Palin's Noxious Ghostwriter
How the failed GOP veep nominee turned to a gay-bashing ghostwriter and a blogger tied to white supremacist groups to craft her image and autobiography.
When rumors reverberated through the media about Sarah Palin’s supposed impending divorce from her husband Todd, she called one of her favored conservative bloggers, Robert Stacy McCain, to spike the story. McCain eagerly recorded Palin’s response and r eported it on his blog almost as soon as he hung up. “Divorce Todd? Have you seen Todd?” Palin confided to McCain. “I may be a renegade hockey mom, but I’m not blind!” This is the one McCain she’s happy to collaborate with.
In January, a writer for the American Conservative magazine named Clark Stooksbury joked that because of his unrelenting enthusiasm, Robert Stacy McCain would be the perfect ghostwriter for Palin’s forthcoming memoir, Going Rogue. McCain responded by recommending an old pal for the job. “Actually, I’d think my Donkey Cons co-author Lynn Vincent might be ideal for the job,” he wrote, “since she’s already co-authored the bestseller Same Kind of Different As Me.”
“The white person who does not mind transacting business with a black bank clerk may yet be averse to accepting the clerk as his sister-in-law, and THIS IS NOT RACISM [caps in original], no matter what Madison Avenue, Hollywood and Washington tell us," Robert Stacy McCain wrote.
Perhaps McCain was joking as well. Or perhaps he knew something no one else did. In May, just four months after McCain mentioned her name, Vincent was selected to be the official ghostwriter of Palin’s memoir. A staff writer for the conservative evangelical magazine, World, Vincent first encountered Palin at a speech the former Republican vice presidential nominee gave before an Indiana anti-abortion group in April. Describing herself as “an abortion survivor,” Vincent remarked in a blog post that Palin’s revelation that she considered aborting her son, Trig, who has Downs Syndrome, made her seem “very real, very human.”
Palin was consulting at the time with Washington superlawyer Robert Barnett on the publication of her memoirs. Palin and Barnett spent days sorting through the credentials of each of the thirty writers who had beseeched them for the privilege of ghost-authoring the autobiography. In the end, Palin settled on Vincent, who boasts a long resume of successful ghostwritten memoirs and shares Palin’s views on social issues. Thanks to Vincent’s diligence, Harper Collins was able to crash the 413-page Palin autobiography, Going Rogue, in near-record time and ship it to bookstores to meet its scheduled November 16 release date.
• Tina Brown: Sarah Palin, the Musical • Gallery: A Palin Wardrobe Primer• Lee Siegel: Leave Palin Alone• More Daily Beast contributors on Palin’s book tour. Vincent may have been an effective literary collaborator, but like Palin herself, she entered the project with considerable political baggage. Vincent’s commentaries for World are punctuated by inflammatory characterizations of gays, minorities and liberals that have already provided fodder for Palin’s critics. Among Vincent’s most strident statements were her description of homosexuality as a “deviant” mental disorder and labeling of President Barack Obama as the “face of the minority survivor” of abortion, which she dubbed the “Black Genocide.”
But it is Vincent’s association with Robert Stacy McCain that offers the clearest window into her far-right politics. Indeed, the only political book that Vincent has written in the first-person was done in collaboration with McCain. Published in 2005, Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime and Corruption in the Democratic Party was a compendium of misdeeds of and accusations against Democratic Party activists and leaders whipped up into an indictment of the party as irredeemably corrupt. Yet many of the authors’ charges proved false.
Vincent and McCain, for example, stated the Democrats were “perilously close” to committing treason for their opposition to the war on Iraq and insisted that Saddam Hussein had an active WMD program in the days before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. They also claimed, based on alleged information supposedly culled by Congressman Richard Nixon on the House Un-American Affairs Committee, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had been a “puppet” of Joseph Stalin. And finally they predicted that the Democrats would “surely lose” the 2006 congressional midterms if they made Republican corruption a centerpiece of their campaign. Vincent and McCain might have come to regret this if the book had made any noticeable impact. Instead, Donkey Cons was generally ignored by both the targets of the authors’ invective and conservatives, too.
