On Palin (“Off The Record?”)

Some excerpts from Michael Joseph Gross’s, er, unflattering Vanity Fair piece on Sarah Palin — a piece that brought Politico’s Ben Smith to the conclusion, after identifying at least one anecdote “embellished almost beyond recognition,” that “you can really write anything about Palin.” Just…unattributed.

Writes Gross:

This spring and summer I traveled to Alaska and followed Palin’s road show through four midwestern states, speaking with whomever I could induce to talk under whatever conditions of anonymity they imposed—political strategists, longtime Palin friends and political associates, hotel staff, shopkeepers and hairstylists, and high-school friends of the Palin children.

More on that:

[V]irtually no one who knows Palin well is willing to talk about her on the record, whether because they are loyal and want to protect her (a small and shrinking number), or because they expect her prominence to grow and intend to keep their options open, or because they fear she will exact revenge, as she has been known to do.

And, in Wasilla:

So many people answer “Off the record?” to my initial questions that it almost seems the whole town has had media training. They certainly have issues with the press. Some tell of reporters who seduced them with promises—Don’t worry, I’ll make you look good—and then published stories that made them out to be hicks, stupid, less-than. “These were people we let into our house,” one Wasilla resident says. “We served them food.”

Speaking of serving food to reporters (and of anonymous sources), here’s what “one longtime friend of the family” told Gross:

“That woman has never hunted. The picture of her with the caribou she says she shot? She got out of the R.V. to pose for a picture. She never helps with the fishing either. It’s all a joke.” The friend goes on to recall that when [Fox News’s] Greta Van Susteren came to the house to interview Palin “[Sarah] cooked moose chili and whatnot. Todd was calling everyone he knew the day before—‘Do you got any moose?’ Desperate.”

Here’s what Palin said about the provenance of that moose meat during Van Susteren’s November 2008 interview:

VAN SUSTEREN: You made the chili?

PALIN: I did.

VAN SUSTEREN: It’s delicious.

PALIN: Thank you very much.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who shot the moose, though?

PALIN: I think that maybe my dad did, or maybe my mom did. I just grab some moose meat out of the freezer because we didn’t have any moose meat in our freezer the last couple of days.

VAN SUSTEREN: You stole moose meat from your parents?

PALIN: I did…

One final media-centric bit from Gross’s piece:

The Anchorage Daily News no longer has a beat reporter assigned to Palin. Owing to newsroom cuts, the paper has no staff to spare, and editors reportedly see Palin as “a nonentity” in Alaska now—a phenomenon primarily of concern to the rest of the country (collectively referred to as “outside”).

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.