Monday, September 08, 2008

Palin fought with her local paper, which now voices pride in her candidacy for vice president

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin got off to a rocky start as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, with her subordinates, some citizens and the local newspaper, The Frontiersman, Ken Armstrong and Hal Bernton report in The Seattle Times today.

Palin's firing of the police chief "was only part of the drama that unfolded in her first months as mayor" in late 1996 and early 1997, Armstrong and Bernton write. "The Frontiersman and Anchorage Daily News wrote one story after another about the turmoil. After notifying the librarian that she was fired, Palin backtracked and decided to keep her on. Palin had twice asked this librarian what she thought about banning books, to which the librarian responded it was a lousy idea, one she wouldn't go along with. Later, Palin told the local paper that any questions she'd raised about censorship were only 'rhetorical.' Palin put in place what the local paper called a gag order, prohibiting top city employees from talking to reporters unless she cleared it first."

After Palin tried to fill two city-council vacancies without the authority to do so, "The Frontiersman ran blistering editorials," the Times reports, saying Palin's operating philosophy was "either we are with her or against her. ... Palin promised to change the status quo, but at every turn we find hints of cronyism and political maneuvering. We see a woman who has long since surrendered her ideals to a political machine."

But Palin gradually "won folks over" and was re-elected, Armstrong and Bernton write. "Vicki Naegele, the former managing editor who wrote the editorial, defended Palin: "As a community newspaper, we held her feet to the fire. ... The need for such harsh words diminished as the months wore on." At the time, Palin said, "If nothing else, the old Frontiersman editorial points out the importance of administrative experience at the chief executive level. I grew tremendously in my early months as mayor, managing the fastest-growing city in the state, and I turned my critics around." (Read more)

Because of widespread interest in the book-banning discussions, The Frontiersman retyped its December 1996 story on the subject and posted it on its Web site, where it reports that many in the Wasilla area "are experiencing an influx of revenue from local efforts of national media" to research Palin. "The take-out business seems to be exploding as reporters eat while they work in their hotel rooms," writes reporter Michael Rovito.

In an editorial titled "We know Sarah Palin," The Frontiersman says, "We’ve known her as a governor tough enough to successfully take on the Last Frontier’s good old boy network" and voices hope that her nomination could turn attention from a rash of government scandals in the state. "Truth and transparency have been bywords for Palin. As she enters the national arena where she’ll be tugged and tormented, vilified and denigrated, we hope she sticks to her guns — metaphorically and literally. Because no matter the politics, for Wasilla, Alaska, to send its commercial-fishing, gun-toting, hockey-mom former mayor toward the White House, that’s history. And we’re proud of it." (Read more)

The nomination is obviously driving traffic to the Web site of the paper, a thrice-weekly. An unscientific, self-selected "reader's poll" asking whether Palin was a good choice for Sen. John McCain's running mate had gleaned more than 5,000 replies as of 4 p.m. Monday. There was no was for us to tell where the votes were coming from, but the results were Yes, 2,894; No, 2,403; and "Too early to tell," 291.

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