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'The Rogue' has a clear message

Writer Joe McGinniss really doesn't like Palin

Posted: September 29, 2011 - 12:01am  |  Updated: September 29, 2011 - 12:03am

Joe McGinniss hopes “The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin” will undermine her credibility and prevent her from ever attaining a position of national importance.

How he goes about trying to take her down certainly undermines someone’s credibility, but McGinniss’ journalistic choices are likely to make readers as suspect of his motives as he is of Palin’s.

With a book subject as well known and as much written about as Palin, he needed a new hook to make the book stand out. He seems to have found one: It is a book about writing a book, a rehash of Palin news coverage, commentary and anonymous blog postings, wrapped in a story about his visit to Alaska while writing the book.

That saga includes his renting the Wasilla house next door to the Palin home, along with excruciating detail about travels to interview foes of the former governor in other cities, and what they ate during the interviews.

Given the options available to McGinniss after Palin refused interviews, that may not have been a bad strategy. But what worked for Michael Moore in “Roger & Me” fails in “The Rogue.”

Much of that part of the book is simply mundane, no matter how delicious each meal of grilled salmon may have been.

And McGinniss does no better on policy.

He seemed to spend much of his time in Wasilla trying to confirm his notion Palin wasn’t just a hockey mom, but a dangerous religious wacko.

It turns out that while Palin may well indeed have some deeply held religious beliefs, McGinniss’ clumsy attempts to prove that they make her unfit to govern fall flat.

After spending the bulk of his reporting trip to Alaska interviewing Palin’s enemies and seeking evidence to support his conclusions, he simply wasn’t able to come up with a smoking gun to prove the wacko angle. Rather than acknowledging failure, he manufactured one.

He tried to link Palin to a number of fringe religious figures in the national and international arena, and seems to suggest she personally agreed with every sermon she may have heard from them.

Sometimes, McGinniss seems to suggest Palin must also support every sermon given in every church she may have at some time attended, or every sermon those leaders gave elsewhere, whether she heard it or not.

That Palin used the same tactic against President Barack Obama may have some irony to it, but that’s not enough to justify its use by a journalist.

One of those churches Palin attended is in Juneau, by the way, where McGinniss says she attended the Juneau Christian Center, “an Assembly of God affiliate whose pastor railed against evolution.”

As governor, McGinniss claimed to have found evidence of “the first glimpse she gave the public of how her religion spilled into areas of policy.”

At the time, however, local observers saw those same actions McGinniss criticizes as indications of Palin’s pragmatism and support for the Alaska Constitution.

Among the first controversies the new governor confronted in 2006 was a pair of bills passed when former Gov. Frank Murkowski was in office, but on which he’d taken no action.

One, clearly unconstitutional, would have barred the state from providing same-sex partner benefits to public employees, as had just been required by the Alaska Supreme Court.

A second bill passed by the Legislature asked the public to weigh in on the issue in an advisory vote about a constitutional amendment.

Palin vetoed the first bill. Her attorney general, who McGinniss notes was “born-again,” advised her that signing the bill would be unconstitutional.

That veto was unpopular with anti-gay activists, many of them from the same religious background as Palin, but she said signing the bill would violate her oath to uphold and defend the Alaska Constitution.

McGinniss glossed over that, and instead focused on her signing the advisory vote bill, which he described as her seeking to amend the Constitution in order to overturn the court order.

Despite Palin’s taking office after the bill had passed, McGinniss claims it was she who “pushed the referendum bill through the legislature.”

He later also claimed to have found evidence of her religious fervor when she implemented the law the Legislature had passed and she had signed, saying her actions included “even setting aside $1.2 million in the budget to cover its cost.”

While McGinniss claims Palin supported repealing same-sex partner benefits, it was a legislative committee, not Palin, which later introduced legislation aiming to repeal the benefits.

The legislature’s referendum strategy appears to have been ill-conceived. Rather than producing the hoped-for overwhelming vote, the slim margin of victory inspired opponents.

The repeal bill failed to pass and efforts at repeal have since waned.

McGinniss’ first foray into Palin’s Alaska was to write a piece for the now-defunct Portfolio magazine in which he attacked her Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. He returns to the topic in “The Rogue.”

McGinniss argues Palin and Alaska erred when it sought an independent natural gas pipeline to connect the North Slope with Lower 48 markets, and said Alaska should instead rely on the state’s big oil companies do it.

In Portfolio, McGinniss mocked Alaska’s independent effort, noting key player Exxon Mobil Corp. was sitting on the sidelines, and said ConocoPhillips and BP’s competing Denali pipeline was the way to go.

Now, two years later, with Denali abandoned and Exxon Mobil joining the AGIA process, McGinniss held firm on his belief anything Palin supports must be wrong.

Despite Denali’s failure, McGinniss continues to support it over the AGIA pipeline, even incorrectly quoting the Juneau Empire as urging support for Denali.

That editorial was actually in the Alaska Journal of Commerce. In defense of our sister publication, it was, unlike “The Rogue,” written before ConocoPhillips and BP folded Denali.

Failing to prove what he needed to prove, McGinniss bolsters the book with a healthy number of titillating allegations of infidelity, drug use and even a faked pregnancy.

Most of the “The Rogue’s” supposed revelations are too thinly sourced for actual journalists to check out, and are unlikely to sway the views of fans of the Mama Grizzly, in the unlikely event they pick up the book.

And for those who already don’t like Caribou Barbie, they may find McGinniss’ attacks on her enjoyable, but they’ll learn little they can count on.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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