Opinion: Why We Should Take the Sarah Palin Book Seriously

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 05:38 PM

Glen Rice, former NBA player and leader of the University of Michigan's 1989 NCAA championship basketball team, is back in the news with a different kind of score—with Sarah Palin. The salacious rumor is part of a new book due out this week that promises to reveal the real Sarah Palin to readers. Whether or not the Rice rumor is true, the book may well be worth reading.

Before I write another word, I should say, at the outset, I am no fan of Ms. Palin. My feelings about her are no secret. Last primary season, I made headlines when I called Palin an “ass” on MSNBC, thereby securing enemies on the right, and fans-forever on the left. I have often questioned the qualifications of the former Governor of Alaska to be president; and I have even poked fun at the presidential hopeful for Halloween. Simply put, I feel Sarah Palin is not equipped to lead us into the future and that she is foolish to think she can.

Of course, I am not alone in this opinion. And while anti-Palin sentiment runs deep among Democrats, many of those most passionate, in their skepticism of Palin are members of her own party. Yet, since her failed vice presidential candidacy, I have noticed a retrenchment in critical coverage of Palin, with fewer and fewer of my colleagues in the news business willing to take a cold hard look at the potential presidential candidate, for fear of being called sexist, anti-feminist, anti-populist, out-of-touch, or all of the above.

But now comes Joe McGinniss with The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin. This is not just some Joe Schmo political hack, piling together a bunch of blogs and calling it a book. McGinniss is a veteran political writer. He became an overnight success when his first book, The Selling of the President 1968 landed him on the New York Times bestseller list. He was just 26 years old, the youngest living writer with that distinction.

That book described the marketing of Richard Nixon during the presidential campaign. And before you think that McGinniss was hired, back in ’68, as a left-wing democratic operative, think again. He had first tried to get access to Democrat Hubert Humphrey’s campaign, but Humphrey turned him down. So Joe called up Nixon’s people and they said, yes. Then, as a reporter, he simply published what he observed. The book is now considered a classic of campaign reporting—the first honest look at what we all now know to be the stage-managed world of political campaigns.

McGinniss gained additional renown for his true crime writing, and that is how I met him. In 1994, we both sat through the OJ Simpson criminal trial. I was working as a freelance journalist out of San Francisco. He was writing a book about the case. But when Simpson was acquitted, Joe somewhat famously returned his $1 million advance, calling the trial "a farce."

Seventeen years and a half-dozen books later, McGinniss is under attack by the right-wing blogosphere, which has started a campaign against him and his latest endeavor, even before The Rogue is due to hit bookstores. Passages that have been leaked, in advance of The Rogue’s Tuesday release, allege more than the one-night stand with Glen Rice, dating back to 1987 (Rice was a college basketball star, visiting Alaska for The Great Alaskan Shootout and Palin, then Sarah Heath, was a sports reporter for KTUU-TV).

The book also alleges Palin had an affair with her husband's business partner and has used cocaine. All of this, if true, would directly contradict her image of the traditional family woman, striking a devastating blow to her hopes of joining the 2012 presidential race. If it’s not true, Palin has one helluva lawsuit.

In fact, McGinniss has faced such a lawsuit once before—but not for libel. The subject of his 1983 bestseller Fatal Vision, Jeffrey MacDonald sued McGinniss for fraud, alleging that McGinniss had pretended to believe he was innocent of murder, in order to secure MacDonald's cooperation. The case settled out of court.

Before that, even with the phenomenal success of The Selling of the President 1968, conservative stalwart William F. Buckley claimed McGinniss had relied on “elaborate deception which has brought joy and hope to the Nixon-haters.” But that complaint was about unnamed sources, and having an agenda. No one sued. And Buckley even admitted he liked the book.

Truth will always be a defense to libel. And political agenda and unnamed sources aside, the real value in any book about Sarah Palin will be in the study of her character and characteristics as a leader. For too long there has been reluctance, in the press, to talk about her qualities and qualifications, with any real clarity.

So effective has been the mainstreaming of Product Palin, so deliberate the rebranding of her brand of populism, that we seem to have forgotten with whom and what we are dealing. The magazine covers, the TLC reality show, two book tours, not to mention Bristol Dancing With the Stars, and mainstream USA has become so dazzled celebrity Palin that we have lost sight of why we rejected candidate Palin, in the first place. Insofar as The Rogue can remind us of the real Sarah Palin, the book will be valuable for that, if for nothing else.

