Sarah Palin: Election Took Toll on Family

Palin tells Barbara Walters about the toll her fame has taken on her family life

November 16, 2009, 1:05 PM

Nov. 16, 2009— -- Sarah Palin tries to set the record straight in her new memoir, "Going Rogue: An American Life." In it, she reveals behind-the-scenes details of the 2008 campaign as the Republican vice presidential nominee, and how the run affected her family.

Speculation has swirled that Palin, instead of pursuing a 2012 political run, may join the media, and, following in the footsteps of other GOP pundits, host her own talk show. But Palin told Barbara Walters that a talk show is not in the "best interests" of her family.

"Well, I'd probably rather write than talk. But I don't know if that something that is in the best interests of my family right now," she said. "There have been lots and lots of offers, in these last couple of months especially, coming our way, some bizarre things," Palin said.

"I would not ever want to put my kids through such a thing," she said, "Our life has become kind of a reality show."

Watch Barbara Walters' interview with Sarah Palin starting Tuesday on "Good Morning America", "World News" and "Nightline," more Wednesday on "Good Morning America," and Friday, Nov. 20 at 10 p.m. ET on "20/20".

Behind her very public persona, Palin, a self-described "hockey mom" from Wasilla, Alaska, is a mother of five: Track, 20; Bristol, 19; Willow, 15; Piper, 8; and Trig, 1.

It was Bristol who, at age 17, surprised the nation when her pregnancy was announced in September 2008. Bristol gave birth to son Tripp in December.

Palin said that she did not know her daughter Bristol was sexually active before learning of her pregnancy.

"That is why it was shocking. And that's the understatement of the century, too, that we were shocked," Palin said "Truthfully, we were devastated."

To a certain extent, she said she felt as if she had fallen short as a mother.

"Perhaps there was that feeling of, 'Bristol didn't, why? Didn't you know there are things you could do to prevent this, or not do it at all?'" she said. "So, yeah, a parent's responsibility, perhaps feeling that I, I let her down. I think that's just a mother's nature."

Sarah Palin discusses her political future and Obama's presidency with Barbara Walters. Read more here.

Before learning of Bristol's pregnancy, Palin said she had talked with her daughter about the virtues of abstinence and using birth control "with just that assumption that, well, good, I'm glad you're not doing it."

When asked by Walters if she would have allowed Bristol to have an abortion, Palin said she "would have counseled her to choose life."

News of Bristol's pregnancy was an unwelcome controversy -- just days after the Republican presidential nominee John McCain chose Palin as his running mate. Addressing rumors, Palin said she never tried to keep her daughter's pregnancy a secret.

"Wasn't trying to keep it secret, and, and wouldn't have been able to, anyway. But the vetting team knew that Bristol was pregnant," she said. "It was released to the media before I could talk about it, and before Bristol could talk about it. And that was unfortunate, because teenage pregnancy is a problem in America, and we did not want it to be glamorized."

Palin also said that the pregnancy was the first in a series of miscommunications between the McCain campaign and Palin, which resulted in public perception that Palin, 45, and her husband Todd were overjoyed about the birth, when in fact she advocates teen abstinence.

"The McCain team had sent out the message that Todd and I were giddy happy to become grandparents! And I was shocked when I saw that statement, because I said, 'No, no, no, no. That's not the message that we want to send,'" Palin told Walters. "I had seen what they were going to say and, and crafted my own message, and say, 'No, this is more appropriate.'"

From Tina Fey's iconic portrayal of Palin on "Saturday Night Live," ridicule has followed Palin -- and members of her family.

In June, late-night talk show host David Letterman made a joke, which seemed to be directed at 19-year-old Bristol, an unwed mother. Letterman later apologized.

But Letterman continued to lampoon Palin on his program, taking jabs at her new book, with a skit entitled, "Things More Fun Than Reading The Sarah Palin Memoir." Palin told Walters she would not appear on "The David Letterman Show."

"I don't think that I'd want to boost his ratings," she said. "I do want him to sell my book, though, so I hope he keeps it up."

Levi Johnston 'Doesn't Have Anything on Me'

The relationship between Palin and 19-year-old Levi Johnston, the father of her grandchild, has become severely strained, escalating into a full-blown war of words in the media.

Bristol and Johnston called off their engagement soon after their son Tripp Easton Mitchell was born. Since then, Johnston accused Palin of calling her son Trig "the retarded baby," among other jabs.

"That's heartbreaking to know that he would say such a thing. ...and, and that's not true," Palin told Walters.

