Why are liberal hacks so obsessed with Palin?
Joe McGinniss wants to dig up dirt that will bury Palin’s political career. But his book is so full of salacious gossip that he ends up looking like the real creep.
Sarah Palin, the Alaskan phenomenon whose nomination as Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2008 propelled her to global fame, has never had any qualms about expressing her distrust of the press, or the ‘lamestream media’, as she puts it. And indeed, as she committed media blunder upon media blunder – from falling for the stunt of a reporter pretending to be French president Nicolas Sarkozy to failing to name the newspapers she reads in an interview with Katie Couric – she made herself an easy target. During the presidential race, actress Tina Fey’s uncanny Saturday Night Live impersonations of Palin became a global sensation.
The entrance of Palin, then Alaskan governor, on to the national political stage seemed to fill the Bush-shaped hole in the liberal commentariats’ columns. Before the rise of Palin, their negative presumptions about the American masses had been turned on their heads. Barack Obama’s election win appeared more and more likely – so could it be that ‘fly-over state’ Americans weren’t just a bunch of brainwashed hillbillies after all? The end of the gaffe-filled, gung-ho reign of President George W Bush had robbed liberal commentators of opportunities to explain the Democrats’ political failings by pointing to the strange allure of unsophisticated Republican rednecks among the easily duped masses. Until Palin came along.
But whereas Palin believes that ‘lamestream’ media is constantly out to get her, in his new biography of the chirpy Alaskan, veteran investigative journalist Joe McGinniss lambasts the media for falling for Palin. McGinniss believes that the media has fawned over her rather than taken her lousy political track record and lack of understanding of issues and governance to task. On the one hand, McGinniss ridicules Palin for coining the phrase ‘lamestream media’. On the other hand he, too, describes the press corps as one-sided and uncritical. He thinks the press, as well as the public, have been duped by Palin’s polished image as an authentic, wholesome American ‘hockey mom’ and good Christian. It’s all a ploy, claims McGinniss. In The Rogue, Palin is painted as a backstabbing, vindictive, bitchy, racist Jesus freak who neglects her children and sleeps with anyone but her husband.
On his blog, McGinniss complains that the National Enquirer ‘snagged a copy of The Rogue before publication and trumpeted a few “sensational” stories from it’. He complains that some early negative coverage of his book gave media pundits the excuse simply to dismiss it as ‘tabloid trash’ without even reading it. Instead, he wishes that they’d consider his ‘criticisms of mainstream lack of coverage of the real Sarah Palin’. But anyone who has taken the time – or wasted it, rather – to read The Rogue cover to cover will know that there is little else to the book than sensationalism. McGinniss, the author of 11 books, stoops to such low levels in his mission to discredit Palin that the true character assassination of this book is his own.
In fact, The Rogue embodies the very qualities that McGinniss lambasts Palin for displaying. Self-absorbed, with no political analysis but plenty of unsubstantiated claims, The Rogue relies heavily on anonymous, and therefore unverifiable, testimonials. This is plain tawdry gossip, full of distasteful speculations about Palin’s personal life and past.
At one point, McGinniss suggests that Palin had a fling with a basketball player and quotes ‘a friend’ as saying that Palin and her sisters ‘had a fetish for black guys’. He supports rather than questions the misogynist and racist presumption that when a white woman gets romantically involved with black men it can only be because she has some psychological disorder. When accounting for other rumours that Palin had an affair with her husband’s snowmobile business partner, McGinniss doesn’t suggest this is evidence of her fetish for white, snowmobile dealers. No, then it’s simply an extramarital affair.
McGinniss’ complaint that the media has focused on the sensationalist, rather than analytical aspect, of The Rogue really is hard to stomach. In just two pages in the middle of the book, he quotes various unnamed ‘friends’ of the Palins as claiming that Palin severely neglects her children, letting them run around Wasilla (the Palins’ hometown) hungry and filthy, that she has an eating disorder and a drug problem (apparently, she once snorted cocaine off an oil drum), and that she rarely puts out for Todd. And this is actually a representative snapshot of the book.
There is no real attempt here to understand the extraordinary rise of Sarah Palin in the world of politics, no consideration of why the Republicans picked her as John McCain’s running partner, no explanation of the enthusiasm and revulsion she provokes in Americans, no analysis of why personality and image have come to matter so much in political life today, no reflection on the allure of the Tea Party at a time when the Obama administration’s approval ratings are dwindling.
Instead, McGinniss, who moved in next door to the Palins while researching his book, has cobbled together a tirade of rumours, anecdotes and character judgements from Palin’s ‘friends’ and foes. He claims that Palin forbade her family and friends from speaking to him so that ‘she and her acolytes can complain that my book is “not fair and balanced” like Fox News’. But he does find one friend of Sarah’s who is willing to talk to him (it makes you wonder who all those other anonymous sources whom he refers to as the Palins’ ‘friends’ really are). McGinniss gives the reader the impression that this only real friend of Sarah’s interviewed in the whole book is a jittery woman seduced by Palin’s charm. After all, she doesn’t have a bad word to say about Palin so she must be a silly, weak dupe, right?
Sure, Palin, with her history of political intrigues, hardline anti-abortionist stance, firm creationist beliefs and self-styled ‘hockey mom’ image, has never left the media wanting for juicy stories. Sure, she has been embroiled in some high-profile, shady controversies. There was the AGIA scandal, for instance, in which she was accused (by McGinniss among others) of falsely claiming to have initiated the construction of a $40 billion natural-gas pipeline project in Alaska. Then there was ‘Troopergate’, in which it was alleged that Palin and her husband tried to get her sister’s ex-husband fired from his job as a trooper. Sure, Palin is guilty of dumbing down politics, turning it into a question of personality rather than ideology. For instance, she tends to rope in her family members to play a part in her political career – from parading her disabled toddler in front of the cameras to making mileage out of her oldest son’s stint in Iraq. In 2010, they all starred in a reality TV series called Sarah Palin’s Alaska.
And yet, it is McGinniss who comes off the worst in The Rogue. He seems deliberately to provoke controversy by moving in right next door to the Palins. He turns his story about Palin into a story about himself. A substantial part of the book is taken up by describing his feelings about spending time in Alaska and the threats and attention he got as a consequence of becoming the Palins’ neighbour. He comes off as paranoid, suggesting that the Palins would be capable of hiring a group of vigilantes to take him out. Despite the distasteful verbal abuse he got from Palin supporters in emails and on talk shows, nobody actually physically threatens McGinniss. On the contrary, he moves about freely in Alaska, meeting interviewees in public places and popular coffee shops. McGinniss is obsessed, not with understanding the current political climate through Palin’s story, but with Palin herself. No wonder she called him ‘creepy’.
The Rogue promises to answer a bunch of questions about Sarah Palin: ‘Who is she, really?’, ‘How did this happen?’ and ‘Will she ever go away?’ Ironically, it’s the irrational disdain for and fascination with Palin among apparently enlightened liberals that help keep her star alight. But now it seems McGinniss’ book is so salacious and trashy that even some of his colleagues in the ‘lamestream media’ think he’s gone too far.
Nathalie Rothschild is an international correspondent for spiked. Visit her personal website here.