Sarah Palin doesn’t deserve this. Neither does any other similarly situated public figure, whether on the political right, left or in the middle. But worthiness has nothing to do with this, not when there’s a chance of driving up book sales and bringing down the celebrity you despise at the same time.

Enter Joe McGinniss.

His new book, “The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin,” claims that the former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate had a tryst in 1987 with basketball star Glen Rice when he was in Alaska to play in a tournament with his University of Michigan team. Whether it’s true or false, the story is making the rounds. It’s a shame.

If the book was supposed to be about Sarah Palin, then it should have been about Palin.

This episode isn’t. There was no Sarah Palin in 1987. At the time of the Thanksgiving Great Alaska Shootout basketball tournament at the University of Alaska in Anchorage nearly 25 years ago, the 23-year-old woman who allegedly hooked up with Rice was an unmarried TV sports reporter named Sarah Heath.

This has nothing to do with today’s Sarah Palin. It’s irrelevant and none of our business.

To justify McGinniss’s prying eyes, my Post colleague Erik Wemple, who blogs on the media, noted that Palin had indicated in a 2006 Eagle Forum questionnaire that she supported funding abstinence-only education programs instead of teaching sex-education programs. “Explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support,” Palin reportedly wrote in the conservative group’s questionnaire.

Wemple wrote, “These two sentences open all kinds of ethical doors for reporters.” He went on to say that a national politician’s premarital sex habits of nearly a quarter-century ago “move into the realm of fair game once that politician starts pushing abstinence education. Hypocrisy is a quality that must be exposed.”

Is a bit of a double standard at work here? Since when did abstinence advocates start getting scrutinized for evidence of sexual activity before marriage?

A leading champion of abstinence education in Congress, Indiana Republican Rep. Mark Souder, was never investigated to find out whether he had engaged in premarital sex. Souder did quit the House last year after it was revealed that he, a married man, was having an affair with a staffer — a woman who reportedly helped him produce pro-abstinence videos, according to the Nation’s John Nichols. But that’s another matter.

In 2007, David Obey, a Wisconsin Democratic liberal lion and then the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, came out in support of abstinence-only education. Did that warrant a probe into Obey’s premarital sexual habits? No way. Besides, a reporter trying that with the Dave Obey I know would not have lived to write about it.

The list of high-profile abstinence advocates of the male persuasion would probably fill an NFL roster. Yet no one bothers to find out if any of them ever had sex before entering into what abstinence-proponent Souder called a “committed, faithful relationship.”

Of course, there’s another reason McGinniss’s account about Palin and Rice has gone viral, firing up the blogosphere to a fare-thee-well. The story paints a picture of a spirited and attractive young white woman having a one-night stand with a tall, muscular, athletic black man — a teeth-grating image for some insecure white men that probably strikes them right where they live.

Now let that woman be Sarah Palin, the very picture of virtuous white womanhood, and let the black man be an NBA hoopster, and you can see why the National Enquirer would run with McGinniss’s story the way Jesse James ran away with his bank loot.

It’s no stretch to say this episode tells us something about our culture, and about our beliefs and behavior and how inconsistent they are.

We profess to respect privacy and personal freedom. We pretend to be tolerant. And we probably are — toward those we like, especially the ones who share our political agendas.

But let the object of our attention be a public figure we hate, and anything goes.

I’m no Sarah Palin fan. Narcissistic, demagogic, opportunistic and with a dark side? No argument there. But this is no way to treat anyone. Sarah Palin deserves better.

kingc@washpost.com