"It's called legwork, it's called immersion journalism, and it doesn't look pretty. But it should come as a surprise to only naive newspaper readers that every day journalists treat the subjects of investigations the way [Joe] McGinniss is treating Palin," Slate's Jack Shafer argued in a May 26 post subheadlined, "In defense of a journalist's stalking of a politician."
Shafer wrote his post because, after all, he felt he had to in some way publicly "commend the writer for an act of journalistic a**holery —renting the house next door to the Palin family in Wasilla, Alaska."
Far from crossing any ethical lines, to Shafer, McGinniss's move "honors a long tradition of snooping" and is worthy of applause from hard-bitten gumshoe reporters everywhere:
In calling McGinniss' ploy "a**holery" I intend no disparagement. I admire his determination to get the story and have no problems, ethically or morally, with him getting as close to his subject as possible—even if his technique seems a little stalkerish. Besides, there's a long journalistic tradition of wearing sources and subjects down until they surrender ... of knocking on the door of a grieving family to ask them, "How do you feel?" ... of feigning friendliness to gain access ... of crossing police lines in a brisk manner that implies a right to be there … of charming sources' families, friends, or colleagues in order to get closer to them … of frequenting a subject's favorite bar, place of worship, and subway stop until he cracks.
Even if one accepts that as a justification, Shafer failed to address what potential blowback that approach might have in the marketplace. Indeed, Shafer saw no potential drawbacks for McGinniss, predicting that the liberal author would most certainly "debut in the [New York] Times best-seller list."
Of course this appears to be an unprecedented move in the history of modern American politics, but it should be instructive to see if Shafer sings a different tune if in the future a conservative writer would literally move next door to an unsuccessful Democratic vice presidential candidate.
After all, John Edwards certainly ginned up a juicy story or two after his 2004 run.