Post Politics: In 'Going Rogue,' Sarah Palin looks at '08 conflicts, political future

Michael Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 17, 2009; 11:00 AM

Post staff writer Michael Shear has read an advanced copy of Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue," and took your questions about the former Alaska governor's reflection on the 2008 presidential race and her political future.


Michael Shear: Good Morning, everyone.

Are we gonna have fun today? You betcha! Let's talk Palin Politics. I've read most of the book (my colleague and I split it up yesterday). There are some fun passages -- but alas, this is not an audio chat, or I'd do some readings. There are also some serious moments in the book, and some pretty serious score settling.

So let's get at it.


New York: Now that the book is out, do you think CBS News will post online the unedited Couric-Palin interviews so we can see the substantive portions that were allegedly edited out?

Michael Shear: Let's start here. This occurred to me as I was reading it, too. The former governor talks at length in the book about how the interviews (plural) with Couric were much more substantive, and that her answers were cut out and edited to purposely make her look dumb. Well, it would sure be interesting to see the whole thing, uncut.

I doubt, however, that will happen. I'm not in TV news, but I suspect that -- sort of like Vegas -- what ends up on the cutting room floor stays on the cutting room floor.


Greenville, S.C.: Michael - I'm assuming most of the questions/comments today will be about Sarah Palin. If that's true, why all the feigned interest in her, especially from the liberal standpoint? Why would a liberal host, chatting with a 95 percent liberal audience, spend so much time talking about her? Is it to ridicule? Is is trying to diminish her as a political figure? Or, as I suspect, it's to deflect criticism from Pres. Obama by changing the subject.

Michael Shear: Hey Greenville.

You're right, the questions today will largely be about Sarah Palin since this is being advertised as a chat about Sarah Palin. Should be no surprise there.

I'll take issue with your characterization of me as a "liberal host." I have no agenda here, and as a White House reporter work very hard to keep my personal opinions (whatever they might be) out of my reporting and writing. I've been writing on Palin largely because I spent two years covering the Republican presidential candidates in 2007 and 2008, including the entire McCain campaign.

Why do we spend so much time on Palin? And is it too much? Perhaps. There's a danger that we are overdoing it -- four stories in today's paper may have reached that point. On the other hand, there seems to be an insatiable demand from our audience -- liberals and conservatives -- and at the end of the day we have to, and should, respond to that.

Deflecting criticism from Obama? I'm not sure the White House would feel right now like criticism has been deflected anywhere.


New York: What in the Palin book surprised you most? Thanks.

Michael Shear: I guess I was surprised that there was less of an effort to "move on" in Palin's book. I would have thought that someone who has an interest in staying in politics -- as she clearly does -- would have been encouraged to be forward-looking. The book is almost all devoted to the past -- her upbringing and the 2008 campaign.

But on the other hand, maybe that shouldn't be surprising. She just lived through the most incredible campaign of a generation, and she burst onto the scene so quickly that few people knew of her background. So it's probably logical that the book took the shape it did.


Dallas: Mr. Shear, It seems to me that Palin's celebrity is like an extension of an "American Idol" mentality, little substance just hype. Do you think our culture has crossed over a line where infotainment has surpassed news?

Michael Shear: Dallas.

How could you say that!? Little substance? An American Idol mentality? Infotainment? I am shocked - shocked - to see that there's hype going on in our culture. (Mock sarcasm courtesy of Casablanca.)

Seriously, though. Palin has clearly tapped into that place in American life where politics and culture meet. She is by no means "just" a celebrity, having ran for the second most powerful job in our government. But she is also not "just" a politician, having found a way to appeal far beyond the population of C-SPAN geeks.


Alexandria, Va.: A minor point, but one I've been curious about -- in the book, does Palin explain her nomadic college career?

Michael Shear: Not really. She declares herself "amazed" that her college-hopping became an issue. But she doesn't really explain it, focusing instead on the criticism of her that it had taken five years to complete college.

She writes:

"Yes, it did take me five years because I paid my own way and I came home to Alaska between semesters and worked so we could earn money to pay for the next term. Sometimes we had to take a semester off and work until we could afford tuition again. I remember when that was an honorable thing."


