided to return to Alaska to testify in what is widely referred to as the "Troopergate" investigation, Palin assigned a different label to the Alaska ethics inquiry.
"He's always been an open book about this whole 'Tasergate' issue, wanting to speak with investigators, wanting to speak and is with attorneys, everybody involved," Palin said. "The personnel board in the state of Alaska is that board tasked with dealing with any issue involving the governor, the lieutenant governor, or the attorney general. What the investigation turned into, led by a Senate Democrat, has been kind of a goat rope, a very partisan and very controversial type of investigation."
For the benefit of those (like me) unfamiliar with the expression, Urban Dictionary defines "goat rope" as "when good intentions go bad, messily."
"It's an open book," Palin said. "Nobody has anything to hide. Nobody's done anything wrong. My choice, and my responsibility to replace a cabinet member, an at-will exempt political appointment whom I did replace, because his strengths were in other areas. It wasn't in running an entire department. There was some, some duties there that he was not able to fulfill, so my choice, my responsibility had nothing to do with my husband or any of my staff members asking a guy to step aside and take another job, and he didn't want to take that other job."
Palin was relaxed and jovial with the "mainstream media" — an amorphous entity she often derides on the campaign trail. Aside from handling the serious questions, she took some time to look at a photograph one reporter had of himself as a young hockey player alongside his very own "hockey mom." She was noncommittal when asked if the travelling press might be allowed to assume babysitting duties for her seven-year-old daughter Piper.
Asked if she would appear on "Saturday Night Live" to give Tina Fey a taste of her own medicine, Palin laughed.
"I would love to," Palin said. "I love her. She's a hoot, and she's so talented and it would be fun to either imitate her or keep on giving her more material and keep her in business."
Palin's extensive media availability was entirely unexpected. When she suddenly appeared on the other side of the curtain that divides the press area from the campaign staff, it sent at least one reporter scampering back from the plane's lavatory and another jolting awake from a nap.
If Palin's travelling press corps had forgotten one of the most important lessons from Journalism-101, they'll remember it now. Always expect the unexpected.