The man Sarah Palin doesn’t want as a neighbor leaned against the railing of his deck and listened to a litany of accusations against him: voyeur, stalker, Peeping Tom. If you believe the characterizations, TODAY’s Matt Lauer told author Joe McGinniss, they make him out to be pretty creepy.
“Creepy is as creepy does,” the writer replied early Tuesday morning via satellite from Wasilla, Alaska. “If I lived here and did something creepy, if I did what Sarah Palin is suggesting, that would be creepy.”
McGinniss accused Palin of overreacting to his presence and inciting her followers to hatred.
“She has pushed a button and unleashed the hounds of hell, and now they’re out there slavering and barking and growling,” McGinniss said. “That’s the same kind of tactic — and I’m not calling her a Nazi — but that’s the same kind of tactic that that the Nazi troopers used in Germany in the ’30s, and I don’t think there’s any place for it in America.”
McGinniss is writing a book about Palin tentatively titled “Sarah Palin: The Year of Living Dangerously.” He has said the book would begin with Palin resigning the governorship of Alaska in July 2009 and follow her through the ensuing year.
As a biographer, he wants to get close to his subject, and, he said, that meant moving to Wasilla to talk to all those who have known her while she was transforming herself from local girl and beauty pageant contestant into a vice presidential candidate and the de facto leader of the Tea Party movement.
McGinniss was offered a chance to rent a six-bedroom house on Lake Louise for $1,500 a month, he explained. By coincidence, the house is 15 feet from the Palins’ home.
“I would be living in this house if the Palins lived on the moon; fifteen hundred bucks a month for a house in Wasilla. I need to be in Wasilla to do my work,” McGinniss told Lauer.
But he said he has no desire to spy on the Palins or their children.
Slideshow: Sarah Palin: Republican star for 2012? “I don’t care how they behave in their backyard, I don’t care what they do in the privacy of their own home and I don’t care what their children do. I care about what my children do. I couldn’t care less about her kids,” McGinniss said.
“I’m not observing them at all,” he continued. “I’m here to talk to people who’ve known them for 40 years in Wasilla ... My work is not to sit in this house. I need to be out and talking to people. That’s why I’m in Wasilla. I’m in Wasilla because the people who know the Palins best and who can trace the evolution of the phenomenon of what Sarah Palin is — 80 percent of them live here.”
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Unwelcome to the neighborhood
The Palins are not fans of the 67-year-old McGinniss or his writing, labeling him a yellow journalist for a piece he wrote last year for Portfolio magazine about the proposed natural gas pipeline Palin bragged about bringing to the verge of construction. The article reported that the pipeline is no closer to being built now than it was when first proposed a generation ago.
When the Palins found out that McGinniss had rented the house next door, a house that previously had been used as a halfway house for convicted drug offenders returning to society, Sarah Palin took a picture of the author on his deck and posted it on her Facebook page.
“I wonder what kind of material he’ll gather while overlooking Piper’s bedroom, my little garden, and the family’s swimming hole?” she posted.
The picture posted by Palin shows a figure leaning over the deck rail with something held to his face. McGinniss said her posting suggests he’s looking in Palin’s yard, perhaps with binoculars, when, in fact, he was talking on his cell phone at the other end of the deck staring at a vacant lot.
The Facebook post created a national story and brought the media back to Wasilla, where many residents have had quite enough of the attention. It also raised the hackles of TV host Glenn Beck and Palin fans, some of whom have issued death threats against the author, including a posting on Craigslist speculating where his body will be found.
The local newspaper, The Frontiersman, wrote an editorial that contained a message to the author: “Those who are fond of Joe McGinniss might remind him (if he doesn't already know) that Alaska has a law that allows the use of deadly force in protection of life and property.”
This, McGinniss said, is not how he envisioned things. He was under no illusions that the Palins would welcome him, but he hoped they could peacefully coexist.
“I moved here and didn’t tell anybody outside my family that I was moving here,” McGinniss told Lauer. “I wanted to tell the Palins personally, face-to-face, and then hopefully work out with them some accommodation where we could all live peacefully, if not with great friendship, over the course of the next three months or so.”
He accused Sarah Palin of overreacting to his presence.
“Sarah, hysterically, puts up this Facebook page with all sorts of ugly innuendo, which, frankly, is revolting, the things she has caused people to say about me. She has created all the publicity. I didn’t expect any publicity at all,” McGinniss said.
Good fences, good neighbors
In a statement to NBC News, Sarah Palin said that the author “has a right to pursue his subject, I suppose, and certainly has a right to live wherever he wants, but my family also has a right to expect privacy, and hopefully to enjoy peace this summer. Good fences do make for good neighbors. The fence is now up, and I hope that we can enjoy peace.”
McGinniss would like that, but, he said, the episode shows Palin’s remarkable ability to inspire emotions in her supporters.
Lauer asked McGinniss if he wouldn’t behave the same way that the Palins did if the situations were reversed and they moved next to him to write a book about him.
No, the author said. “I would go over and shake hands and maybe give her a plate of cookies and say, welcome to the neighborhood.”
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