Oprah refuses to interview Sarah Palin

Oprah Winfrey, America's favourite daytime television star, has refused to have Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin as a guest on her talk show.

Winfrey, a prominent supporter of Democratic nominee Barack Obama, has faced pressure from conservative commentators and pundits who say Palin would be a perfect interview for her female-heavy audience. Such an appearance would be a huge coup for the John McCain campaign.

Palin, the party's first female vice-presidential choice, is making a play to women voters.

But Winfrey, responding to rumours on conservative websites such as the Drudge Report that her staff were divided on the issue, squashed the idea of an interview.

"When I decided that I was going to take my first public stance in support of a candidate, I made the decision not to use my show as a platform for any of the candidates," she said.

Some experts believe the issue, initially reported on Drudge - which first gained notoriety when it broke the Monica Lewinsky scandal - was a media ploy to drag Winfrey's backing of Obama into the election and show a media bias against the Republicans.

But Winfrey's statement slammed reports on Drudge that there was a fierce debate going on among her staff about having Palin on as a guest. Winfrey called the story "categorically untrue", and said there had been no discussion about having Palin on during the election. She said she would "love to have her on after the campaign is over".

The issue shows the potential danger in Winfrey's open support for Obama, especially as he was a guest on her show several times before she came out in favour of his candidacy. It also now plays into a Republican strategy of attacking the media as biased against their party.

The story also shows the many unpredictable ways that Palin has already shaken up the presidential election. Her sex and modest family background have opened up a whole new demographic appeal for the McCain campaign, which is now aggressively courting suburban and small-town American women - Winfrey's audience.

But her selection also has risks. Palin is a little-known political quantity and there have been a flood of stories about her private and political life as Governor of Alaska. She is also waging a ferocious legal campaign to block a bipartisan state investigation into claims she pursued a personal vendetta against a former family member. The complex case is looking at allegations that she dismissed the head of the Alaskan police service, safety commissioner Walt Monegan, because he refused to bow to pressure and sack Palin's former brother-in-law from the police force.

Trooper Mike Wooten was involved in an acrimonious divorce from Palin's sister before the governor took up her post.

Palin denies any impropriety, though she has acknowledged that more than 20 approaches were made to the commissioner by her husband, Todd, and her closest aides urging him to take disciplinary action against Wooten. Last week she appointed a private lawyer to represent her interests.

And as her lawyer fights to contain one forest fire, another appears to be flaring up. New allegations have surfaced that potentially criminal acts were committed in snooping into Wooten's personal employment files.

A taped telephone conversation between one of Palin's staff and a senior manager in the police department, in which complaints were made about Wooten, suggested that he had lied on an official form claiming compensation for injury at work.

Wooten's union, the Public Safety Employees Association, has issued its own legal proceedings that allege such information could only have been obtained in breach of the trooper's right to confidentiality - a potential crime.

- OBSERVER

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