Sarah Palin’s E-mail Etiquette

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Reuters / Shannon Stapleton

Thus far, the 25,000 pages of Sarah Palin’s e-mails from her first year and a half as governor, released by the state of Alaska on Friday, have yielded no bombshells. By all accounts, they show a pre-vice presidential Palin who is warm, writing a friend’s prospective landlord directly to offer a reference. She’s down to earth, laughing off a crotchety state senator’s complaints that her daughter Willow snuck the family’s puppy, Indi, into the Capitol. She’s bi-partisan in her correspondence with legislators; she even praises then Senator Obama’s energy ideas as “pretty cool.”  And she’s involved in the details of governing from requests to open a sanctuary to bear hunting to taking her state’s emergency services to task for not keeping her better informed about a disaster they were responding to.

Though the state fought to block the release of the e-mails, the press coverage of them has been largely positive. And at least one Palin aide described the cache to me as the perfect antidote to a book that hit stands this month by former staffer Frank Bailey entitled, Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin. Bailey, who comes off as a very bitter former employee, reprinted dozens of Palin’s emails to him – many of them nasty. In the e-mails released this week, Palin appears more nice than nasty. (Though, it’s worth bearing in mind that these are only e-mails from her official account and do not include her unofficial Gmail account, which she often used to communicate with staff particularly on sensitive matters, knowing that the state’s emails were subject to the Freedom of Information Act, which is how these caches were obtained.) It is her flair for drama that sent more than 30 national reporters to Juneau for the release of the papers, though most have been disappointed with how pedestrian the e-mails have turned out to be.

Most news stories have focused on the period right before she was picked. Her genuine shock at her selection is apparent. “Can you believe it!” she wrote to a staffer the day of the announcement. “He told me yesterday — it moved fast! Pray! I love you.” She and President George W. Bush joked about the veep rumors just weeks before she was picked. And the e-mails detailing McCain and Palin’s get-to-know-you dance.

Like any office, she and her staff sometimes circulated e-mails they found funny. One was a joke called, The Indian with One Testicle. Yes, she did install a tanning bed in the governor’s mansion — as was first reported right after she was named McCain’s vice presidential nominee. Yes, her husband, Todd, was highly engaged in the political process, as has been reported for years. He is cc’d on many e-mails concerning legislation and in one case what Palin worries is an e-mail hack turns out to be an e-mail Todd sent from one of her accounts. In true working-mother form, she shot off an annoyed note to human resources that the day Trig was born should have been counted as a work day as she signed “a bill into law and conducted a few state actions.” Huge swathes of the e-mails are from constituents, some of them children, some fans and some crazy, threatening nut jobs. The positive ones tended to get the best responses, unsurprisingly.

Not all of her e-mails were roses and hearts, even for a governor with an 80% approval rating at the time. She repeatedly lamented gossip about her family, particularly about Bristol’s pregnancy — possibly even before Bristol herself knew she was pregnant. Palin was heavily engaged in curating her image. She authored one glowing editorial about herself but then asked that a staffer submit it under someone else’s name. She also conducted a phony television interview of herself where she reads her answers from a teleprompter.

As she does now, Palin put a special premium on policing the press. She responded to a lot of news stories, asking for corrections or clarifications. In one e-mail she bristled at an Anchorage Daily News report that she had banned staffers from talking to the press. “I have NEVER banned any of our team members from voicing opinions on anything,” she wrote. “In fact, I’ve stated that the more information and communication efforts put forth on behalf of your departments and divisions, the better. I’ve asked that you all share your opinions, speak freely to press, public, legislators, one another, etc.”

In my own experience e-mailing with Palin, I learned that she can send the occasional nasty-gram – as she did over a story that that had already been corrected. But she can also be very sweet; she sent an unprompted note when she read of my mother’s death. But, like the cache of her gubernatorial e-mails, 99% of her correspondence was professional and perfunctory.