The Whole Kit and Ca-doodle

The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber makes a find that demonstrates why those time-honored journalistic mandates—”go there,” “check it out,” “gather evidence”—have become mandates in the first place. While in Alaska, reporting his excellent TNR profile of Sarah Palin, Scheiber found this fascinating bit of Sarah-bilia—a leaf of paper from the Wasilla city budget (from 1996, when Palin was a member of the City Council), the back of which is home to a doodly brainstorm Palin conducted, trying out possible themes for her mayoral campaign:

TNR has also provided a close-up, readable version, which you can find (as a PDF) here.

Scheiber explains how he came into possession of the revealing document:

I stumbled across it at the home of Laura Chase, a former colleague of Palin’s on the Wasilla city council who later managed her first race for mayor….

Toward the end of our interview, Chase brought out a box of odds and ends she’d saved from that campaign and emptied it onto her kitchen table. Buried in the pile of material were various pictures, mailings, correspondences, newspaper clippings—and this page of doodling. Chase didn’t remember a ton about it, but did tell me it had been written on the back of a budget document, which (she seemed to think) had been distributed at a Wasilla city council meeting.

In an editorial published in the May/June issue of the magazine, we noted, “The current presidential election is arguably the most important in recent history, given the magnitude of the problems the winner will confront on day one—yet fewer seasoned reporters are questioning both candidates and voters; fewer journalists are out bearing witness.”

The revealing bit of documentary evidence Scheiber came across in his reporting—a single piece of paper that suggests, in a small but significant way, the workings of a candidate’s mind and her own political self-perceptions—is a tiny-but-still-meaningful reminder of what’s to be gained by journalists going out there, gathering information, and, yes, bearing witness.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.