Surprise: A Long, Respectful Profile of Sarah Palin in the New York Times Magazine

Times Magazine writer Robert Draper provides some context to the media's anti-Palin caricature: "The caricature of Palin as a vapid, winking, press-averse clotheshorse proved irresistible to late-night entertainers. Less well known was the Palin who agitated for more access to the media (other than Katie Couric), who was seen more than once passed out on her hotel bed half-buried in briefing books and index cards and whose thriftiness when it came to her wardrobe was so obvious that one senior strategist clucked of the Palins, 'These people shop at Dillards!'"
"The Palin Network," contributing writer Robert Draper's long profile for the upcoming print edition of the Times Sunday magazine, is a surprisingly respectful (for the Times, anyway) and humanizing look at Palin and the loyal but ad-hoc crew that has coalesced around her as she considers a run for the presidency in 2012.

Palin confirmed she was discussing the prospect with her family in the 8,000-word piece that deflates a couple of anti-Palin myths and could well lead an average liberal reader to raise their opinion of Palin's acumen (there are some pro forma jabs at Palin for attacking "the lamestream media" while herself being a media figure). Some excerpts:

"I am," Sarah Palin told me the next day when I asked her if she was already weighing a run for president. "I'm engaged in the internal deliberations candidly, and having that discussion with my family, because my family is the most important consideration here." Palin went on to say that there weren't meaningful differences in policy among the field of G.O.P. hopefuls "but that in fact there's more to the presidency than that" and that her decision would involve evaluating whether she could bring unique qualities to the table.

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She went on: "I know that a hurdle I would have to cross, that some other potential candidates wouldn't have to cross right out of the chute, is proving my record. That's the most frustrating thing for me - the warped and perverted description of my record and what I've accomplished over the last two decades. It's been much more perplexing to me than where the lamestream media has wanted to go about my personal life. And other candidates haven't faced these criticisms the way I have."

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Palin told me that because of the media's unfairness toward her, "I fear for our democracy." She cited a recent Anchorage Daily News article that commented on her casual manner of dress at a rally for Joe Miller, as well as a Politico headline that used the word "drama" for an item about Representative Michele Bachmann's quest for a Republican leadership position. Palin viewed these references as sexist - but also, she said, as "distractions."

Purposefully distracting, I asked, or just simplistic? "How can it be simplistic?" she scoffed. "They're the elite," she said sarcastically of news organizations. "They know much more than I know and other people like me! So, no. They know just what they're doing."

Sarah Palin's withering regard for the media co-exists with the fact that Sarah Palin is a media sensation. Throughout this year's midterm cycle, no one commanded as much free time on the air as Palin, who of course wasn't running for office herself. Her mere presence or nonpresence at various campaign events - or the distance that wary Republican candidates kept from her - routinely eclipsed whatever else took place at the events themselves. Concurrently, Palin's denunciations of the Obama White House via Twitter garnered substantial attention not because the opinions were especially novel but because they were expressed with the brashness of a wily headline-grabber. All of this in addition to the fact that Palin, a former journalism major and sportscaster, happens to be a member of the media herself: a salaried Fox News contributor, the star of her own television series and a best-selling author whose second book, "America by Heart," will be released by HarperCollins this week with a first printing of 1 million copies and her pick of promotional slots offered up by her adversaries in the press.

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Nothing in her former world as a small-town mayor and the governor of a sparsely populated state prepared Palin for the perverse celebrity that would engulf her after being selected as McCain's vice-presidential candidate. For better and for worse, she was now a household name, beloved or ridiculed by strangers all across America. The caricature of Palin as a vapid, winking, press-averse clotheshorse proved irresistible to late-night entertainers. Less well known was the Palin who agitated for more access to the media (other than Katie Couric), who was seen more than once passed out on her hotel bed half-buried in briefing books and index cards and whose thriftiness when it came to her wardrobe was so obvious that one senior strategist clucked of the Palins, "These people shop at Dillards!"

....In truth, few are underestimating Sarah Palin anymore. In that endearing manner of the Beltway echo chamber, the prevailing narrative of Palin in 2009 was that that she was an incompetent ditz. This year's story line is that she is a social-media visionary who purposefully circumnavigated the power-alley gasbags and thereby constructed a new campaigning template for the ages. The reality is that Palin's direction is determined almost entirely by her instincts - or, as Fred Malek puts it, "There is no über-strategy." She did not game out a path forward when agreeing to two book deals with HarperCollins and then signing on with the Washington Speakers Bureau, Fox and then her television series. That same mind-set explains the lack of cohesion to Palin's virtual organization.

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