By David Weigel
Saturday, May 29, 2010; C01
According to Joe McGinniss, the offer to rent the house next to Sarah Palin's came because the landlord trusted him to respect the former governor's privacy.
"She was talking to this mutual friend of ours and said, 'I've got to find someone we're comfortable with. My biggest concern is the Palins' privacy, especially the children,' " McGinniss said Friday evening from his Wasilla, Alaska, house, in one of his first interviews on the subject. "So this mutual friend said, 'Well, you know, I think you're in luck. Joe McGinniss is going to be coming back here, and you couldn't find a better guy, just the right sort of person to move in and guarantee their privacy.' "
But upon learning of her new neighbor, Palin accused McGinniss of moving into the house to spy on her family. "Wonder what kind of material he'll gather while overlooking Piper's bedroom, my little garden, and the family's swimming hole?" she wrote on her Facebook page.
Palin also called in to Glenn Beck's radio talk show to discuss McGinniss. "He's an odd character, if you look at his history, and the things that he's written and the things he's been engaged in," she said.
Her allies quickly took up the issue. Beck, another conservative icon, called it "really creepy" that the author had moved in next door, and others accused him of stalking Palin.
McGinniss had maintained a public silence through it all, but Friday, he agreed to talk to a handful of reporters by telephone. He said that he simply hadn't anticipated Palin's response.
"I would term this hysterical," he said.
McGinniss returned to Alaska to continue work on his Palin biography, but a room at the Best Western, not far away, would have been prohibitively expensive. The rental house, though, was only $1,500 a month. Sold.
Although McGinniss was new to the neighborhood, he wasn't new to the Palins. He had written a Portfolio piece about her leadership and a critical Daily Beast piece on her book tour for her memoir, "Going Rogue."
But he'd hoped to keep things civil and introduce himself anew when he first came across Palin and her husband, Todd.
" 'I wanted to say, 'I'm writing this book, but I hope we can just get along as good neighbors, and after that, you'll never hear from me again,' " McGinniss said. "That's basically what I told Todd on Monday when he came over. He didn't really want to hear that.
"He took off on how my Portfolio piece was a bunch of lies, and a smear, and all this and all that, and he said, 'You going to be putting the microphones in now, and the surveillance cameras?' I said, 'Listen, you don't know how lucky you are that I'm renting this place because that's exactly what's not going to happen as long as I'm here. I won't see you, you don't see me, this will be fine.'
"He talked for a few more minutes beyond that, and he got, I'd say, increasingly hostile. And then he left, and I was still out here on this deck, where I'm sitting right now, when they took that picture for Facebook."
After Sarah Palin posted that photo Tuesday and wrote about McGinniss, radio host Mark Levin gave out the author's e-mail address and McGinniss got 5,000 messages in four hours, eventually shutting down the account. Wasilla police and state troopers are keeping a watchful eye on the place.
"The mayor said to me, when I chatted with him in his office a couple of days ago," McGinniss said. " 'You know, if Sarah had the brains that we like to think she has, Todd would have come back and said, do you know who's living next door? This son of a bitch McGinniss who wrote that Portfolio piece. He's writing a book about you. Sarah should have baked a plate of cookies, and come around the fence, and said hi, and laughed about this.' I would have happily accepted a cookie, and then in my book I would have had a lovely scene about how gracious she had been." He sighed. "She is, in many ways, a very gracious person."
McGinniss said he was offended by the way Palin described his presence next door. Contrary to what Palin wrote on Facebook, he said, he can't see into the windows of the family's home, and he can't hear the Palins' conversations.
Palin intimated that McGinniss could watch the family when it went swimming, but he said that only the edge of their land near the lake was visible from his property. He said he was deeply offended by the implication, not thinly veiled in Palin's note and subsequent interview with Beck, that he would be peering in on the children.
"These little kids, I couldn't care less about them," McGinniss said. "I have my own kids and grandkids to care about."
McGinniss added that he had been a responsible neighbor, shooing off a pair of Minnesota tourists who stepped onto his property to take photos of the Palins' home.
"Look, this is a pain in the ass for them," he said. "I understand that. If I were her, I'd be upset. I'd be annoyed. But I'd be an adult about it, and I would figure out, okay, how can we resolve this in a way that's not going to make this into something that everybody gets obsessive about? By being here, I have learned things, and I've gotten an insight into her character, into her ability to incite hatred, that before I only knew about in the abstract."