Who is more intellectually dishonest: Sarah Palin or Joe McGinniss, the journalist whose Palin biography The Rogue comes out next week? Whose version of reality is more distorted in their own favor? It may be a draw.
McGinniss, whose credibility has deteriorated somewhat in the decades since he wrote the bestsellingThe Selling of the President 1968, was on NBC’s Today show this morning to defend a book that the New York Times' Janet Maslin says is filled with “caustic, unsubstantiated gossip.” He has called Palin an “absolute and utter fraud,” a lap dancer and a “tenth-grade mean girl,” bombastic descriptions which rather undermine his book’s claims (reported yesterday in the National Enquirer) about Palin’s drug use and affairs. “Those were kind words compared to a lot of what you would hear in Wasilla today,’’ McGinniss told Savannah Guthrie on Today, expanding on the “mean girl” remark. “The thing that I found, Savannah, that really surprised me was that the people who know her best like her least.’’
That may be so, but as the Times review reveals, McGinniss can’t help undercutting his observations about the former Alaska governor with bizarre, thinly sourced accusations about everything from the truth of whether she really gave birth to baby Trig to the state of the Palins’ toilet. (“A journalist as seasoned as Mr. McGinniss surely knows what these details will do to his credibility regarding the book’s more serious claims,” Maslin writes.) In an excerpt of The Rogue, McGinniss recounts at length the naughty gossip told to him by his friend Colleen, who supposedly “knows everything there is to know about Wasilla.” Colleen tells him just who Bristol Palin is dating now, and who Track is dating (first and last names, of course), and how Todd has become paranoid and uppity now that he’s got money. Are these things true, and if so, how do we know? Are these merely Colleen’s ruminations? The excerpt doesn’t give guidance about how seriously to take any of this, except that McGinniss' choice to put it in print gives it the imprimatur of fact.
It is possible that, after so many instances in which Palin has milked the notion that she’s under attack--by her political enemies, by the lamestream media, for daring to ask her questions--reality has at last caught up with her siege mentality. It’s precisely because it is so easy for the Palin camp to make claims of ill intentions and poor judgment against anyone writing about her that The Rogue deserved to be written by someone with purer motives and a greater regard for accuracy. Well, and because there are such things as facts, and they matter.
But then, the Palin camp is serving up its own strange version of reality, too. Todd gave a statement to NBC in response to McGinniss’ book in which he seemed to imply that McGinniss had, erm, romantic intentions toward his wife:
I'd ask the fathers and husbands of America to consider our privacy when one summer day I found this guy on the deck of the rental property, just 18 feet away next door to us, staring like a creep at my wife while she mowed the lawn in her shorts. … Joe's son told the media he advised his dad not to move from the East Coast to become our next door neighbor, but said his dad "was just waiting for Todd to be out of the picture.”
Correction, Sept. 15, 2011: This post incorrectly described Today as being on ABC instead of NBC.