Sunday, September 25, 2011

Review of The Rogue by Joe McGinniss (The Hate Continues)

 [This review was created for the Firedoglake Book Salon I'll be hosting with Joe McGinniss Sunday, between 1:00 and 3:00 pm Alaska time]

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:
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 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."
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.
Who do you trust - the MSM in DC or Alaskans who know the truth?
The hate continues.

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.

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.
He followed it up with more projected hatred.

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.

-- snip --

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.

---  snip ---

..... 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?
Just a small sample.

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.


barney said...

Phil, stay safe and have a great day at FDL. You are one of the sane ones, thanks for being that way and for the truth.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written Phil.

Alaskans are like fungible commodities, you take a molecule out of one person's make-up and you have a bold fundy jumping for a hospital board appointment so you can employ policies that make victims pay for their own rape kits or cherry-pick women's health services and force government speech into a Doctor's counseling.

You take the molecule out of another and you've got a concealed carrying progressive with a libertarian streak.

Though very bold, good, clean, thirsty, aggressive, righteous and vocal Alaskans are heavily representative of citizens of this great State of which Sarah was once the Chief Executive of (mandations of corporate cronyism aside) perhaps the saving grace there are people like you in there also too.

Good luck with the backlash, I'm sure you've experienced every bit of your own "wild ride" since Simple Sarah (Calamity Jane) was empowered by learned progressives before Wasilla went commercial.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Phil.

I continue to wonder where Dr CBJ has disappeared to and why. No matter what her involvement with the Palins, it seems to have ruined her medical career.

shaytripp said...

This is Shailey, I just want to let everyone know, APD’s Lt Dave Parker has admitted to Tiemessen, Palin’s lawyer calling him to ask him if he made a press release. The Atlantic, Malia Litman have wrote about this. Now I have too: and

Anonymous said...

Phil, it is so telling that, except for the two feeble, ghostwritten 'statements' by Sarah's purse carrier, Todd, and her brother, Chuckie, not a single friend, acquaintance or co-worker has spoken out in the Quitter's defense.

And $he has not posted a word on Twitter or Facebook for several weeks - only coming out of hiding for a contractually obligated appearance on Hannity/FOX, where of course, she gets to dictate what can/cannot be asked. The only ones who have defended her are people in the L48 who don't know her or anything about Alaska.

In Joe's book, he quotes retired state trooper Gary Wheeler who provided security for her and two previous governors. Wheeler said "Sarah Palin's no mama grizzly; she's a rabid wolf. Take a look at the snow: wherever she's been, there's a trail of blood in her wake."

The entire Paylin clan are hide away cowards, liars and bullies.

Mule Breath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mule Breath said...

Anonymous says, "The only ones who have defended her are people in the L48 who don't know her or anything about Alaska."

Here in Texas the same can be said for our long-time Guv. Goodhair, but you in AK have our clown to thank as the reason your clown hasn't entered the freak show. If she had announced first, ours wouldn't have entered either.

There just ain't enough room even in the Repuglican party for that much stupid in a single room.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the book salon Phil! McGinniss is getting an unfair shake from the media. I think it's proving their just generally lame and not skewed toward writing against poor Sawah.

Anonymous said...

I'm still working my way through the book and enjoying it a great deal. If the Wasilla Welcome Wagon are your friends you must be a lucky man. They sound like warm-hearted people.

Anonymous said...

I haven't received my book from Amazon yet so I haven't been able to read it. (Next time, I will not order ahead but simply go to Fireside!) In any case, I wanted to comment on the climate of fear that Joe McGinniss mentions with regard to talking about Sarah. I was one of many folks who met with him last summer. I do know that many people didn't want to talk about her or say negative things. Here's my theory as to why - a lot of us have State jobs and we just don't want to jeopardize is not so much fear of retribution from the Palins (Sarah is no longer Governor after all) but this is a fairly small State and I think people have to be careful about saying hateful things about anyone in power because it really can lead to problems later on with jobs and career. Well, that's my two cents. PS I personally know many lawyers with State jobs who are ultra careful about talking poltics at is just not worth it.

Anonymous said...

You take the molecule out of another and you've got a concealed carrying progressive with a libertarian streak. Hey when did they talk to me???

Anonymous said...

You take the molecule out of another and you've got a concealed carrying progressive with a libertarian streak. Hey when did they talk to me???