Weekly Standard associate editor Matthew Continetti's book The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star lives up to its name -- the author does indeed paint his subject as the victim of persecution by the "feral beast" of a mainstream media taking their cues from "the partisan and vitriolic blogosphere." They "malign[ed] facts" about Palin and tried to "undermine Palin's accomplishments," he writes.
Continetti, however, is so wrapped up in Palin's purported victimhood that he takes her side on everything and attempts to shoot down any and all critical and contradictory information. And he's not averse to occasionally fudging things to make reality fit his narrative.
For instance, Continetti writes that New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller "simply asserted that Palin had been a member" of the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party, adding, "None of this was true. It did turn out that Todd Palin had briefly been a member of the AIP; that may have been the basis for Bumiller's mistaken claim that Sarah Palin was a member 'for two years.' Who knows?"
Continetti should have known. The same day Bumiller's article appeared, a Times blog post stated that "[t]he information in the Times article was based on a statement issued Monday night by Lynette Clark, the party's chairwoman, who said that Ms. Palin joined the party in 1994 and in 1996 changed her registration to Republican." According to the Times, Clark later stated she could find no documentation that Sarah Palin was a member. The Times then issued a correction to Bumiller's article, which Continetti doesn't acknowledge.
Continetti also insisted Palin's claim that she told Congress, "Thanks, but no thanks," on the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere" is "literally true" because, although she "expressed her support for the bridge" while running for governor in 2006, she cut state money appropriated for the bridge and, in September 2007, "she directed the Alaska Department of Transportation to find a less expensive alternative."
But as Media Matters for America has detailed, Palin was never in a position to reject the bridge. After authorizing funds to be spent specifically on the bridge project in August 2005, in an appropriations bill in November 2005, Congress earmarked the money for Alaska, but specified that it did not have to be spent on the bridge. Further, Palin did not refuse the funds or reimburse the federal government; as The Washington Post noted, "Palin's decision resulted in no savings for the federal government. The bridge money is being spent on other highway projects in Alaska." Moreover, when Palin "directed the Alaska Department of Transportation to find a less expensive alternative" to the bridge, her stated rationale was not that she thought it was a waste of money but, rather, that Congress was unwilling to appropriate more money to build it.
Much of the book plays the equivalence game, offering up a series of "yes, but" claims to work around legitimate criticism or to excuse any Palin behavior he couldn't otherwise explain away:
- Yes, Palin had no foreign policy experience, but neither did Obama. Besides, Palin herself said leadership is more about vision than experience, and the Constitution doesn't require it anyway. Oh, and she had the same amount of executive experience as Calvin Coolidge and Teddy Roosevelt.
- Yes, her criticism of earmarks during the campaign ran counter to her own hiring of a lobbyist to obtain them as mayor of Wasilla, but VP candidates are supposed to reflect the head of the ticket, and, "Besides, a politician can always change her mind."
- Yes, Palin botched her interview with Katie Couric, but Couric had a "hostility toward conservatives" and "[t]he bias in her questions was clear."
- Yes, the $150,000 clothes-buying spree looked bad, but it "said absolutely nothing about her and a lot about the bizarre priorities of her handlers."
As the subtitle of his book indicates, Continetti regularly plays the "elitism" card in order to attack the alleged anti-provincialism of not just the media but any Palin critic. While Continetti concedes that "a gulf of ignorance, misunderstanding, and invective separates the Americans who live in urban areas from the Americans who live in distant provinces and rural places like you'd find in Alaska," he too often bashes the former and revels in the latter.
Continetti's response to movie critic Roger Ebert's complaint that Palin had spent almost no time outside the United States was to mock the idea of traveling abroad: "Two weeks with a backpack and a Eurail pass, or a semester spent partying -- sorry, 'studying abroad' -- in Santiago de Chile on your parents' nickel are not the only ways to express 'curiosity' and nonprovinciality."