Jami Floyd is an attorney, broadcast journalist and legal analyst for cable and network news, and is a frequent contributor to WNYC Radio. She is former advisor in the Clinton administration and served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on legal and domestic policy issues. You can follow her on twitter.


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Comments [16]

Herbitsky from Charlotte

Ok....who's kidding who here?? Who resigns from the highest office in the state because they "can't afford it"? And I recall the baby "popping" up almost over night....
Responsible reporting makes some people refuse to believe the truth, but for our countries order to survive and thrive we must take the rose glasses off and confront the truth. Haven't we had enough of plastic politicians??

Sep. 21 2011 11:55 AM
David Bartley

DMac8889: "the cesspool that you apparently want to swim in" is about the silliest non sequitur I've heard.

Sep. 21 2011 04:57 AM
tom rose from NYC

She's gonna run... and she's gonna WIN!!!

Sep. 20 2011 11:40 PM
Arctos from Anchorage, Alaska

Thanks for a level-headed and insightful opinion. I'm reading the book right now and wish those early leaks about sex and drugs wouldn't obscure what's valuable in here.

Especially interesting are comments by people like her former security head, a trooper named Gary Wheeler who worked for three governors, D & R, and who saw her almost daily. If he says she hardly worked and read People magazine for hours, then I believe him. If he says she wore tight jeans a few weeks before announcing she was 7 months pregnant, then I wonder what really happened, too.

The question to ask is, who's disputing facts here about Troopergate, her behavior as governor, or her actions on the campaign trail? How many of the scores of people who DID give their names seem credible?

As an Alaskan, I haven't read anything yet that contradicts what friends who worked for her have told me. Nothing is radically different from what other books and articles have reported. If she has friends with a different take, then let's hear from them. And by "friends," I mean people who aren't relatives, paid staff, or professional brown-nosers.

Sep. 20 2011 05:50 PM
dana jones

The biggest story in world history and yet no one can report on this

Sep. 20 2011 01:28 PM
mister from NY

"joe mcginniss no joe schmoe political hack he's a veteran writer" lol you left out that the man plagiarized others work during his career. he's also known around the literary world as serial liar and fabricates things ie makes them up in order to sell books. nice try. do your research next time so that you dont wind up as a jane schmoe political hack.

Sep. 20 2011 01:11 PM

@Brandt - Oh, I get it Glen Rice must be black. Don't know....I don't follow basketball.

I could not care less if Ms Palin boned the entire basketball team or did cocaine (or any other drug) in her (apparently) wild youth.

I do care that so many Americans think that SP's vision of the relationship between the citizens and their government is accurate or appropriate or even desirable.

What's wrong with us?

Sep. 20 2011 10:46 AM

Tawny - he heard the rumor from a gossip in Alaska, then he confirmed it with Glen Rice himself. Where's the bad reporting?

Sep. 20 2011 09:50 AM
Rationalist from CA

Thanks for this.

McGinnis cross-checked every story with multiple people and his book (unlike Palin's, I might add), was rigorously vetted by the publisher's legal department. If the claims are false, she ought to sue him.

Sep. 20 2011 09:48 AM
Joe W. from Sacramento, CA

The passages from this book that have been leaked thus far showcase the worst kind of journalistic practices.

This is a hit piece that smears Palin and revels in unsourced, unproven gossip about her.

Jami Floyd says that if the most salacious allegations aren't true that Palin would have one helluva lawsuit. But that's not really true.

It would be very difficult for Gov. Palin to sue others based on what they say about her because she is a public figure, and people have the right to say things about her as they so choose, even if they are telling lies.

This book is a disgrace, and whether one is a fan of Palin or not, this is not how the battle of ideas and ideals should be waged in America. Joe McGinniss should be ashamed. The ultimate irony would be for someone to move next door to HIS house, become a Peeping Tom and write a book smearing him. Then maybe he'd understand just how awful his behavior has been.

Sep. 20 2011 08:41 AM
Tawny Jones from Atlanta, USA

An investigative reporter investigates; he doesn't simply throw rumors against the wall. Example: A gossip-monger says Miss Heath & Mr Rice went either to a college dorm, or to a hotel. Well, which is it? There aren't many hotels around Anchorage, and they keep records: tag numbers, drivers license, register sign-ins. Did McGinniss investigate, to confirm or eliminate the hotel angle? If not, why not.? And so on...

