Opinion

‘The Sarah Palin I Know’

Before I left, I felt I had to give the governor at least one piece of advice. After all, I know how politicians work. They surround themselves with yes-people. No one dares speak up. I figured I’d never get another opportunity like this again, so, with the very best of intentions, I told her: “You have to know, you can’t beat Obama in 2012. The media won’t let you. They won’t let him lose and the narrative about you is too negative to correct in three-and-a-half years.”

She said nothing. No-one else spoke, either. I looked around at my crew, and the same thing was written on everyone’s face: “What the hell are you doing, Ziegler?” It was the first of several times where it would be obvious to me that Sarah Palin does not like hearing bad news.

Media Malpractice—and the epic media campaign that included appearances on the Today Show and The View to promote it—put Sarah back in the spotlight when, thanks to being ensconced in Alaska, it looked as though she might become old news. But it also gave me my second bitter taste of the way her operation works. Even though I’d sent an e-mail to Sarah’s political spokesperson, Meg Stapleton, giving plenty of advanced warning that I’d be posting a clip of my interview on YouTube, the morning it went live, her office rushed out a statement, implying that I’d misrepresented my intentions. Meg later admitted that she just hadn’t seen my e-mail, but that didn’t stop Palin’s team from the state of Alaska continuing to blame me for something I didn’t do and which was actually helping their boss nationally.

That weekend, Sarah called me at my apartment in Burbank, California, leaving me that “unflippin’ believable” voicemail. “Oh, don’t worry about it, John,” she told me, when we finally connected. “My staff is just complaining because it’s extra work for them to do.” We talked for maybe 30 minutes in total, and she told me her biggest concern was coming off as “whiny” by fighting back against her treatment during the 2008 campaign. I told her that George W. Bush didn’t like fighting back against the liberal media, either, and look what happened to him. I urged her to learn from that lesson and it appears that she has.

From then on, our strange relationship took many twists and turns. I screened my film up in Anchorage (Todd showed up, along with Sarah’s father and brother). I became easily her most visible defender in the national press. I even staged a one-man “protest” at the University of Southern California, where the CBS anchor Katie Couric was being given the Walter Cronkite Journalism award for ‘National Impact on the 2008 presidential campaign.’ She received the honor seemingly for the feat of asking Sarah, ‘Which newspapers do you read?’ (Sarah thought she was being trapped, but was too polite to say so, so she dodged the question, and was crucified for it.) While Couric got the award inside, I was being physically restrained and handcuffed outside for supposedly trespassing on an open campus.

In fact, I was simply attempting to give away copies of my own, far more truthful Palin interview to audience members—which may have created a brand new level in the definition of irony. The LAPD gave me the option of leaving or being charged, so I left.

Todd called me later to ask if I was okay, which I thought was nice of him. He’s clearly a tough guy, someone you’d definitely want with you if you got lost in the Alaskan wilderness, but underneath that, he seems like a gentle soul and a great husband. In fact, when we last spoke, he was asking me how I was paying the bills while going out to bat for Sarah, and I told him that I was lucky to have a wife who worked as a school teacher. “So… you’re just like me,” he said. He was joking—I think. Whatever, it takes balls to admit you’re a kept man.

That was the beginning of my time as Sarah’s unofficial human flak-jacket. Two months after the Couric event, I flew to New York from LA on a whim to organize a ‘Fire David Letterman’ rally for his cheap joke about Willow—the news of which I’d broken to Sarah in person on my radio show. However, my problems with the governor’s operation quickly flared up again. Basically, Letterman offered a series of classic ‘non-apology apologies’ on his show. Without giving me a heads up, Sarah finally accepted one of them.

By then I’d already flown from to New York, talked about the protest on every TV channel that would have me, and started gathering supporters, but of course by the time I got out on the street, the story was dead and buried. Liberals had even hired fake protesters to hijack the whole thing, and I was hung out to dry. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, and trust me, I’ve had a lot of them.

I vented my frustration with Sarah and Meg but remained loyal to the cause, even though I felt like I’d been taken for granted. After all, by this point I’d become virtually her shadow press secretary (at least according to MSNBC) while she was essentially sequestered from the national media in Alaska. But I was also starting to get a weird feeling that something wasn’t right, especially after my trip to Anchorage for the Media Malpractice screening. Under relentless abuse from the media and frivolous lawsuits, Sarah was sealing herself off from the outside world, with only Todd and a couple of others close enough to her to have any influence.

A bunker mentally seemed to be setting in.

Finally, on July 3, 2009, word came from Wasilla that a major announcement was imminent. I remember discussing it with a mysterious character named Rebecca Mansour—I’ve joked with her many times that she’s CIA—who was then running the website Conservatives4Palin after, bizarrely, being an Obama supporter. “I think she’s going to resign as governor,” I told her, remembering that a month earlier I’d asked Sarah on my radio show if she’d ever do this, and being taken aback by her honesty when she admitted, rather coyly, that she had indeed considered it.

(What Rebecca Mansour really thinks about Romney, Bristol Palin, and more)

“No, I don’t think that’s it,” said Rebecca.

An hour later, my prediction came true—and at that moment I knew that any chance of Sarah being able to win the White House in 2012 had just been destroyed. I completely understand why she did it. The Democrats and their supporters had filed so many baseless claims against Sarah in Alaska it was making her job miserable and impossible.

If she hadn’t resigned, the state would have practically ground to a halt. Plus, thanks to having to defend herself legally against largely bogus ethics complaints, she needed money, which meant it was essential to take advantage of her limited window of celebrity. So she did her best with a really bad hand of cards. But there was no denying the consequences. In fact, not long after she made the announcement, while I was on my way to Yosemite National Park for an annual family get-away, I received an e-mail from Rebecca.

“Shit, it’s over,” is all it said.

When I caught up with Rebecca on the phone later that day, we agreed that if you resigned after two years of a governorship, you were a ‘quitter’ in voters’ eyes. Your protests to the contrary would be futile. Your campaign was dead, especially against a preordained media deity like Barack Obama. Nevertheless, in an act that still angers my wife to this day, I rushed back to Los Angeles to do the seemingly impossible: be the lone defender of Sarah’s resignation on the next edition of The O’Reilly Factor. I hit a much-needed home run for her that night, but I no longer believe much of what I said back then.