Palin emails reveal interactions with Anchorage Daily News over stories, user comments
When Sarah Palin was asked in a 2008 CBS interview what newspapers she regularly read, the Vice Presidential candidate famously was unable to name any.
But last week’s release of Palin’s emails from her partial term as Alaska’s governor suggests she was highly aware of what was being written about her — at least in her own state’s newspapers and in local blogs.
Her messages show that Palin sought to influence media coverage, counter negative stories, and — on at least one occasion — investigate a blogger who criticized her.
“She was pretty well tuned in to what was in the paper or on the website that related to her interest,” Anchorage Daily News Executive Editor Patrick Dougherty said in a phone interview this week. “I don’t know if that was because people were calling her attention to things or she was finding them on her own.”
- Dougherty recalled that Palin came into office in 2006 with a “great attitude” and made a strong impression in her first meeting with the Daily News editorial board. But by the end of her two and a half years in office, Dougherty said Palin changed significantly, as she became nationally prominent and faced increased scrutiny over her record.
“Whatever impulse she had toward being open and honest was overtaken by her desire to avoid or deflect or rebut criticism,” Dougherty said.
The newly-revealed messages show that the Daily News – Alaska’s largest newspaper — was a particular irritant to Palin and her staff.
For instance, in April 2008, the paper reported that Palin’s office harvested email addresses from a state database to contact more than 22,000 business owners and urge them to support part of Palin’s legislative agenda. A story by Daily News writer Wesley Loy quoted several legislators criticizing Palin’s “political” use of the database.
That prompted a strong response from Palin’s press secretary, Rosanne Hughes. In an email to Palin, Hughes called Loy “an unprofessional, ignorant reporter,” and she recommended that the Governor stop granting him interviews.
“I’m used to working with mean, nasty, ugly, unpleasant journalists before on Capitol Hill (esp. the New York Times) but at least I could respect them professionally,” wrote Hughes, who had previously worked for Republican members of Congress. “At least they were good journalists. This guy, sorry, I can’t say that about him.”
Palin answered with just two words: “Amen sista!”
Loy – now a freelance journalist and blogger — said this week he remembered a disagreement with Hughes about the 2008 story. But he didn’t know the article caused such a stir among the governor’s staff until an acquaintance told him about Hughes’ email a few days ago.
“I laughed out loud when I saw it,” Loy told me. “That’s part of the job.”
Concerns about bloggers and reader comments
Of course, it’s not unusual for politicians to tussle with journalists who cover them. The candid correspondence of many officeholders is likely filled with similar invective toward the press.
But Palin’s emails show that she also was conscious of what was being written about her in new media platforms such as blogs.
In a January 2008 exchange with some of her aides, she fretted about an anonymous blogger who seemed to have access to her administration’s press releases and was using them to criticize her policies.
“Makes me sick to my stomach,” Palin wrote. “How would this blogger have received the emailed presser unless he’s a valid media person (and why would a legit media person bother to be a regular blogger?), or one of our folks sent it to him?”
Palin aide Frank Bailey informed her that it would be easy for a “mole” to get on her press release distribution list. “They probably just emailed and asked to get on it,” Bailey wrote. (It’s not clear from the emails if the Administration ever learned the blogger’s identity.)
Later in 2008 – less than two months before she was named John McCain’s running mate — Palin expressed outrage about a reader who frequently posted in the “comments” section of the Anchorage Daily News website. Among the posts that the Governor called “hateful and hurtful” was one that alleged she had an affair with her husband’s best friend.
“Ok dokay (sic) – enough is enough,” Palin wrote to Hughes and other aides. “It’s flippin unbelievable that the ADN allows lies like this to be posted. I’m calling.”
“Governor, do you know how loved you are?” Hughes responded. “It hurts my heart to hear these horrible people are bringing you down. We forgive them, Lord. Help these people come to know You.”
Dougherty – the Daily News executive editor – confirmed that Palin called him about the questionable posts and he immediately deleted them.
Palin later asked her staff to have her “security guys check into” the person who posted the comments — Sherry Whitstine of Wasilla. (Whitstine told the New York Times in 2008 that one of Palin’s aides called her and demanded she “stop blogging right now.”)
While Palin and her staff may have been repulsed by some of the coverage and comments they received from the Daily News, they also worked to make sure their own point of view was expressed in the paper and on its website.
During a controversial special legislative session in April 2008, Hughes noted that Palin was “getting pounded” on the blogs, and she urged her fellow staff members to mobilize the Governor’s grassroots supporters.
“We need to get them out there FLOODING that Anchorage Daily News Alaska politics blog. I mean FLOODING,” Hughes wrote.
On a somewhat less weighty issue, Palin took matters into her own hands, writing her own rebuttal to a July 2008 Daily News letter-to-the-editor that criticized her for skipping that year’s Miss Alaska pageant.
But she asked her staff to find somebody else to sign her response.
“I’m looking for someone to correct the letter writer’s goofy comments, but don’t want the letter to ADN in response to come from me,” Palin wrote. (The newspaper published the response with Hughes’ signature.)