[I'll be hosting author Joe McGinniss here at the firedoglake book salon next Sunday, September 25th. This is not the introductory review, but rather a comparative assessment]
I. I finished reading Joe McGinniss’ new book about Sarah Palin, The Rogue, last night. It is due to be released Tuesday, after having gotten more pre-release coverage than any of the other books critical of Palin had managed to garner.
Since the end of the 2008 presidential election, four critical books that either solely addressed Palin’s shortcomings, or devoted a portion of the volume to them, have struck me as outstanding in one way or others:
Blind Allegiance by Frank Bailey, with Jeanne Devon and Ken Morris, seems to have fallen flat, though, mostly because it is a dull read, and when one finishes it, one suspects the collaboration didn’t manage to gel into something that could have combined the strengths of the authoring partners, but mushed instead into a poorly disguised coverup for what Bailey didn’t want us to know, and a wounded representation of what might actually be in those emails. Geoffrey Dunn, who reviewed Blind Allegiance for The Anchorage Press in late August, is even more critical of the book’s shortcomings:
Like Palin in Going Rogue, Bailey leaves out some critical information in Blind Allegiance – information that he had most certainly access to, because it’s information that involved him. And in so doing, he made me realize that Blind Allegiance, for all its inside revelations is, in fact, a second, albeit more subtle, cover-up involving Troopergate.
Dunn goes on to describe material that was leaked to him “subsequent to completing my book.” He writes:
The documents were records of statements given during the Petumenos investigation by Bailey and his sidekick Ivy Frye, and, taken with the findings and conclusions of the Petumenos report, point to a conspiracy of sorts in framing the collective response by Palin’s inner circle to the Troopergate investigation in the late summer and early fall of 2008.
Dunn then lays out aspects of the conspiracy in such a way that one can’t but wonder why Devon and Morris could have felt they had clean hands while working with Bailey. After all, the two collaborators have supposedly seen thousands of the emails that didn’t make it into Blind Allegiance. Whether they were merely incurious, or accommodating in helping Bailey in what Dunn seems to indicate may be a possible criminal coverup, we may never know. Based on Andree McLeod’s findings in going through the emails released by the State of Alaska, I’ve believed for some time that this may be the case.
Dunn questions the honesty of Bailey, regarding the latter’s sworn testimony to the Petumenos Inquiry:
When the Petumenos Report was released on November 3 – the day before the national election – Bailey says “I welcomed what I eventually came to understand was undeserved vindication.” Say what? “Eventually came to understand?” Bailey knew at the time it was undeserved.
According to Bailey, in finding that there was “no probable cause Governor Palin violated the state’s executive branch ethics act in her dismissal of Walt Monegan,” Petumenos “relied predominantly on [Palin's] testimony to arrive at this conclusion.” But Petumenos made no such claim in his report. In fact he cited the testimony of several witnesses who “gave sworn depositions to independent counsel” – among them (guess who?) Frank Bailey, who made no mention of this deposition in his book. In fact, Petumenos specifically identified Bailey (page 36 of the Petumenos Report) as providing corroborative testimony that Palin knew nothing about activities being directed by her husband and Bailey against Wooten.
In fact, Petumenos devoted significant attention to Bailey in his report. He goes over in detail Bailey’s now notorious conversation with Lieutenant Dial. Bailey’s testimony, according to Petumenos, directly contradicted that of Walt Monegan and also Colonel John Glass of the Alaska State Troopers. Bailey makes no mention of this in his book, either. Moreover, Petumenos noted that “Bailey also corroborated the Governor’s assertions with respect to her concern about the Commissioner’s lack of progress on trooper recruitment as part of discussions regarding replacing Commissioner Monegan with Mr. Kopp in July of 2008.” Again, no mention of this in Bailey’s book – the fact that he was a corroborating witness to Palin throughout the investigation.
Dunn goes on to tackle that subject. He details Petumenos’ attention to Bailey’s relationship to Palin administration emails, raising this question in conclusion:
Again, no mention of this Petumenos finding in Blind Allegiance. But it raises the obvious question: Does Bailey have access to any other relevant emails that were not provided Petumenos and which are relevant to Troopergate? Certainly the October 3, 2006, email had direct probative impact on the scope of the Petumenos investigation and was not included in the “exhibits” of evidence provided as a formal addendum to the Petumenos Report. Are there others?
