This case has brought to the fore a fun new journalism game: the Palin Facebook Note Close Reading. In a note posted early Tuesday morning, Palin claims to have learned about McGinniss's stunt (he'll apparently be living next door until he finishes his upcoming book about her) when she went out to mow the lawn and saw him "overlooking my property." It seems somewhat unlikely that Palin first discovered McGinniss's plan in this folksiest of ways, but what opinionators really disagree about is whether Palin's words on him are gracious or nasty. As part of a larger defense of McGinniss, Slate's Jack Shafer writes,
Although Palin may not like the eyeballing proximity of McGinniss' perch, she seems to know he's within his rights. On her Facebook page, she writes. "Welcome, Joe! … [Y]ou know what they say about 'fences make for good neighbors'? Well, we'll get started on that tall fence tomorrow, and I'll try to keep Trig's squeals down to a quiet giggle so we don't disturb your peaceful summer."
So is Palin being game and funny? Or is she being "despicable?" The Washington Post's David Weigel (notably, a columnist on conservative issues), writes,
Palin informs her readers that McGinniss is "overlooking my children's play area" and "overlooking Piper's bedroom." Alternately sounding angry and mocking, she refers to "the family's swimming hole," which at first reference sounds like she's accusing McGinniss of checking out the Palins in their bathing suits, until you realize the family's "swimming hole" is Lake Lucille. And she posts a photo of the space McGinniss is renting, captioning it, "Can I call you Joe?"
Can somebody explain to me how this isn't a despicable thing for Palin to do?
Actually, it seems like both Palin and McGinniss are pretty much exercising their protected freedoms here, but the different takes on her note may reveal something about why Palin gets, in Mark McKinnon's words, "flattered with obsessive attention by her opponents and the media." With her aw-shucks style and lack of actual ideological substance, she's become a sort of projection screen for other people's opinions. Of course, Glenn Beck's favorite thing to project onto anything is (supposedly) righteous anger, so on his show Wednesday he accused McGinniss of "hounding" and "stalking" Palin, and added, "this is harassment." For good measure, he then asked her, "As a woman, do you feel violated?"
Palin was able to play humble then, saying only that she felt protective of her children. Result: she looks calm and rational, while Beck looks like an impassioned defender of women's right to privacy (a neat trick for the anti-choice Beck, who believes that "a baby is a natural consequence of your actions of having sex"). Much like Michele Bachmann's claim that she had "stalkers" at MSNBC, Beck's name-calling is offensive to women who are actually the victims of stalking and harassment. Palin, to her credit, never said she was one of these — one of her biggest strengths is letting other people say that kind of thing for her.