The Washington Post

Sarah Palin tell-all book: Why we read it

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is the subject of a recent tell-all book by Frank Bailey, a former aide. (AP)

But if that’s the case, why is everyone so interested in a 450-page book that had a hard time finding a publisher? The book has generated reams of advance press, both in the days leading up to its release Tuesday and back in February, when several media outlets got a leaked manuscript. This is Sarah Palin, of course, a lightning-rod figure who manages to generate more press for a single Twitter missive than Tim Pawlenty does for announcing his presidential campaign. Underestimating voters’ capacity to love or hate the one-time VP candidate is never a good idea.

I’d guess, however, that the underlying interest in this book comes down to something more primal than simply our fascination with Mama Grizzly. While the effect is explosive when connected to Palin, it would be similar, if muted, if someone else wrote a bombshell tell-all about their well-known boss. We can’t help ourselves. It is so rare to read someone write candid, unvarnished, and even caustic words about a former leader that we simply can’t look away.

At one time or another, we’ve all wished for a chance to very publicly tell off someone we’ve worked for, especially if that person has been vindictive, unethical or fame hungry, all of which Bailey’s portrait paints Palin to be. Doing so via a national bestseller that gets copious amounts of press? All the better.

But of course we don’t do that, and won’t, for fear of future job prospects, lawsuits, blacklisting or whatever other social norm keeps people from bad-mouthing their former boss, no matter how much of a bear he or she may have been. Professional conduct keeps us mum, for the most part, about the indignities we suffered or the mismanagement we endured. No matter how much we may want to air these vents in public, we don’t.

This, of course, is the very reason the Palin book may not make a big dent in Palin’s future—her camp can write it off as nothing more than a disgruntled employee in hopes that it will all just go away. (Indeed, her team has said it “belongs on the fiction shelves” and has disputed several of the book’s juicy anecdotes.) But that won’t keep us from reading it. Combine the fascination with Sarah Palin—whether you’re for her or against her, she’s a one-woman attention machine—with the irresistible fantasy of publicly humiliating your former boss, and I’d guess Bailey has a bestseller here, no matter what’s actually in the book.

More from On Leadership:

Gingrich’s Achilles heel

Why Christine Lagarde should run the IMF

Be in the know on everything we’re covering here at The Post’s On Leadership section. Follow us on Twitter (@post_lead) and “like” our page on Facebook (On Leadership at The Washington Post).

Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Video curated for you.