So who is McCain? A former staffer for the conservative Washington Times, McCain has managed to become a player on the far right fringe, stirring controversy almost everywhere he goes. McCain was recruited to the Times in 1997 from a small paper in rural Georgia by former Times managing editor Fran Coombs. Under the watch of Coombs and editor-in-chief Wesley Pruden, both Southern conservatives with connections to white nationalist groups, McCain turned the Times’ “Culture Briefs” section into a bulletin board for the racist right, promoting articles from racist publications like the Occidental Quarterly and the Virginia-based neo-Nazi leader Bill White, who has described McCain as a friend. McCain was himself a member of the neo-Confederate group, the League of the South, which favors a “second secession” from the United States and has been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In his spare time, McCain busied himself by ranting about interracial marriage on an online message board. "[T]he media now force interracial images into the public mind and a number of perfectly rational people react to these images with an altogether natural revulsion,” McCain wrote. “The white person who does not mind transacting business with a black bank clerk may yet be averse to accepting the clerk as his sister-in-law, and THIS IS NOT RACISM [caps in original], no matter what Madison Avenue, Hollywood and Washington tell us."
According to former Washington Times reporter George Archibald, during a discussion in the newsroom about civil rights in August 2002, McCain rose from his desk to defend slavery as “good for the blacks and good for property owners.” “He is just a complete animalistic racist,” Archibald told me. Marlene Johnson, the Times’ former arts section editor and an African-American, told me McCain was “an avowed segregationist.”
When I began reporting on McCain’s racial exploits for an article for The Nation, which was published on September 20, 2006, I began receiving unsolicited late night phone calls from McCain. In one such call, McCain refused to respond to the allegations leveled by his colleagues. Instead, he insisted I come to the Raven Grill, a dive bar in Washington DC’s Mount Pleasant section, to meet him and someone named “Carlos.” I simply repeated my request for a response to the charges. McCain again refused. Finally, the bizarre phone calls stopped.
Soon after my article was published, McCain was placed on probation at the Times, purportedly because of his anemic work habits. He quit soon after and started a blog. The following year, the Times owners, from Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church cult, ousted Coombs and replaced Pruden (who was set to retire to any case) with Washington Post reporter John Solomon. (The crisis has continued to the present day, as a family feud within the Church prompted Moon’s son, Preston, to fire the paper’s new executive leadership last week. Solomon has left under unexplained circumstances. Now, the Times’ very survival is in question).
McCain, for his part, does not seem to have changed much since leaving the paper. In September, McCain wrote on his blog that liberal Jews could be converted into conservatives if Republicans could find “some way to encourage Jewish families to move to small towns in the Heartland, where their kids can grow up hunting, fishing and hot-rodding the backroads.” During Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip in January, McCain posed as an earnest defender of Jewish interests, calling Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald a “wicked satire of a stereotypical self-hating Jew” for Greenwald’s outspoken criticism of Israel’s military campaign.
McCain could not be reached for comment. But he recently made a statement to the Washington Independent’s David Weigel about his relationship with Vincent: “People are making assumptions about me and Lynn Vincent based on bullshit they read on the Internet,” he told Weigel. “[Vincent] is a person who is a lot more progressive about her views than a lot of people who don’t know her would give her credit for. It was her idea to write Donkey Cons—she asked me to help her because I’m knowledgeable about political history. She was the organizer of the project, she had the agent, she made the executive decisions.” McCain added, “I’m just going to be an asterisk in Sarah Palin’s Wikipedia page.”
Although Palin will introduce her book to the public through an interview with Oprah Winfrey, an avowed liberal who endorsed Obama, she continues to live up to the book's title, going rogue with Vincent as her personal scribe, and McCain as her backchannel to the conservative movement's online faithful. Once sidelined on the distant shores of the right-wing, Palin has lifted Vincent and McCain to prominence as her trusted publicity agents.