I. Longtime journalist and award-winning author Joe McGinniss' newest book, The Rogue, is the latest - but by no means last - book about Sarah Palin. Palin is not only the most famous Alaskan in history, she has uniquely combined political activity, celebrity, motherhood, grandmotherhood, a spousal relationship, borderline religious beliefs, professional victimhood, the American gossip universe, pop culture, legal obfuscation, new media and social networking. Increasingly known for being thin-skinned and somewhat lacking in spatial awareness, Palin, more than any American politician in a generation or so, almost begged McGinniss - or any investigative author - to move next door. As I wrote here last year, a couple of days after McGinniss was able to do just that:
[A]uthor Joe McGinnis, who is writing a critical book about Sarah Palin, was looking for a place in Wasilla to rent this summer, as he continues his research. He was offered the house next door to the Palins’ Lake Lucille cult compound-in-progress. He wasn’t looking for the place. It came looking for him. What would you do?Having spent time with McGinniss at the crucial point between when he moved in, and the Palins' reaction to their new neighbor set in concrete the scene for how the book played out, I can say that Joe really was hoping to be able to just be their next-door neighbor. He did not want to make waves, and was hoping to sit down with Sarah and Todd socially, perhaps professionally, and go through notes with them as work proceeded. I'm not kidding.
What ended up happening was another over-reaction by Sarah, similar to many those of us who had been watching her for a long time had witnessed before. Her facebook people went all professional victim for her and, to quote Palin in another context - "Game on!"
What Joe McGinniss ended up writing is a story that 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.
I live in that town. The book mentions me directly or indirectly several times, which makes for a fairly interesting book salon here at firedoglake.
Since publication, McGinniss has been repeatedly questioned about his use of anonymous sources in The Rogue. His response has been to say that in many cases Wasillans were genuinely afraid to come forward because there had been so many examples in the past illustrating the benefits of anonymity. Backing up this view, on Tuesday, Andrew Sullivan excerpted from just one of my experiences in this realm:
You want to know why some Wasillans asked for the same anonymity in "The Rogue" as Colin Powell gets from Bob Woodward? Maybe ask an Alaskan:The hate continues.
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:Who do you trust - the MSM in DC or Alaskans who know the truth?
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.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?
I call him and offer to pay for a new window. "Don't be ridiculous," 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."
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.
As one example (covered at firedoglake's TBogg niche the other day), white supremacist and Todd Palin BFF Robert Stacy McCain is once more stoking the fires:
Joe McGinniss deserves The Mother of All Ass-Whuppings, and Todd Palin ought to give him exactly what he deserves.He followed it up with more projected hatred.
So I’m asking readers to go make a $25 donation to SarahPAC to help defray Todd’s legal expenses when he shows up at McGinniss’s first book signing and pounds that scurvy worm into a bloody pulp.
Please give $25 to SarahPAC, so that we can bail Todd Palin out on that assault charge — and then fly him to the next Joe McGinniss book signing to deliver yet another brutal ass-whupping.
Commenters, all too predictably, are aiming the hate not just at Joe, but at the McGinniss family, and you and me:
Provide me also a legal defense fund because while McGinniss is away doing his homework in Alaska, I was giving some nice injection thing to his wife, and McGinniss wife loves well cooked hot dog.Just a small sample.
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I don't really see a lot of this crap ending until a few of these assholes end up dead, which of course I would be very sorry to see.
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..... I wish McGinness and people like him would all just fall down and die an agonizing death. There's just no way that could be their fault, could it?
II. The Rogue is constructed around Joe McGinniss' 2010 summer stay on the shores of Lake Lucille. His introduction to the ambience of Wasilla is lengthened by over a page, as he lists all the churches in the greater Wasilla area - about 50. He even misses some that are hard to find for one reason or another.
The chapters alternate between retelling the meetings, interviews, encounters, conversations, emails, hate mails, visitors and narrowly avoided altercations as they roll by, and looks back at Palin's rise. The looks go back into her family's background, before Sarah Palin was born. McGinniss throws a lot of fresh light and detail onto available biographical information about both the Heath family into which she was born, and the Palin family, into which she married. He adds quite a bit of important new information too. The looks back eventually merge with the present as it was when McGinniss finished the manuscript early this summer:
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 extravaganza, 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.In a review at the Euro-American Palin-centric blog, Politicalgates, Blueberry T has provided a fairly brief chapter-by-chapter synopsis. The subjects that seem to be brought up repeatedly by those interviewing the author this past week have centered around Palin's two best-known sexual escapades (one pre-marital), the perception that McGinniss' move next door was unseemly, questions about the birth of Trig Palin in early 2008, and the veracity of his anonymous sources. The author's book tour interviewers, at least that I've reviewed, don't seem to be interested in how thoroughly McGinniss has documented the fervor of Palin's over-the-top devotees, nor in the deep ties Palin has had since the early 1990s to domininionist sects.
The author gratefully acknowledges how fully he was able to use the resources and existing material of such Alaska bloggers as Jeanne Devon, Shannyn Moore, Jesse Griffin and others. He also points out the importance of author-journalists such as David Neiwert and Max Blumenthal for their research on Palin's ties to far-right, white supremacist and millennialist organizations.
On the other hand, McGinniss is wary of the symbiotic relationship media has come to rely upon regarding Palin. He seems to understand that had Alaska's mainstream media done a better job up through mid-2008, he would have been left without a subject for this newest book.
III. It is too early to tell what McGinniss has achieved, past writing the easiest to read, most engaging trip yet through the strange world of PalinLand. As the author noted, much contained in the book has been covered before. Not this way, though, and not with this level of humor, wonder, snark and plain curiosity. His coverage of the voluminous hate messages, calls and emails is centered not on him, but on what this means in a larger way. His continual refusals to take guns proffered to him day after day by a succession of some of my longtime friends made me laugh, because he accurately caught my friends' quirks in a touchingly warm way. Even though you don't know these people, you'll probably laugh too, as Joe introduces them, one pistol, shotgun or rifle-offering woman or man after another.
He was notably more charitable toward the vast shortcomings of Alaska society in The Rogue than he had to be when writing about the crazed oil pipeline construction days in his 1980 book, Going to Extremes. At that time, McGinniss' book was one of several that addressed the wild times of that construction boom, including John McPhee's brilliant set of sketches, Coming Into the Country. Even though McPhee's pipeline era book was a masterpiece of tone, narrative and style, his predictions about Alaska's future held up far less than did those McGinniss made back then.
McGinniss' implications about what the pipeline meant in 1980 were mostly limited to the future of Alaskan society. Those in The Rogue have as much to do with the future of our fraying, tarnished American fabric.