Bethesda, Md.: I like the "95 percent liberal audience." Greenville must have run the numbers.

Rush declared this book to be chock-full of policy (paraphrasing). Would you agree?

Michael Shear: My son keeps telling me Coco Puffs are "chock full" of vitamins.


Washington, D.C.: Is Levi in the book?

Michael Shear: There may be a passing reference that I missed, but there's definitely almost nothing there. But she's certainly not shy about talking about him. On Oprah, she said something to the effect that she didn't want to get in the way of his "porn career" -- apparently a reference to his upcoming Playgirl photo shoot.


East Lansing, Mich.: I haven't read the memoir but I was curious about non-political career part of her. I haven't heard one reviewer mention anything about her childhood and it occurs to me how little I know about Sarah Palin's lifestory.

Michael Shear: We published a fair bit of that on the web yesterday, and some of that ended up in the story that myself and Jason Horowitz wrote in Style today. Look it up.

There is, actually, plenty of stuff about her growing up in Alaska (my favorite: caribou lasagna) and her ascension in Alaskan politics.


Montgomery Village, Md.: Michael

This is ridiculous ! On the Post's main Web page there are currently TWELVE items relating to Palin. Is there NOTHING else for you folks to cover besides this clueless failed ex-Governor with loopy ideas about the world? Come on!

I won't waste anymore time on the Post Web site if THIS is the trivial junk is the best you guys can do.

Michael Shear: Ok,Montgomery Village. I take your point.

But I just looked at our home page, and of the six top stories right now, five are NOT about Palin, and she's the bottom one. I'll leave it to the readers here to determine whether the stories we do have up right now are substantive or trivial junk.

Talk of cooperation in China, no breakthroughs

Obama mixes praise for Chinese economic triumphs with gentle prodding on its currency, human rights and Tibet.

Divisions linger on health care

POST-ABC POLL | Americans support key elements of reform effort, but most predict higher costs.

IRS details Swiss bank deal

American clients who hid more than 1 million francs could have their details turned over to U.S.

Q&A: Breast exam guidelines

Live, Noon ET | Post's Rob Stein answers questions on influential task force's call for less testing.

Easy come, easy go

Millions may not have had enough money withheld as part of tax-credit program.

Sarah Palin, picking fights

Media Notes | Is a brilliant book-marketing strategy a smart political strategy?


Tuzla, Bosnia: So, if the Post and the rest of the media are simply responding to public demand for information about Palin, do you really think that the demand is so great that it was appropriate for the Post to put out 2 (not 1, but 2) reviews of the book- "liberal" and a "conservative" versions- BOTH of which included the reviewers saying "I haven't had time to read this yet?" Is it THAT newsworthy? From all accounts, it is a fairly easy read- woudl waiting one day have been that irresponsible of the Post?

Michael Shear: My first question from Tuzla!

I can't agree more. I think a basic rule of book reviewers should be they have to ... wait for it ... read the book. I do not, however, make those choices for the paper.


Bradenton, Fla.: I saw an excerpt where Sarah addresses the divorce rumor - but only from her own point of view, something along the lines of "Divorce Todd? Are people crazy?" From that snippet, it seems not to have occurred to her that Todd may have wanted to divorce HER. Then again, she's stunningly egocentric. Your thoughts?

Michael Shear: Todd -- and especially his physical characteristics -- is a repeated focus in the book. At one point she comments on his "sparkling ice-blue eyes." And the following is one of my favorite passages, mainly because it just seems so out of place for a former candidate for high office:

"That day in sunny Texas when divorce rumors were rampant in the tabloids, I watched Todd, tanned and shirtless, take the baby from my arms and walk him back to the ranch house so Trig could nap while I made calls," she writes. "Seeing Todd's blue eyes smiling, I chuckled. "Dang, I thought. Divorce Todd? Have you seen Todd?"


Anonymous: I'm curious when you state she is obviously still interested in a politics do you mean as a personality type pundit as she is ( in my opinion ) trying to become or as an actual politician that seeks office ?