Of course there are. Essentially, many feel the authors of Blind Allegiance have a lot to answer for before that book can be fully assessed historically.
Bailey’s book pays scant attention to bloggers in Alaska or elsewhere. It leaves out a lot of previously known information about Palin’s absorbtion in new media and social networking tools.
II. All the way back in early 2009, Eric Boehlert’s look at how such tools, particularly those of the netroots blogging community, Bloggers on the Bus, gave national readers a glimpse of what was then a tightly knit community of progressive new media writers here who were openly sharing information with the journalists, videographers, writers and others, who flocked north in the fall, to begin reporting on the startling pick of the McCain campaign for a running mate.
At the time, Boehlert and others were skeptical of the meme that Sarah Palin might not be the birth mother of TriG Palin. He constructed Chapter 13 of his book around a contrast between bloggers like me, who he felt reported about that issue and others responsibly, and those who he felt had not, naming the chapter after my long series on Palin here, Saradise Lost. By the time his book came out, I was more skeptical of Palin’s story than I ever had been, and wrote Eric about that, including pictures that had surfaced since his publication, indicating Palin may well have faked the pregnancy.
More important than the TriG coverage in Boehlert’s account, is his understanding in the book that new media and social networking tools have changed political communication irreversably.
III. The Lies of Sarah Palin, which I reviewed in detail in May, takes up a lot of room describing the 2008 campaign, and paints it vividly, with remarkable detail and vignettes. Author Dunn brings up Boehlert’s attention to Alaska bloggers on page 213:
Independent voices from the internet “influenced and altered the road to the White House” in ways never before imaginable. Moreover the intrepid band of bloggers from Alaska did the public vetting of Sarah Palin that the media failed to do. They were ahead of the curve every step of the way.
Dunn’s assesment of Andree Mcleod as an “Anchorage-based good-government activist” is the most thoroughly symaptheic portrait of her yet penned. Where Bailey et al seem to demonize McLeod, Dunn managed to put McLeod into the context of bipartisan political activists in Alaska who truly do want, and – as in McLeod’s case – demand good government. Both Bailey and Dunn contribute to the huge volume of material that shows Palin’s claim to have been such an activist to be the smelliest kind of bullshit.
IV. The Rogue is a helluva read. It is the fifth book by the author I have read, having read The Selling of the President and Going to Extremes multiple times.
Although McGinniss’ book, like Bailey’s contains no index (Dunn’s has a superb one), I’m almost willing to forgive that. Bailey’s book looks from inside a gubernatorial administration mostly. Dunn’s concentrates largely on the 2008 presidential campaign from August 28, 2008 on. McGinniss’ book is largely about Wasilla, where I live. As with the community, the book is populated with many, many of my friends and adversaries over the years.
I feel almost too close to a lot of the content to be able to review the volume. It does bring up, once again, a subject Judy and I have discussed fairly frequently over the past three years – how much we’ve forgotten about Palin, that we knew, and that we knew was really awful. McGinniss addresses the climate of fear the Palin camp has created in the Wasilla area since the mid-1990s, better than anyone else has. Far better. He lived through it.
Here’s one example. My longtime friend (since 1974, in Seattle, before he moved to Alaska), Dewey Taylor, used his truck to bring some chairs over to McGinniss’ new rental next to the Palins. Apparently, some of Palin’s advocates took note:
Then I hear that at about four o’clock this morning somebody shot out the driver’s side window of Dewey Taylor’s truck, which was parked in his driveway
I call him and offer to pay for a new window. “Don’t be reidiculous,” he says, “it was probably just a coincidence.”
“How long have you lived there?”
“About twenty years.”
“Ever had a problem with a vehicle parked in your driveway before?”
