Campaign Reporters Nab an Inside Peek

Posted December 14, 2009 at 3:03pm

It wasn’t always this bad.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R) relationship with the media in Alaska was, believe it or not, regarded as quite pleasant before she hit the national political scene in the summer of 2008.

But then the “iron curtain— came down between Palin and the national press corps, and that moment is described by two reporters who had been formerly embedded with the vice presidential candidate. The result is the biography “Sarah From Alaska,— a detailed but uneven account of her life.

After reporters Scott Conroy from CBS and Shushannah Walshe from Fox News Channel left the campaign trail, the two spent a significant amount of time in Alaska researching Palin’s personal history.

Maybe it’s because the book was penned by two reporters instead of a traditional biographer, but Conroy and Walshe have a particularly keen analysis of Palin’s relationship with the media over the course of her career.

The press fawned over Palin as she rose to power in Alaska. Palin had a personal touch with reporters, and she recruited several of them to be on her staff when she became governor. For example, Conroy and Walshe write that in the hours before Palin’s now-infamous interview with CBS news anchor Katie Couric, she did not want to discuss the matter — instead, she chided staff for not making time for her to personally fill out a questionnaire from the local Mat-Su Valley newspaper.

When I interviewed Palin in her Anchorage office about two weeks before she was named to the national ticket, the governor was extremely accessible. There were no aides in the meeting: Just me, Palin, a tape recorder and her husband popping his head in once to discuss carpool arrangements with his wife.

This openness, however, changed significantly when Palin was named to the national ticket. Top campaign staff cut off the traveling press from Palin completely — a decision Palin and some of her staffers disagreed with because she had such a good personal touch with the Alaska press corps. Instead, an “iron curtain— was drawn between Palin and her aides at the front of the plane and the traveling press corps in the back.

The duo went to great lengths to research Palin’s past, and in the process they reveal many never-before-reported details about her life. In fact, one might say it is a little too much detail: The writers go on for pages about Palin’s experience on her high school basketball team, including a description of the ball’s spin on her foul shot.

The book’s details would be less frustrating if the book was more even. While Conroy and Walshe go into painstaking detail on Palin’s jump shot, they graze over her years as an undergraduate and the several colleges that she attended in a few paragraphs.

Some of the most notable parts of the book include interviews with Palin’s parents and her stylist on the campaign trail.

According to Walshe and Conroy, Palin herself was even receptive at one point to being interviewed for the book but later changed her mind. Eventually, Walshe and Conroy claim the governor accused them of stalking her daughter during their trip to Alaska — an incident the two reporters described as brief chance encounter on the street.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book comes after the campaign trail, when Palin is back in Alaska, attempting to govern again. Conroy and Walshe do an excellent job of decoding the months following Palin’s national bid. As a result, I actually understand now why Palin stepped down before the end of her first term.

Apparently there was no love lost between Palin and the state Legislature following the national campaign. Conroy and Walshe report that her relationship with state lawmakers and former staff had disintegrated to the extent that she could not govern anymore.

And the same dysfunction applied to Palin’s relationship with the local press: When she returned to Alaska as governor, she attempted to give out her personal e-mail and answer reporters directly — a decision that eventually backfired on Palin and further damaged her relationships with local reporters.

Roll Call readers might also find it interesting to read about Palin’s encounter on the campaign trail with former Rep. Jeb Bradley (N.H.), a Republican who supports abortion rights and was running against Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) for his former seat. The book reveals that Palin declined to introduce Bradley at a campaign event in New Hampshire after learning minutes beforehand that he supported abortion rights. What’s more, Bradley was unaware of the entire incident until the authors called him in the process of researching this book.

When Bradley and then-Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) traveled on the bus with Palin to their next campaign stop, Palin apparently spent most of her time with her son and only came up briefly to greet the other two GOP politicians.

Like the press, Bradley had also been relegated to the back of the bus.