Updated November 18, 2009
AP Turns Heads for Devoting 11 Reporters to Palin Book 'Fact Check'
by Robert Shaffer
Reviewing books and holding public figures accountable is at the core of good journalism, but the Associated Press' treatment of Palin's book seems an unprecedented move at the wire service
Sarah Palin is no normal politician, and at the Associated Press, apparently "Going Rogue" is no normal book.
When the former Republican vice presidential candidate and former Alaska governor wrote her autobiography, the AP found a copy before its release date and assigned 11 people to fact check all 432 pages.
The AP claims Palin misstated her record with regard to travel expenses and taxpayer-funded bailouts, using statements widely reported elsewhere. But it also speculated into Palin's motives for writing "Going Rogue: An American Life," stating as fact that the book "has all the characteristics of a pre-campaign manifesto."
Palin quickly hit back on a Facebook post titled "Really? Still Making Things Up?"
"Imagine that," the post read. "11 AP reporters dedicating time and resources to tearing up the book, instead of using the time and resources to 'fact check' what's going on with Sheik Mohammed's trial, Pelosi's health care takeover costs, Hasan's associations, etc. Amazing."
AP spokesman Paul Colford said the organization, with more than 4,000 employees, and 49 Pulitzer Prizes earned for asking the hard questions, has the luxury of putting multiple reporters on major stories. He confirmed 11 people worked on the story, but not all full-time. He refused to say, however, if similar number of journalists were assigned to review other political books, or if Palin has been treated differently.
"One byline appeared on AP's Fact Check. Others at AP with knowledge of specific areas covered in the book contributed in varying degrees to preparing the Fact Check quickly on Friday," his statement read.
Reviewing books and holding public figures accountable is at the core of good journalism, but the treatment Palin's book received appears to be something new for the AP. The organization did not review for accuracy recent books by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, then-Sen. Joe Biden, either book by Barack Obama released before he was president or autobiographies by Bill or Hillary Clinton. The AP did more traditional news stories on those books.
The attraction to Palin doesn't appear to be partisan, since AP didn't fact-check recent political tomes by Republicans Rudy Giuliani or Newt Gingrich.
The AP, however, regularly writes "fact checks" for major political speeches, such as a September health care speech by President Obama.
Doug Underwood, a University of Washington journalism professor who covered Washington politics in the late 1970s for Gannett, said Palin brings some negative attention on herself with a history of bad interviews and misstatements. In addition, the press cannot ever be perfectly consistent or fair, he said.
Still, the media treated Biden and Palin differently, he said.
Biden's book "Promises to Keep" became an instant best-seller when he was chosen to be Obama's running mate, but was not fact-checked by the AP and only received passing interest. In a story last year on Biden's Vietnam War draft deferments due to asthma, the reporter notes Biden didn't mention the malady in his book.
Palin is not the standard presidential possibility for 2012, Underwood said.
"She's a figure who's a politician, but also a part of popular culture," he said.
Palin supporters believe 11 reporters poring over every word of her book is excessive- and further proof of the media's obsession and maltreatment of the hockey mom from Wasilla.
"They're obsessed with trying to discredit her," said Adrienne Ross, New York state organizer for the 2012 Draft Sarah Committee. "Because she's a conservative woman, they make fun of her accent, comment about her looks. She doesn't come in the package they want her to come in."
Meanwhile, Palin is complaining about the cover of Newsweek that shows her posing in sports gear, including short runner's shorts, accompanied by the headline: "How do you solve a problem like Sarah?"
The photo was originally published in the August 2009 issue of Runners World. Palin accused the magazine of being "sexist" for using the photo out of context.
"When it comes to Sarah Palin, this 'news' magazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant rather than the relevant," she wrote on her Facebook page. "The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected by now."