Joe McGinniss is no longer surprised at the hate engendered by his new biography, The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin. "Did you see this crazy blogger, Stacy McCain, saying he's starting a legal fund for Todd Palin?" he asks. The blog post appeals for $25 donations 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."
That was posted Thursday, but McGinniss has long been familiar with the passions the Palins arouse. In May 2010, he lucked into a cheap rental home that happened to be next to the Palins' house. Palin publicly shamed McGinniss for doing it. McGinniss prints in his book some of the hate mail he received, and says that it temporarily made his research harder to do.
After the fury died down, McGinniss conducted "at least a couple of hundred interviews from "people who, despite the intimidation and the fear, were willing to talk." The juiciest quotes and stories in The Rogue come from anonymous sources, but McGinniss says he nixed "90 percent of the anecdotes I heard," sticking to the ones he could confirm. Todd Palin has opted to knock the book down by quoting his own anonymous sources, who say McGinniss "was the most disingenuous and intellectual [sic] dishonest writer they'd ever dealt with."
"That's probably about AGIA," says McGinniss, referring to a gas pipeline project that Palin championed but couldn't make work. It was the focus of his first long article about Palin in 2009. "Todd still has a hair across his ass about that." Maybe the Palins are desperate. "She hasn't even announced her candidacy. I don't think she's gonna run, do you? And now she's running third behind Perry and Romney."
Just in case Palin defies McGinniss and stays relevant, here's a guide to a few of the Palin personae McGinniss sketches in The Rogue. Some of this stuff is so outrageous as to be unbelievable—c'mon, snorting cocaine off an oil drum in the great Alaskan wilderness?—and no doubt the fact-checkers and Palin partisans of the Internet will have a few thousand words to say about it over the coming weeks. But as McGinniss ruefully acknowledges in his final chapter, anything that has to do with Palin gets people chattering. Or, at least, starting legal-defense funds.
Sarah Palin, Neighbor
The first line of the book, dated May 22, 2010, is straightforward: "I moved in next door to Sarah Palin today." An evocative description of the Wasilla home he rented last year is illustrated by a snapshot of Lake Lucille, which both McGinniss and Palin have views of. There is a map of the area around the Palin home, illustrating where McGinniss lived. McGinniss reports that the Palins told the original owner that they were going to cut a path through her property. "Todd told her, very plainly, that Sarah was mayor and they could do whatever they wanted, and it would be a mistake for her to try and stop them." The Palins even put up a fence with the ugly back side facing the neighbor's house.
Later, once he learns who's living next door, Todd Palin pays McGinniss a visit, sporting a "First Dude" T-shirt and decrying his 2009 piece on AGIA. "We'll just see how long you stay around here," he says, wagging his finger.
Sarah Palin, Christian
One of Sarah's high-school classmates tells McGinniss that on bus trips, the future governor would "start preaching to us all about 'the Rapture.'… I remember even way back then she kept talking about how the Bible said the Middle East was going to be a bloodbath and that the end-times were upon us or drawing nigh or some such shit."
Palin won office in Wasilla with the help of evangelical Christians. "On her first day in office, Sarah changed the screen saver on the mayor's official computer to read GOD LOVES YOU SARAH PALIN." Phil Munger, whose band played at a commencement for homeschoolers that Palin spoke at, reports on her creationist views, saying she spoke of seeing "pictures that showed human footprints inside dinosaur tracks."
Later in the book, an anonymous source says Palin's religious creed might be an act. "There was no religion in that house. There was nothing about God. There was no Christ. Nobody prayed. There were no Bibles, there were no Christ Is in This Home signs."
Sarah Palin, Hedonist
Colleen Cottle, a recently acquired Wasilla source, unloads rumors to McGinniss like buckshot, including one about "Brad Hanson, with whom Sarah had the affair back when Brad and Todd were partners in the Polaris snowmobile store in Big Lake." This story, denied by the Palins when the National Enquirer first reported it, and denied again this week, reappears throughout the book.
