Sarah from Alaska Is a Palin Counterpoint
Two reporters doubt not that she wants to be president
Sarah Palin remains such a polarizing figure that mere mention of her name sparks emotions “ranging from adoration to abhorrence,” say the authors of a new biography on the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee.
In Sarah from Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar, Shushannah Walshe (CGS’99, COM’01) and Scott Conroy write that supporters see Palin, with her conservative ideals and ability to connect with voters, as “Ronald Reagan in high heels.” Critics see “a telegenic yet intellectually vapid amateur” and think Dan Quayle.
The truth is more complex, say the authors, who covered Palin’s campaign, Walshe as a reporter and producer at Fox News Channel and Conroy as a campaign reporter for CBS News. The two recently visited the Borders bookstore in downtown Boston to talk about their book, which chronicles Palin’s rise to the governorship of Alaska, her campaign as John McCain’s running mate, and the events leading to her resignation.
No matter what you think about her politics, Walshe and Conroy write, anyone who rockets from small-town mayor to “the biggest draw in the Republican party must be doing something right.”
Conroy recalls that during the first half of Palin’s campaign, her staff isolated her from the press. But later, “when she decided to go rogue,” she would frequently chat with reporters, who found her extremely personable, Conroy says. “We always say, when you meet her face-to-face, she’s impossible not to like.”
At the same time, they describe Palin as thin-skinned and sharp-elbowed, demanding loyalty from colleagues and staff but offering none in return, a politician whose instincts range from sound to way off-target. Walshe describes the morning of Palin’s first interview with Katie Couric of CBS News. Instead of doing some last-minute prep with senior aides, Palin worked on a questionnaire from the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, her hometown newspaper. “She really felt that she was going to go on Katie Couric and wing it,” Walshe says. The segments, by all accounts, were disastrous.
These days, Palin’s relationship with the press is nothing short of antagonistic, says Walshe. She recalls the reaction when she and Conroy ran into Palin’s young daughter Piper last winter in Juneau. They knew Piper from the campaign trail, and when they saw her on the street in front of the governor’s mansion, they asked her about school and moved on. “About an hour later, I received a voice mail from Palin’s press secretary, who accused us of stalking the governor,” says Walshe. “She said they didn’t appreciate us being in Alaska and added that we were trying to corner Piper at the bus stop for comment. Besides being completely ridiculous — no good journalist with any integrity would ever do that — it did give us a taste of how she governed. She really tried to intimidate us out of Alaska.”
The two were taken aback again last July, when Palin resigned as governor 18 months before the end of her first term. Looking back, says Conroy, they shouldn’t have been surprised: “For Sarah Palin, who was used to speaking in front of crowds of adoring fans — tens of thousands of people wherever she went — for her to return to that small state was really difficult. It became clear she just didn’t want to do this anymore.”
Those fans will likely be out in force when Palin embarks on her book tour. Her memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life, is due out today.
“She loves the adulation,” says Conroy. “She loves the crowds. Everywhere she goes, she’ll have people telling her, ‘You’ve got to run for president.’ And that kind of thing is going to connect with her.”
Walshe and Conroy have no doubt that Palin wants to be commander in chief.
“It’s hard for a lot of people to fathom that, quite frankly,” says Conroy. “They just did a poll — 70 percent of the country doesn’t think she’s qualified to be president. Having said that, she’s been underestimated throughout her whole career.”
Cynthia K. Buccini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments