josh rosner

NOT REALLY ABOUT PALIN

In Uncategorized on December 2, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Below my published review of Joe McGinniss’s ridiculous biography of Sarah Palin. I generally have a rule not to publish a review if I absolutely hated the book or I can’t find something nice to say about it. Every now and then I stumble across a book that is so bad that the negative review deserves to be published. I see it as an act of public service. This book is one of them. Over three years reviewing for the Canberra Times I’ve only published three negative reviews (this one included). Thankfully only one of them was by an Australian writer.

If you, like me, are interested in American politics, then you will ignore this review and read the book regardless. That is how it should be, I would do the same. But I maintain my thesis that this book is all about Joe McGinniss, not Sarah Palin, and that the last book he published with any redeeming value was his 1969 book: The Selling of the President, 1968, which came out of the unprecedented access he was given to the Nixon presidential campaign. Despite its brilliance, McGinniss seems to have spent everything he had – intellectually and creatively – on the one endeavour, because he certainly doesn’t appear to have anything left to say.

THE ROGUE. Searching for the Real Sarah Palin. Joe McGinniss. $32.95

Whenever I hear Sarah Palin’s name or see her in the media I can’t help but think of Tina Fey’s brilliant and hilarious impersonation of her on Saturday Night Live. Fey captured Palin’s sense of fashion, her vocal inflections and uncanny ability to mangle the English language with such perfection that the parody became more popular than the real thing.

When John McCain picked the then Alaskan Governor, Sarah Palin, as his vice presidential candidate for the 2008 election, there seemed to be many reasons to believe he had made a good decision. Palin was the first woman to be nominated vice president as a Republican and only the second, after Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, to run for vice president on a major party ticket. She was also the first Alaskan to be on the ticket of either party.

“She’s got grit, integrity, good sense and fierce devotion to the common good that is exactly what we need in Washington today,” McCain said at the time. Between the announcement and the election, Palin proved herself to be gaffe-prone and ill-prepared for the rigours of a national political campaign.

Whether you love her or loathe her, she has the right to be treated fairly in the media and to not be subjected to speculation in the guise of well-researched journalism. In his book, ‘The Rogue. Searching for the Real Sarah Palin’, journalist and author Joe McGinniss has attempted, as suggested by the blurb on the inside cover, to present a “controversial and much anticipated investigative chronicle of Sarah Palin as an individual, politician, and cultural phenomenon.” He failed.

McGinniss was twenty-six years old when his phenomenal bestseller, ‘The Selling of the President, 1968’, was published in 1969. McGinniss was given access to the Nixon presidential campaign and he used the experience to write a book that revealed – shockingly, for the era – that Nixon was being sold to the American electorate like a product. The original cover to the book showed Nixon’s face on a packet of cigarettes, suggesting the idea that marketing, advertising and public relations professionals playing a role in a presidential campaign was somehow dirty. Today, the idea that candidates are packaged and presented as a product is common-place. ‘The Selling of the President, 1968’ was, and remains, a brilliant piece of political writing.

Thirty years later, McGinniss seems to have forgotten why he wrote that book and why it was an important contribution to the genre. He wrote twelve more books of fiction and non-fiction – some better than others – before starting research in 2008 on a magazine article about then-governor Palin’s plan to build a $26 billion natural gas pipeline across Alaska. The seed of an idea was planted and McGinniss thought it a good idea to rent the house next-door to Sarah Palin while he researched and conducted interviews for ‘The Rogue’.

It’s no understatement to suggest the Palins were not happy to have McGinniss as a neighbour. Palin wrote on her Facebook page, “Wonder what kind of material he’ll gather while overlooking Piper’s bedroom, my little garden, and the family’s swimming hole?”

I confess that I’m no fan of Sarah Palin’s. Despite the difficult presidency Barack Obama has had, I’m happy McCain and Palin did not win. The world is a better place for it. But that does not mean I don’t find it particularly creepy that McGinniss thought it appropriate to rent the house next-door to Palin while he wrote a book about her. It also does not mean that I don’t find it disturbing that he provides driving instructions, including a map, to her house.

The back cover of this book is adorned with glowing reviews, praising McGinniss and his talents. Had they read the same book as me? “Devastatingly funny and angry … “ from the Washington Post. “Stinging, bitterly comic … “ from the New York Times.

‘The Rogue’ is neither devastatingly funny or bitterly comic. What had I missed? I read the back cover again and then it became clear. They were reviews of ‘The Selling of the President’, not ‘The Rogue’. The publishers of ‘The Rogue’ have engaged in a marketing campaign. They have packaged the book, and it’s author, as a product:  McGinniss the funny and insightful author.

Sarah Palin’s name appears on the cover of the ‘The Rogue’. Her name even appears on almost every single page within. But this isn’t a book about Sarah Palin. Not really. It’s about Joe McGinniss. And even when writing a book about himself he has little of interest to say.

Copies of ‘Selling the President, 1968’ can be found at various online book retailers. I highly recommend you invest your time there instead.

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