Senior McCain Adviser: Palin Did ‘Fantastic’ With My Buddy Katie

“I certainly felt welcome and like I could always make points about how Republicans would see a story,” said Ms. Wallace. “Everybody listened, especially Katie. She was very interested in covering the primaries and the general election with as much evenhandedness as can be mustered at a network.”

Producers at CBS News ended up spreading out highlights of the interviews over the course of several days and on several platforms—from the Early Show to the Evening News to the Web. All of which prolonged the interviews’ saliency in the news cycle and prompted Mr. Kristol, for one, to size it up somewhat despairingly as a “nine-thousand-part interview.”

“We had no input on usage,” said Ms. Wallace. “We had no ground rules on the interview. I think that’s pretty unprecedented. A lot of people negotiate platforms. We didn’t negotiate platforms or air dates.”

In the post-interview autopsies, much of the chatter among TV news insiders focused on speculation about Ms. Wallace’s role in the affair. Had she brokered the interview? Was she mad at Katie? Was the campaign mad at her?

On Monday afternoon, Ms. Wallace downplayed her role in setting up the interview. The decision, she said, had been made primarily by campaign manager Steve Schmidt, in keeping with a broader media strategy.

“John McCain has been interviewed with CBS News, with 60 Minutes and on the Evening News with Katie,” said Ms. Wallace. “It’s a good platform. It really had far less to do with any personal insights or personal views about what she should do, and more with the strategy that the campaign manager Steve Schmidt settled on—one where we’d do a couple of long-form TV interviews at the beginning.” 

She shot down speculation of favoritism toward her former employer, pointing out that prior to sitting down with CBS, Ms. Palin had done interviews with Fox News’ Sean Hannity and ABC’s Charlie Gibson. “I never worked at ABC News,” said Ms. Wallace. “They got the get. The get was the first interview and the only interview in Alaska. I don’t think anyone at CBS thinks that their relationship with me did them much good at all.”

Ms. Wallace said that her time at CBS News did increase her appreciation of the impact of broadcast journalism. “If it makes it onto the network news, you know that 20 million people saw it that night,” she said. “In this cycle, there has been so much noise. I think the networks have reemerged as the arbiter of what one piece of information from each campaign gets through. That perspective is one that I gained inside CBS.”

The day after Mr. Kristol’s haymaker on Fox News Sunday, the McCain camp went ahead with a second interview between Ms. Palin and Ms. Couric. Shortly thereafter, The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder reported on his widely read eponymous blog that even some members of the campaign were questioning why they hadn’t snuffed out the experiment after the first round. “Aides questioned why CBS’s Katie Couric was given a second interview with Palin after Palin’s responses were ridiculed,” wrote Mr. Ambinder.

Ms. Wallace said that her team never considered bailing on Ms. Couric. “It’s a very steady campaign,” said Ms. Wallace. “There’s not a lot of plug pulling that happens around here. We had our plan and we stuck with it. We’re thrilled we did. We thought Governor Palin did great.”

fgillette@observer.com