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Opinion: Why We Should Take the Sarah Palin Book Seriously

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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.