In a sense—the media-showbiz sense—Joe McGinniss and Sarah Palin are married to each other. It’s a very bad marriage, to be sure, and they are obviously headed for a nasty divorce. But for the moment, they are yoked together in the spotlight, feeding each other’s resentments, enabling their respective narratives of victimization, and ultimately hoping to squeeze some mutual benefit out of their otherwise toxic bond.
Best-case scenario: the former Republican vice presidential candidate, current non-presidential candidate, and Fox News personality—her continuing relevance certified by a famous writer—gets more lucrative speaking engagements and more support from her fervent followers. And the 68-year-old McGinniss, whose gossipy and often scandalous biography, The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin, is just out from Crown, gets another bestseller.
McGinniss dismisses the notion that his unremitting hatchet job on the former Alaska governor—who, in his account, is not just a bully, but also a religious nut, a racist, a bulimic, and a bad mother who occasionally snorted cocaine and strayed from her marriage—will engender widespread sympathy for Palin as the defenseless prey of a left-wing stalker. “I don’t know anyone who’s not a card-carrying member of the Tea Party who would believe something as foolish as that,” he tells Newsweek.
But already, McGinniss’s reliance on anonymous sources to repeat scurrilous rumors about the Palins has come under fire from critics unconnected with the Tea Party, notably The New York Times’s Janet Maslin, who trashed the book’s contents as “dated, petty and easily available to anyone with Internet access,” as well as rife with “caustic, unsubstantiated gossip.”
McGinniss defends his methods—which include devoting many pages to speculation that baby Trig, who suffers from Down syndrome, isn’t really Sarah’s—by noting that most of his sources wouldn’t go on the record because they were worried the Palins would exact revenge. “I would say that 90 percent of what I learned is not in the book because I couldn’t check it out,” he says. “I wrote only the things I was able to satisfy myself about as to their authenticity, as to their accuracy, as to their truthfulness.”
McGinniss says he decided which sources were credible “on the basis of 40-plus years in journalism. By this point in my career, if I can’t tell what’s true and what somebody’s making up for nefarious reasons, I’ve been in the wrong business all this time.”
The Rogue’s biggest news nugget is McGinniss’s claim that when she was a young sports reporter for a local television station in 1987, Sarah had a one-night stand with basketball star Glen Rice, who is black.
McGinniss speculates that they did the deed in a college dorm room in Anchorage or possibly a hotel. But when he actually interviewed the former Miami Heat star, he didn’t directly ask him if they had sex. Instead, McGinniss asked: “So you never had the feeling she felt bad about having sex with a black guy?” Rice’s reply: “No, no, no, nothing like that.”
Despite the ambiguity of that response, McGinniss insists, “I think it’s pretty clear ... That’s certainly the impression I came away with.” Rice didn’t respond to Newsweek’s request for comment.
A publicity-savvy media star since the publication of his still-classic campaign book, The Selling of the President, in 1969, McGinniss claims he was surprised by the Palins’ reaction in May 2010, when he rented the house next door to the family homestead in Wasilla. As he recounts in The Rogue, Sarah’s real husband, Todd, made his displeasure clear on a visit to their unwanted neighbor a couple of days after McGinniss moved in. Sarah herself followed up with a Facebook post accusing the writer (erroneously, McGinniss says) of ogling her and her children from “about 15 feet away on the neighbor’s rented deck.” Death threats ensued.
“I wrote the best book about her I was able to write,” McGinniss says. “Now if that causes people to feel sorry for her, I would suggest they might be missing the point. Maybe I should have made it a little stronger.” (Todd issued a statement rebutting the book’s allegations.)
McGinniss says his next project will probably be a biography of Bruce Springsteen, and he’s hoping to secure The Boss’s cooperation. But he has no plans to move in next door. “I don’t think I could afford the rent.”