Continetti touts Palin's accomplishments as mayor of Wasilla and how she "presided over the town's transition from rural backwater to thriving suburb," but he also makes sure to note that Obama is "a product of Columbia and Harvard, a professor at the University of Chicago law school, a United States senator who as president would take his wife on 'date nights' to New York City."
But elitism is only one part of Continetti's Obama-bashing; there's also much complaining that Obama wasn't held to the same standards as Palin. Continetti expresses annoyance that reporters dared to ask about Palin's Pentecostal upbringing and her current evangelical Christian faith -- even quoting Southern Baptist Convention official Richard Land calling such queries "beyond the pale" -- but declares that Obama's "anti-American, anti-Semitic, racist reverend" didn't get sufficient coverage.
And Continetti did not like Tina Fey's Palin impersonation on Saturday Night Live one bit, calling her portrayal that of "a happy-go-lucky idiot," insisting that in one skit "the superficiality of Fey's Palin was juxtaposed with the substance of [Amy] Poehler's [Hillary] Clinton." (Where did he find the "substance" in Poehler's portrayal of Hillary as a tense, bitter harpy?) Continetti then bashes Fey, along with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, as "anti-Palins" who "used comedy to assert superiority over the upstart from Alaska whose prominence and success challenged their core beliefs."
Continetti also claims that Palin and Fey "could not be more dissimilar," because while Palin "comes from the I-can-do-it-all school," Fey is, er, "also pretty, married, and has a daughter" as well as the star, chief writer, and executive producer of a network TV program. Where's the dissimilarity Continetti cites? He continues: "[T]he characters she portrays in films like Mean Girls and Baby Mama, and in television shows like 30 Rock, are hard-pressed eggheads who give up personal fulfillment -- e.g., marriage and motherhood -- in the pursuit of professional success." Regarding Fey's 30 Rock character, he adds, one "would be hard pressed to name a more unhappy person on American television."
That's right -- despite claiming that Palin and Fey "could not be more dissimilar," Continetti's comparison actually refers to the characters played by Fey.
Continetti also lashes out at Joe Biden, calling him a "national embarrassment" and stating that his "foot is in his mouth so often it's a wonder the rest of us can make out what he's saying (and saying and saying)." Biden "committed gaffe after gaffe" during his debate with Palin, Continetti writes, while Palin "was collected, attractive, down to earth, and confident. She made no big slips." Yet, he added, "the unanimous decision of the political press corps was that Biden won the vice presidential debate." Continetti blamed this on -- surprise! -- elitism; Biden "has held a prominent position in our meritocratic society for more than thirty years," while Palin "was an interloper in meritocratic circles."
Unmentioned by Continetti: Snap polls conducted immediately after the debate declared Biden the winner as well. (And no mention either, of course, of Jason Sudeikis' garrulous, buffoonish SNL impersonation of Biden, which would seem to run counter to Continetti's narrative.)
Continetti even finds a way to excuse Palin's resignation as Alaska governor. "The problem wasn't so much Palin as it was Alaska," he writes, citing the rise of environmental consultants, land managers, and other new residents of the state who are "not the sort of folks who vote Republican." Palin also couldn't capitalize on new newfound fame in the lower 48, Continetti adds, because "Alaska tied Palin down in multiple ways." He also wholeheartedly agrees with Palin's assertion that she doesn't "need a title to effect change."
Continetti played the equivalence game here, too -- albeit a false one -- complaining that "[a]fter the 2008 election, every time Palin traveled outside Alaska, her enemies inside the state pilloried her for neglecting her job" while noting that Obama and George W. Bush faced no such criticism for campaigning for president while holding elective office. Of course, there's a difference between campaigning and making political appearances after a campaign.
The Persecution of Sarah Palin is less a documentation of persecution than it is an apologia for Palin's actions: Everything she does is right, and even if she's wrong, it's not really her fault. It's little more than a book-length coating of Teflon for Palin's image.