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”
A couple of interesting things should be noted here. I see Dewey a lot. He’s never discussed this incident with me. Strange, eh? Maybe not, as three months earlier, Palin-loving vandals (a week after this incident) had drained the oil from my Subaru (probably using a Jabsco pump), cut the oil warning light wire, and cost us $3,500.00. And I’ve never shared that with Dewey. We’re both “I’ll move on” kinds of people – Dewey more than I – but did fear of even dwelling on the vandalism help us keep our mouths shut?
How many other stories like that are there out here in the Mad Zoo? The climate of festering fear or immediate retribution here – not just from the Palins, but from the nutty right-wing and Christianist zealots – should not be underestimated.
For those who complain about how McGinniss was purported to have taken advantage of informants in Going to Extremes, there won’t be much that I’ve found in this new book which will bring that back up.
McGinniss is even more scathing than Dunn in his assessment of the failures of Alaska’s main media outlets during Palin’s rise and short reign at the top of Alaska politics. And, far more than Dunn, he observes Palin’s ability to play the media – and the media’s inability to shake itself of the Palin habit – up to the date of publication.
Six months ago, I would have totally disagreed with this McGinniss assessment of new media and blogs:
I sometimes wonder why anyone bothers to blog. Almost nothing anyone writes changes anyone else’s mind. Most people who read a blog already agree with the writer’s point of view. The others read so they can write quick, nasty comments in response. The whole blogosphere sometimes seems like one vast game of verbal paintball.
I’m not in total agreement with McGinniss on this, mind you. And perhaps he hasn’t played paintball in the right setting yet, as it can be very enjoyable. I learn something every day at one blog or another. Blogs which Joe list at his own blog can be the way he describes - Palingates, Politicalgates, and The Imoral Minority, for instance. Yet even at those places where the commenting communities are so predictably like Joe’s description, one can learn valuable information. Others McGinniss lists, like The Daily Dish and Glenn Greenwald, are among the most valuble resources for reliable information anywhere (The Daily Dish does not publish comments). And I’m tired, as Joe must be, of the pettiness commenters often show toward people and situations they show themselves to know little or nothing about.
Like Going to Extremes, The Rogue gets into amazing detail of daily life here, in this case from his perspective of spending the summer of 2010 on Lake Lucille. A lot of what he writes about has been covered before, but his decriptions of the Heath and Palin families, along with the other assorted characters of this seemingly never-ending soap opera, are rife with raw humor.
He gets much more into the conflicts in the minds of central characters than any other author. Sarah Palin’s predecessor as Wasilla mayor, John Stein, intially didn’t want to talk to or meet McGinniss. I know, from having stayed in John’s house in Sitka, that Going to Extremes is in the library there.
Joe kept after John, who finally relented and invited the author over. Their discussions are by far the best to cover Stein’s relationship with the young politician he was mentoring through the early 1990s.
The book has been criticized for leaving out interviews with Palin supporters. However, as in Dunn’s book, one doesn’t need to be further illuminated in the goofiness of Palin’s devotees than we already have been.
The book concludes looking back at Palin’s very bad early 2011, particularly since her insanely self-centered respose to the January shootings in Tucson. McGinniss is wary of not only the symbiotic relationship media has come to rely upon regarding Palin, but of his own, with the book coming out and campaign seasons ramping up:
This may be a strange thing to say in [opening] the last chapter about the star performer of the circus. But no matter how much my book sales might benefit from a Palin presidential campaign in 2012, I sincerely hope that the whole extraveganza, which has been unblushingly underwritten by a mainstream media willing to gamble the nation’s future in exchange for the cheap thrill of watching a clown in high heels on a flying trapeze, is nearing its end.
The Rogue may be the best close look at how a small town in America related over a period of 20 years to a politician who had an uncanny ability to draw upon hatred, superstition, gang organizing and media incuriosity since Sinclair Lewis’ novel of 1935, inspired by Huey Long, It Can’t Happen Here.
Regarding the dustup over McGinniss’ role in the release of manuscripts of Blind Allegiance back in February, and how that might have had an impact on the Bailey book’s sales prospects, I’ll just say that with Bailey coming out of hibernation now to talk about comparisons, McGinniss book looks like it will help Bailey’s sell more copies, just as stores and the publisher were about to remainder Blind Allegiance.
note – the author of this article is referenced several times in The Rogue