Review: Biography: The Rogue: Searching For The Real Sarah Palin by Joe McGinniss
Crown Books (NY) $25
Published 01/10/2011 | 05:00
In just 320 pages, author Joe McGinniss has managed to achieve what one disastrous vice-presidential candidacy and a host of angry liberal commentators have failed to do: he has made Sarah Palin a figure of sympathy.
In this poorly sourced, salaciously written tome, the veteran political author dredges up unsubstantiated hearsay about the former Alaskan governor, including her "fetish for black guys", her alleged affair with her husband's business partner and her taste for the odd line of cocaine which she once, according to McGinniss, snorted off a 55-gallon oil drum while snowmobiling.
McGinniss, who once earned acclaim for his ground-breaking 1968 book about Richard Nixon, The Selling of the President, bases his sensational claims about Palin on a host of unnamed sources.
Given his subject's polarising image, a few anonymous quotes would seem forgivable. But McGinniss's book is jam-packed with unnamed sources, making this attempt at political profiling more like an exercise in celebrity expose.
One anonymous "schoolmate" offers up that Palin, a former high-school basketball star, had a propensity for sleeping naked on school athletic trips.
"There would be these pictures of Abraham Lincoln looking down, and Sarah would be walking around naked. It was a little bit weird," the source said.
Another "friend" addresses rumours that Palin hooked up with the 6ft 8in University of Michigan basketball star, Glen Rice, in 1987, while she was working as a sports reporter for an Alaskan TV station.
"I can't say I know they had sex, but I remember Sarah feeling pretty good that she'd been with a black basketball star," the anonymous friend says, while another "friend" states the vice-presidential candidate was "freaked out" after her alleged encounter with Rice. "The thing that people remember is her freak-out, how completely crazy she got: 'I f**ked a black guy!' She was just horrified."
Palin is painted as a horrible mother -- "She can't cook sh*t . . . she'd burn water" says an "old friend" -- and a taxing wife to her long-suffering husband, Todd.
"They don't have a marriage," Sarah's brother, Chuckie, is alleged to have confided to a friend. "I don't know why they live together."
Even some liberal commentators, who have long held Alaska's most infamous 'Mama Grizzly' in great disdain, are sympathetic to Palin for the public smearing she receives at McGinniss's clumsy hands.
The author Meryl Gordon, who has written about other leading politicians, including John Kerry and Elizabeth Edwards, found McGinniss's book to be "entertaining . . . but unreliable".
If you read this book, you don't think she's ever done a good thing in her life. She's a bad mother, she's a bad politician, she's a bad wife," Gordon said after reading the book.
"And I don't think he (McGinniss) was even looking for anything balanced or positive about her. He went in with an agenda, and he came out with one."
McGinniss's agenda was made clear in May 2010 when he controversially moved next door to the Palins' residence in Wasilla, Alaska, while researching the book.
"Forty years in the business and I've never had a piece of luck like this," he writes about the opportunity to rent a cabin next to the Palins. While McGinniss sets about his research, his new digs in Wasilla suddenly provide the hook the book is searching for. Entire self-pitying passages are devoted to his decision to move next door to his subject.
He chronicles the outrage of the Palins when they discover the identity of their new neighbour, the hate mail and death threats he receives when a right-leaning radio commentator publishes his email address, and the slamming he receives on Fox News for his alleged "stalking" of his subject.
After a while, the book seems to be more about McGinniss's mistreatment at the hands of Palin and her fans, and less about the politician herself.
As the deadline approaches for Palin to declare once and for all whether she is a genuine contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, the hockey mom's political star seems to be rapidly fading in the more dazzling light of fellow Tea Party darlings Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.
Palin's massive fall in popularity -- a recent Bloomberg poll found that 66pc of Americans hold an unfavourable view of her -- might explain why The Rogue has been slow to sell in the US.
But it may have more to do with McGinniss's smutty handling of his subject and his abandonment of basic journalistic principles.
Ironically, the woman that McGinniss has branded a "fake" and a "vindictive hypocrite" may, in the end, have a lot to thank him for.