Johnston has also alleged that the Palins are on the verge of divorce -- accusations which Palin denied to Walters.

"Todd and I have been together -- he was 16, I was 17 -- for many, many years. We've been married many, many happy years, and we remain a solid, happy, blessed couple," she said.

With Palin's new book to hit stores Tuesday, Johnston has said that Palin was wise not to speak ill of him in her memoir, because, "she knows what I got on her."

"He doesn't have anything on me," Palin told Walters.

Palin said that when Bristol and Levi announced that she was pregnant, it was only the second time she had seen Levi in the living room.

"We didn't see a lot of Levi. Bristol told us that she was pregnant, and ... that was probably the only, only the second time that we had seen Levi there in our living room, having a conversation with us like that," she said.

Johnston has claimed that he will sue for joint custody of their 10-month-old son -- a move which Palin says she would applaud.

"Well, it will be nice to see, in, I guess, even in, in legal proceedings, a desire to be a part of the baby's life," she said. "That's a good sign."

Johnston has catapulted himself into the media spotlight, posing for Playgirl magazine last week and making public appearances. When asked if Johnston has contributed any of his profits to child support, Palin demurred.

"Levi's making some irresponsible decisions right now with money, and with career. I guess his handlers are sort of ushering in, him into this new line of work, with the, with the porn, and with the things that he's involved in right now. He's a kid who's misguided, and he's kind of lost right now," she said.

But, despite the crossfire, Palin seemed to suggest that he would always have a place in the family.

"I'm going to leave it at that, acknowledging that he will always be a part of our family. I can't wait until he comes back on that right road of wanting to be a part of the family in Tripp's life. It's going to be good. At the end of the day, this will be a good experience," she said.

Palin on Abortion: 'I Knew That the Option Was There'

Rounding out the family is 19-month-old Trig. Before he was born, Palin discovered that he would have Down's syndrome. Ninety percent of women who get that news abort, according to research reviewed by Dr. Brian Skotko, a pediatric geneticist at Children's Hospital Boston.

Palin said she knew abortion was an option, but was able to overcome the fear of the unknown to go ahead with the birth.

"I knew that the option was there...I thought again, for that split second, 'OK, now I know, too, why, when that fear strikes you, because of the unknown,'" she said. "I understood then, too, why a woman would consider [abortion] an easier path to perhaps, if you will, do away with the problem, instead of understanding that every child has purpose. There is destiny for every child. And it can be good, in our world. And that's what I held onto."

Embracing life, the former governor of Alaska and mayor of Wasilla has built her family on what she considers solid American values.

"My family is a real, real American family," she said. "Not pretentious, just hard working."

Daughters Willow, 15, and Piper, 8, joined Palin for portions of the Barbara Walters interview and weighed in their mother's possible presidential aspirations.

Willow told Walters it "would be cool" to see her mom become president. When asked by Walters if how it feels when people criticize her mother, Piper said, "It's kind of sad."

Willow added: "And it's annoying, because none of it's true."

On how their mother juggles life in the spotlight with life at home, Piper told Walters her mother was a good cook, and that her favorite meal was moose hot dogs with cheese in the middle.

"You'd love it. You really would," Palin told a skeptical Walters. "And it's so clean, and, and it is healthy protein."

Palin, who was painted during the campaign as a moose-hunting, gun-toting, fly-fishing mother of five, whose philosophy on life and politics was colored by Alaska and her love of getting knee-deep in the outdoors.

On her own upbringing, she writes about moose eyeballs -- how her dad shot and carved up a moose, and put the eyeballs in her hand.

"My dad's a science teacher, and he tried to kill two birds with one stone, what he would do is, fill the family's freezer, at the same time bring in specimens to his young students," she told Walters. "He asked me to participate in that by holding the warm eyeballs and, and, in that event I said, 'No, Dad, I just can't do that one.' ... He did raise a tough hunting buddy, but I did have my limits."

"Tough hunting buddy" until the end, Palin emphasizes how her Alaskan identity is uniquely American.

"An Alaskan life is what I think an American life can be, we have a very independent, pioneering...self-help spirit up there in Alaska where, we take care of one another, very strong families, strong communities where, it's not government mandating that we all take care of each other. ...And that lifestyle I think, more Americans need to recognize and appreciate," she said.

Watch Barbara Walters' interview with Sarah Palin starting Tuesday on "Good Morning America," "World News" and "Nightline", more Wednesday on "Good Morning America," and Friday, Nov. 20 at 10 p.m. ET on "20/20".

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