Amanda Coyne is an Alaska freelancer, a blogger at Huffington Post, and an APU writing teacher. She has been published in Harper’s, Newsweek, the New York Times, and the Anchorage Press, where she was an editor until 2005. She also happens to be a friend. So when word got out that the Palin biography by Kaylene Johnson (published before Palin was tapped for VP) was climbing the bestseller charts, I knew we’d want to hear more from Amanda, who was the first biographer hired for the project.
Amanda’s role wasn’t widely known, but it wasn’t secret either. I’ve waited weeks wondering which enterprising local or national reporter would finally grill Amanda on why the original project tanked. With visions of the winking debate-night Palin branded on my brain, I couldn’t wait any longer.
The Anchorage Daily News “Ear” reported that you were the original Palin biographer for Epicenter, the company that later brought out SARAH by Kaylene Johnson. I’ve also read one blog that referred to you as “fired.” If you stepped down, why? What about the project made you uncomfortable and do you have any regrets now?
Amanda Coyne: Fired? I might be the only person ever who can claim to have dumped Sarah. That’s a joke, kind of. I turned the contract down after some interviews, and after being convinced that she was just not as substantial as I thought she was.
In my research, and by watching her, I realized that she is lovely and confident and was well on her way to something that she had not earned. And what was worse, in my mind, is that she didn’t seem to know that she hadn’t earned it. Indeed, Sarah told a reporter in 1996 that the “turning point in my life” was winning a high school basketball game, she said. “We were supposed to be the underdogs big time. You see firsthand anything is possible and learn it takes tenacity, hard work and guts.” I just didn’t believe that she was qualified to be Alaska’s governor.
Here’s part of an email that I sent to the publisher, Kent Sturgis, when I decided not to do the book: “I’ve been following the governor’s performance these last months, and I fear that she is floundering. Her administration is exiting rapidly, some of her decisions have been ill-thought out, at best…. Sarah is the type of woman who will end up defining her own success, but I have a hunch that that success will be to sail off to D.C. to take Stevens’ seat if and when he gets indicted, and leave this state in a lurch. I’ve been talking long and hard to many people here, and I’m realizing that I can’t write the book that you and I have spoken about. I simply can’t have my name on what, so far, is turning out to be a puff piece without substance.”
Andromeda: Tell me a few things about her that gave you pause and that others, especially non-Alaskans, might not know.
Amanda Coyne: She hadn’t traveled. She couldn’t name her favorite book. She doesn’t struggle with any kind of the big issues of the day. She has not experienced anything like adversity. It took her five colleges to get a journalism degree. Her mother didn’t know who Sarah’s idols were. She also didn’t know how she became the kind of born again Christian she says she is. She couldn’t remember Sarah having interest in public policy, or in reformist movements, or in anything, much, except for sports. Both Sarah and her family are obsessed with Trooper Wooten.
Andromeda: Are you putting some Palin energy into another project you’re willing to talk about?
My husband (journalist Tony Hopfinger) and I have just written a book proposal on Palin, focusing on what forces gave rise to her in the first place. Two weeks before McCain tapped her, we launched the Alaska Dispatch
We didn’t intend it to be this way, but it’s pretty much all Palin all the time. Our idea was to get other people blogging and writing, and then for Tony and me to focus on reporting. However, the response has been so huge, and so many people have so many good things to say, that getting all the pieces posted and straight is pretty much taking up all of our time. We both also have fulltime jobs. There are so many good pieces on our site, but here are some of my favorites:
Note from Andromeda, 10/3/08: As first posted, a quote above was attributed to Sarah Palin in 2006. The correct date is 1996.