Michael Shear: Well, I think she has stated in the last couple of days, perhaps on Oprah, that she is very interested in being involved in the 2010 elections. We've already seen her play a role in that New York congressional race a couple of weeks ago. And she sent a fundraising letter out last night, which will be used to help finance conservative candidates around the country.

Whether she runs for president in 2012 is obviously an open question. She didn't close the door during her Oprah interviews, but I've seen a lot of politicians almost walk through that door and then back out at the last minute.


Anonymous: When the season for Presidential politics rolls around, say in January 2011 sometime, will Palin still be a factor or are we seeing the beginning of her endgame now ?

Michael Shear: I have no crystal ball, but I'd be willing to bet she's still a factor, one way or the other. In part because people who had less of a profile last time around became big factors in the 2008 cycle. Think Mike Huckabee, who was largely dismissed early on, but was a real force to be reckoned with by his Republican rivals later on.


Roseland, NJ: After getting past all the "burn book" stuff, and all the "growin' up in the heartland, you betcha" stuff, is there anything in this book that deals with what the last year would have been like had she and John McCain been elected?

Michael Shear: Very little. The book is laced with references to conservative political philosophy and Ronald Reagan, so one can take away from that she would have advocated and supported a very different direction. And there's a bit of criticism of Obama, especially on issues of energy.

But you get very little sense of what she might have tried to do with the vice presidency. That's what I meant when I said before that I was surprised by the lack of forward-looking stuff in the book.


Minneapolis: Four hundred pages seems like a hell of a lot of pages to slog through. Is anyone talking about the literary merit to this book? I mean 400 pages!!!

Michael Shear: Oh, that seems about standard to me.

Let's see, former Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist, in his book, "A Heart to Serve: The Passion to Bring Health, Hope and Healing," writes for 353 pages.


New York: So how soon before Sarah and Hillary get together for coffee?

Michael Shear: Oooh. Now THAT would be fun to observe, wouldn't it. It would make us all forget about the presidential beer with the professor and the Cambridge cop.

I bet they do!


New York, NY: I am not a fan of Palin and if Palin were to run for president I would not vote for her. But I find the unremitting attacks on her quite unfair. She did not say she could see Russia from her house, she did not invade Iraq, and she did not give the bankers a blank check to rob us. So why all the attacks on her? What Democrats seem to be doing is to keep her in the public eye by constantly attacking her, and this will only make her fans more loyal. Why not be a little more charitable not to say astute?

Michael Shear: it is certainly true that she has attracted more than her share of attention and scrutiny. Some would say that she invited much of it by her actions, but there's clearly a case to be made about an obsessive media and a public that can't get enough.

One point, though. She often lashes back at the media, claiming we made stuff up, when there's more than a bit of truth to the reporting.

Take Russia, for example. She writes in her book: "The classic example was Tina dressed up as me, saying, 'I can see Russia from my house.' Which of course I've never said," she writes.

In fact, what she said, during the interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson, was "You can actually see Russia from land, here in Alaska."


New York : I'd like your objective opinion as a reporter. Did you ever think you'd see a day where a candidate would go all the way through a campaign for national office, and never -- that is never - subject him or herself to a legitimate press conference with the national press? Given this horrific precedent, is there any reason why Ms. Palen could not run for president in four or eight years and continue to avoid scrutiny in this way, dealing solely with Oprah, Hannity, Larry King, Jay Leno, MTV or whoever? Isn't it more significant that our politics have reached this low level of mere entertainment, this laughable lack of effective vetting, than are the political ambitions of any particular man or woman?

Michael Shear: I would take issue a little bit, New York. Yes, she avoided much of the press pretty effectively. But she did do several national interviews -- we all know about the Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson interviews. As a reporter, I always want more access, not less, to the candidates. But I think the trend toward controlling and limiting that access was in place long before Palin, and is practiced at a high level by politicians from both sides, including our current President.


Michael Shear: Ok everyone. That's about all I have time for. The book is available at bookstores across the nation starting today. So if you want more, you're on your own.

See you next time.


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