This story pales before the already infamous Glen Rice anecdote. In 1987, according to McGinniss, Palin slept with the University of Michigan basketball star while she was a reporter for Anchorage's KTUU-TV and told friends that it was a mistake. "The thing that people remember is her freak-out," says an anonymous friend, "[and] how completely crazy she got: I fucked a black man! She was just horrified." Rice confirms the story to McGinniss, but he's puzzled by the secondhand report of regret. "Even after I left Alaska, we talked a lot on the phone."
And then there's Todd. J.C. McCavitt, an old friend, says Todd "has the most amazing beer-drinking capacity I've ever seen." An "attractive white woman" in Dillingham, Todd's hometown, recalls that he complimented her on her "great heart-shaped ass." A "friend" recalls a snow machine outing at Crosswinds Lake, where both Palins went rogue. "The cocaine was free flowing. Somebody found a fifty-five-gallon oil drum and turned it upside down and we were all doing cocaine lines off the top of the drum."
Sarah Palin, Gourmand
One friend recalls that Sarah wasn't much in the kitchen when she married Todd. "She can't cook shit. She couldn't do grilled cheese. She'd burn water." John Bitney, the husband of a woman who took care of Palin's kids, notes that when Todd was out, "I'd walk into that kitchen and Bristol and Willow would be sitting there with a burnt pot of Kraft Mac and cheese on the stove and they'd be trying to open one of those Ramen noodle packs, and Sarah would be up in her bedroom with the door closed saying she didn't want to be disturbed." On the governor's own diet: "One day she came in with Oreos, bread, bags of fast food, and she ate everything and then disappeared and came out of the bathroom later with blurry eyes, her hair up, and her knuckles red."
Sarah Palin, Parent
A far rougher accusation is that Palin didn't pay that much attention to her son Track's hockey career, with sources recalling that she wasn't at many games. "When Sarah did attend," writes McGinniss, "spectators recall that she cheered loudest not for goals, but on those occasions when Track knocked an opposing player down and hit him repeatedly with his stick."
Another friend says that Track Palin joined the army on the advice of his father: "You're gonna do this because you owe us. This is gonna look good for us and you're gonna do it." The state trooper who drove Track and Sarah to the enlistment office tells McGinniss that "there was quite a lot of emotion in the back seat of that car, but patriotism was not one of the emotions."
Jim Whitaker, a former mayor of Fairbanks who endorsed Obama for president in 2008, explains how he soured on Palin when they had a meeting in Anchorage and she blew off meeting with her son—who was returning from basic training—to rant about talk radio. "For at least another half hour we kept going, just talking about silly stuff."
In a long section about rumors that Sarah Palin's son Trig is not hers, McGinniss wonders why, the day Palin's water broke, Todd Palin seemingly used his BlackBerry only to talk about how "her speech kicked ass." McGinniss gives the theories about Trig's birth plenty of space. He endorses none of them. He hints that only a megalomaniac could carry out such a scheme.
Sarah Palin, Sexpot
In high school, a classmate claims, Palin liked to sleep in the nude, because "she said it wasn't healthy for girls to sleep with clothes on." Later on, Palin's rivals in her first mayoral race claim she spread rumors of them acting luridly in a step-aerobics class, telling the instructor that she felt uncomfortable because they were "ogling her butt." Another source claims that Palin once wore her workout clothes at home and sang "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-a-Lot, annoying Todd.* After getting to city hall, "someone who knew her well at the time" recounts Palin's attitude toward meetings. "I have to go to a fuckin' meeting tonight. … I got on my biggest push-up bra. I'm gonna get what I want tonight."
Correction, Sept. 16, 2011: This story originally misidentified the title of the Sir-Mix-a-Lot song that Sarah Palin sang along with. It is "Baby Got Back," not "I Like Big Butts."