’The Rogue’ paints tough portrait of Palin
“The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin” (Random House) by Joe McGinnis
Sunday, September 18, 2011
This “investigative chronicle” of the former Alaska governor will be catnip for Palin haters hoping to see her discredited as a potential presidential candidate. But the gossipy tale provides little new information on its subject and draws too much of its material from unnamed sources or avowed Palin critics with axes to grind.
McGinnis, a veteran journalist and author of several critically acclaimed political tomes, created a stir in 2010 when he moved into a rental property next door to the Palin home in Wasilla to conduct his research. His anecdotes about life as Palin’s unwanted neighbor are hilarious, riveting and the most enjoyable part of the book.
McGinnis paints a deeply unflattering portrait of Palin, casting her as ill-informed, coldblooded, narcissistic and vengeful. Others have offered a similar view of the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, from John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s best-selling “Game Change” to Levi Johnston, the former fiance of Palin’s eldest daughter, Bristol, who has given many interviews about the Palin family and whose own book about them comes out next week.
McGinnis also throws in some new and prurient details, suggesting Palin and husband Todd used cocaine and that she booted a pair of house guests after finding baby oil in their bedroom.
“Todd says, ‘Sarah wants you out. She’s really upset thinkin’ you’re in there having sex with baby oil.’ We left. We went to a motel,” the unnamed guest told McGinnis.
McGinnis’ reliance on such unnamed sources and quotes weakens the book’s credibility. Too often, his most titillating or revealing material comes from mysterious people identified as “an old friend,” “a friend of Todd” or “a lawyer in Wasilla.” Most of those willing to be quoted by name are former Palin loyalists who have broken with her, including John Stein, whom Palin defeated in 1996 to become Wasilla mayor, and John Bitney, who helped steer her campaign for governor in 2006 but whom she later ousted as legislative director.
“Sarah is just flighty ... she goes with the wind, the flavor of the day, She wants to see herself on TV every day, so whatever that takes,” Bitney said. “She may harbor a grudge, and she does, but she doesn’t act upon them unless she finds that it’s in her interest. She doesn’t forget, but waits for the opportunity to come around to get you.”
The most sensational passage in the book deals with Glen Rice, a former NBA basketball star whom McGinnis claims had a brief sexual relationship with Palin in 1987, before she and Todd were married. But Rice never fully confirms McGinnis’ story.
“We hung out mostly at a motel where the team was staying,” Rice told McGinnis. “It was all done in a respectful way, nothing hurried.”
All of which prompted McGinnis to ask, “So you never had the feeling she felt bad about having sex with a black guy?”
McGinnis rehashes many of the stories that emerged after Republican presidential hopeful John McCain chose Palin to be his running mate in 2008, from the $150,000 the Republican National Committee spent on clothes for her family during the campaign to her insistence that she be allowed to give her own concession speech on election night. He also revisits the issue of whether Palin really gave birth to her youngest son, Trig, a question many reporters looked into and dismissed in 2008.
The book’s most serious chapters pertain to Palin’s record in Wasilla and later as governor.
McGinnis debunks her image as a fiscal conservative, noting that she left Wasilla with nearly $20 million in bonded debt when she left office and lobbied for millions in federal earmarks for the town and later the state — the kind of “pork barrel” spending conservatives typically deplore.
McGinnis also suggests Palin was overly driven by her evangelical Christian faith, ousting aides who did not share her beliefs and censoring books in the local library.
But McGinnis’ experience living next door to the Palins for five months offers the most telling portrait of Sarah Palin’s style and personality.
McGinnis claims he wasn’t looking for such proximity to his subject and merely took the house because it was one of few rental properties available in the area. He promised Todd Palin he would not spy on their family and would not publish anything he learned from living next door.
But Palin went to war nonetheless, trashing McGinnis on Fox News and posting on Facebook shortly after his arrival that he was an unwanted stalker “peering” at her and her children, including her then 9-year-old daughter, Piper.
“Wonder what kind of material he’ll gather while overlooking Piper’s bedroom, my little garden, and the family’s swimming hole?” she wrote. The posting provokes such an angry response from Palin loyalists that McGinnis received death threats and visits from sympathetic onlookers who offered him firearms to protect himself.
One of those was Verne Rupright, who succeeded Palin as Wasilla mayor and who offered McGinnis a handgun when the two sat for an interview.
“People around here don’t (care) about Sarah anymore. They’re burned out on all her drama,” Rupright said
With his book so suffused with Palin drama, McGinnis had better hope that’s not an accurate assessment.
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