Joe McGinniss talks about why he moved in next to Sarah Palin
When a source told Joe McGinniss that he could rent the house next to Sarah Palin's Wasilla, Alaska, home, the author was sold.
A room at the Best Western, not far away, would have been prohibitively expensive. The landlord of this house, meanwhile, offered it to McGinniss for $1,500 per month after a friend of the author recommended him as a solid alternative to the other people asking about the property.
"She was talking to this mutual friend of ours and said, 'I've got to find someone we're comfortable with,' " McGinniss said Friday evening from the deck of the house -- a deck that became famous after Palin posted a photo of it on Facebook this week. " 'My biggest concern is the Palins' privacy, especially the children.' 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.'"
What happened next, said McGinniss, came as a total surprise. He had planned to keep the news off the Internet and tell the Palins himself that he'd be their neighbor as he wrapped up his biography of the former governor.
McGinniss 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 hoped to keep things civil and introduce himself anew to 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,'" said McGinniss. "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 that happened, McGinniss -- who is hoping to finish his local research for the book by Labor Day -- became the target of fury from Palin fans. After radio host Mark Levin gave out the author's e-mail address, McGinniss got 5000 messages in four hours, eventually shutting down the account. Wasilla police and state troopers are keeping a watchful eye on the place, although McGinniss said no one had come to the house to threaten him on Friday. He simply didn't anticipate the scale of Palin's response.
"I would term this hysterical," said McGinniss. "The mayor said to me, when I chatted with him in his office a couple of days ago, '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." McGinniss 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 said in her Facebook post, he can't see into the windows of the home and he can't hear their conversations. While Palin intimated that McGinniss could watch the family when it went swimming, he said that only the edge of their land near the lake was visible from his property. He was deeply offended by the implication, not thinly veiled in Palin's note and subsequent interview with Glenn Beck, that he would be peering in on the children.
"These little kids, I couldn't care less about them," said McGinniss. "I have my own kids and grandkids to care about. I don't have any interest in Palin's kids. I'm not going to write, oh, I saw Trig run across the lawn, and I saw someone else change his diaper. I haven't been writing for 40 years to wind up on that level. I'm just very offended by this."
Palin supporters have argued that McGinniss has made a nuisance of himself by previously delivering a copy of a previous book to the Palin home and by betting on a dinner with Palin in a charity auction. McGinniss said the first encounter was friendly, and the second was a "spoof."
"I just kept bidding because there was nothing else to do and it was fun," he said. "She offered dinner with herself for a price? Well, if a journalist could pay the price, it would be responsible journalism to try and win that prize. I knew I couldn't pay the price, so I wasn't in there as a serious bidder."
McGinniss said he will limit his interviews on this topic, appearing on NBC's The Today Show next week, before getting back to his own work. And he told the Post that he had been a responsible neighbor, shooing off a pair of Minnesota tourists who stepped onto his property to take photos of Palin's 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 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."