Sep. 20 2011 07:31 AM
Dan Skinner

much ado about nothing... we already were well aware she is uneducated backwoods trailer trash. 96% of all america hates this attention seeker. God would have to come down and strike most of America dead for this woman to hold any political office again. That's the facts. ma'am.

Sep. 20 2011 04:27 AM
Brandt Hardin

Now, who can say Tea Partiers are racist? Turns out Sarah’s as liberal as they come!

Sep. 20 2011 02:04 AM

I could care less about Sarah Palin's personal life when deciding that I think she should be President. I completely dismiss your assertion that she lacks experience, or the brain power to be President. She has already proven as a governor she can more than handle the job. You are entitled to your opinion, but if you measure Sarah Palin's personal life and her political life compared to the last three Presidents she stocks up pretty well. Examine your own choice for President before you cast stones at Sarah Palin. If she gets in there will be many to join me for voting for her. You can continue to use your blog site that without the name Sarah Palin attached to it, probably is not read, for the cesspool that you apparently want to swim in.

Sep. 20 2011 01:53 AM
Viper1 from New York

Itis interesting and predictable, Ms.Floyd, that
your defense of Joe McGinnis relies on the writer he was 43 years ago rather than the one hemight have become as evidenced by the almost unanimous condemnation of the book by some of Palin'smost bitter political enemies.

Has it occurred to you that frequently primary, secondary, and tertiary factors can insinuate themselves into a person's
life which change his or her values and a person who once acted with the most noble motives, in time, can be motivated by the most base?

The Reeverend Jim Jones helped to integrate churches, restaurants, the telephone company, the police department, a theater, an amusement park, and the Methodist Hospital.[source, Wikipedia] After swastikas were painted on the homes of two African American families, Jones personally walked the neighborhood comforting African Americans and counseling white families not to move, in order to prevent white flight. He also set up stings to catch restaurants refusing to serve African American customers and wrote to American Nazi leaders then leaked their responses to the media. When Jones was accidentally placed in the black ward of a hospital after a collapse in 1961, he refused to be moved and began to make the beds, and empty the bed pans of black patients.

Would it have been reasonable for someone who knew Jones then in the wake of the deaths at Jonestown to say,

"We're not talking about some Joe Shmoe--Elmer Gantry wannabe here, I knew Jim Jones 20 years ago, he was a Christ-like figure."?

Your assumption that McGinness is the same writer he was when he wrote his tome on Nixon has no more validity than saying Nixon possessed the same character in 1972 that he did in 1942 when he was awarded Nixon two service stars and a citation of commendation as a naval officer.

The bottom line: when Keith Obermann who clearly detests Palin says he's on her side about the McGinnis book, you can assume there's enough muck in their to gag a maggot.

McGinnis' seminal work almost 40 years ago is thoroughly irrelevent and the assumption that he brought to this book the
same presumptions and ethics does not
pass the laugh test.

Sep. 19 2011 09:37 PM
Paul Brown from NYC

You know Dubya didn't get many thing right but he did kinda nail Palin from the start. When informed that John McCain's running mate was to be a one Ms Sarah Palin he quipped:

“I’m trying to remember if I’ve met her before. I’m sure I must have.” His eyes twinkled, then he asked, “What is she, the governor of Guam?”

later when his shocked assemblage of cronies assured him she was well vetted he said:
"This woman is being put into a position she is not even remotely prepared for,” “She hasn’t spent one day on the national level. Neither has her family. Let’s wait and see how she looks five days out.”

Of course Bush didn't have much to fear at that point. His own legacy pretty much guaranteed that Neither John McCain nor Vice President Palin would ever see the inside of the while house as part of the "Executive".

And yes, when I got the latest revision our of draconian Co-op house rules last year--and promptly sent the BoD a blanket email asking them if they were all freebasing Crack Cocaine, I became worried that I'd gone too far. I reached out to our Facebook lawyer pal John Flyod who assured me "No worries, truth is an absolute defense" :-) Today I'm Board president and I still think our rules are Draconian. Changing the system from the inside and a supposed position of authority can be.....quit difficult.

Sep. 19 2011 07:35 PM

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