Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Best-selling author Joe McGinniss talks career, Palin at UMass on Mon.

He’s written about murderers, presidents and a former Alaskan governor.

And on Monday afternoon at the University of Massachusetts Campus Center, Joe McGinniss, a best-selling author and renowned journalist, told some of his career stories in a lecture titled, “From Nixon to Palin: Forty Years of Writing About Presidents and Pretenders.”

One of McGinniss’ top books was “The Selling of the President 1968,” which detailed the marketing strategies of the presidential campaigning of Richard Nixon. Yesterday, McGinniss kicked off his discussion with this book, going into detail about how he found out Nixon’s campaigning strategy.

But the majority of the lecture was spent denouncing another political figure – former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Or, as McGinniss put it, “an idiot.”

“She had little native intelligence,” McGinniss said of Palin. “A thought process is not part of her skill set.”

That was just the tip of the iceberg on McGinniss’ opinions on John McCain’s 2008 vice presidential running mate Palin, who he wrote about in his book, “The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin.”

“The book has been credited by some for helping to convince Palin not to run for president this year,” McGinniss said about “Rogue,” adding that he’s not sure a statement is entirely accurate.

The fact that McCain could have become president and Palin would have been his next in command was a “close brush with political disaster,” McGinniss said.

“She came, with absolutely no qualifications for public office, within a few percentage points of being a heartbeat away of the presidency, and this heartbeat was that of a 72-year-old man who had already been diagnosed with cancer. This was a close call for America,” McGinniss said about Palin and the failed election.

“We’re so lucky that Barack Obama won, not for what he is or isn’t, but to keep Sarah

Palin away from any levers of power,” he added.

McGinniss told the story of how the book came together and how he originally went to Wasilla, Alaska, to write a book related to oil pipelines.

That’s what he wanted, but not what he got.

One of McGinniss’ selling points for a book on Alaska – which he called a “final frontier” for America – was that the state had a woman governor in Palin. And once Palin started making news and became a celebrity, McGinniss’ book focused more on Palin and her story.

And then, when he moved out to Wasilla, he rented a home right next to the Palins.

“If you needed to borrow salt, you could just reach over and take it right off their dining room table. That’s how close it was,” said McGinniss of his home in Alaska.

Controversy ensued between McGinniss and the Palins, the journalist said, mostly due to the close proximity of the two houses.

“It was a long four months,” McGinniss said of the experience. “I came away with a much worse impression of her than when I started.”

The Palins already had a bad taste for McGinniss from an article which stated that Palin’s claim to bring a new oil pipeline to Alaska was false.

Palin’s husband Todd greeted McGinniss with hostility, said the journalist. McGinniss added that Sarah suggested via her Facebook account that the respected author had moved next door to peek into their daughter’s bedroom.

“There was a crusade to make McGinniss leave Sarah Palin alone,” McGinnis said. “Some right-wing talk show host gives out my email address, and I’m getting hundreds of death threats and what people are going to do to me, and how if my grandchildren ever visit me out there, they had better buy a one way ticket, because they’re going to be found floating out in the lake.”

With townsfolk worried for his safety from Palin supporters, McGinniss said, “for the next three weeks, I didn’t meet a single person in Wasilla who didn’t offer to loan me a handgun.”

And when McGinniss finished his reporting and moved out in 2010, he said he gained national attention.

When looking back and comparing Nixon and Palin, McGinniss said, “Richard Nixon

doesn’t seem so bad at all.”

McGinniss also took some time to speak briefly about his current book, “15 Gothic

Street,” which is the address of the Hampshire County Courthouse. The book will focus on the events which take place in the courthouse.

“A lot of people believe the criminal justice system is hopelessly broken now,”

McGinniss said, “I’m not so sure that it’s hopeless.”

At 69, McGinniss said he has no plans to retire.

“When you’re a writer, there really is no such thing as retiring, because what are you

going to do? There’s always something else to write about,” McGinniss said.

Justin Surgent can be reached at [email protected]. Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected].

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