Okay gang story time!
Come with me for a trip in the wayback machine. Back to the days when the waters of the Gulf of Mexico were still a beautiful turquoise blue, when Barack Obama still retained that new President smell, and when Sarah Palin was still just an angry ex-Vice Presidential nominee hating her life, hating her job, and especially, hating the media.
This incident took place during the time between the great Turkey Massacre of November 2008 and the shocking and bizarre resignation speech of July 2009. In fact the exact date was January 10, 2009, and the place was the AT&T Sports Center in Wasilla Alaska.
My friends and I had formulated an idea for a video that could be embedded on my blog, and possibly other places as well. The idea was simply to drive out to Wasilla and interview a few of the locals about their feelings concerning Sarah Palin, sort of like the Daily Show had once done.
So I, Dennis Zaki, and few other people, loaded up in my car and started the 60 mile drive from Anchorage to Wasilla. At one point during the ride I jokingly asked what we would do if we actually ran into Sarah Palin. Everybody had a good laugh at that unrealistic possibility.
If only we had known then how the day would turn out.
After arriving in Wasilla we went out onto the frozen Lake Lucille to get some still shots of the Palin house (for use in the video), visited the now iconic Mugshot Saloon (we decided it was too smoky for any good interviews), and ended up interviewing people outside of the Wasilla Wal-Mart.
We got a few interesting responses, and met a few real characters, but the weather was working against us.
Now the temperature outside was in the low twenties, but there was a fierce wind blowing that brought the temperature down several degrees whenever it kicked up, and it easily penetrated our layers of clothing and snatched away our body heat with every gust. After about an hour or so in front of the Wal-Mart we were frozen solid, and we desperately needed someplace to warm up.
It was decided that we would go to a local sports center and hopefully get permission to interview some people in a much warmer location. So off we went.
When we arrived at the AT&T Sports Center we found the parking lot jam packed with cars (Apparently there was a basketball tournament scheduled for that day), but fortunately just as we were about to give up hope and drive away a space opened up fairly close to the entrance.
After parking the vehicle some of our group went directly inside while Dennis and I unloaded the film equipment from the car.
Now unlike blogging, which requires relatively few accessories, making a film involves quite a few bulky items which must be hauled from place to place. Besides asking the actual questions and holding the microphone during interviews I also carried the tripod, and a bag or two of equipment when we moved from one destination to another. And this was how I was encumbered as Dennis held the door open for me at the sports center.
As I passed into the relative warmth inside the first set of double doors, I heard Dennis say “Oh hi, I did not expect to see YOU here!”
(Now I know some of you are WAY ahead in determining who Dennis was talking to, but bear with me as the Gryphen of 2009 catches up to you.)
I turned back to see who Dennis was talking to and watched Sarah Palin, with Willow and Piper close behind, and a handful of other people (one of who was carrying Trig) walking in through the doors behind me. Sarah warmly greeted Dennis (who had interviewed her numerous times in the past), and then walked through the second set of doors that I was holding open, and into the foyer of the sports center.
Dennis and I shot each other an incredulous look and right then I knew that our little trip to Wasilla had now gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.
We found a spot to put the equipment down and Dennis told me that he wanted to ask Sarah for an interview. I believe my response was something along the lines of “Hell, no!” After all I was still an anonymous blogger and had no intention of walking up to the Governor of our state, who I had been giving the hardest time imaginable on my blog, and saying “Hi, my name is Gryphen. Do you want to do a taped interview with me?”
I might be wrong, but my best guess is that not only would I NOT get an interview, but that I would have been chased out of town by the authorities.
“Don’t worry she knows me. I have interviewed her plenty of times. And if you don’t want to give your real name we can just make up any old name for you.” Dennis replied.
I was not thrilled, but I agreed that getting an interview with Sarah, especially since she had avoiding the press lately, was not something I could expect Dennis to pass up.
So we located the basketball court that Willow’s team was playing on, and Dennis set up the equipment as I went to find the rest of our group who we had lost sight of in all of the excitement.
After I located my friends and told them what was up (which they wanted no part of) I went back to where Dennis and the camera were. By that time Dennis had already spoken to Sarah and she had agreed to be interviewed, but only after the game had reached the halftime mark.
So Dennis and I patiently stood around and discussed which questions to ask the Governor when we interviewed her. I told him I was not really interested in asking any so-called “gotcha questions” or asking her anything to make her feel uncomfortable since essentially we were invading her private time with her family.
So we agreed that I would ask something simple about people's perceptions of Wasilla after it had received so much attention during her candidacy. I also came up with a few other fairly innocuous questions, but there was one that I simply could not resist asking.
At that time the internet was abuzz with excerpts from an interview where Palin had discussed with John Ziegler her frustration over the “conspiracy” surrounding the birth of Trig, and had blamed anonymous bloggers for convincing news sources to take the story seriously. I felt that I simply could not pass up the opportunity to ask her about anonymous bloggers, especially since I was in fact an anonymous blogger. The gods of irony simply demanded that I put that in with my list of questions.
Ah, but what to call myself. Since I was still not sure about using my real name I struggled to come up with another one instead. I suggested that we use “Joey” since I have a family member named Joey and it would be easy to remember.
While we waited we watched Willow's basketball game, which seemed to go on forever. The whole time I made sure not to stare at the governor and her family so as not to make them uncomfortable.
I decided to use the restroom before the interview and went to find one. Afterward I went to assure my friends that we would be done soon and then we could head back to town.
When I arrived back at the court, where Dennis and the camera were, I saw that Dennis was engaged in a conversation with Sarah who apparently was now ready for her interview somewhat earlier than I had anticipated.
I quite literally was handed the microphone the minute I walked up, heard Dennis introduce me as “Joey”, and we were off. Here is the interview from that day.
And here is a picture taken by a friend of Dennis and myself conducting that interview.
Now I thought that the interview went pretty well and I was really glad to have it over with. (I apologize for the poor sound quality, but there was a lot of noise and since this was one of my very first interviews I kept forgetting to get the microphone near my mouth when I was the one doing talking.) However as we started to pack up our things Palin continued to hang around and began to ask questions, such as “where was I from”, and “did I have a kid on one of the teams”, and a bunch of other questions while becoming more and more agitated. I answered a few but sort of ignored the more probing ones, while gathering up the tripod and the rest of the equipment.
We finished packing things up, thanked her for the interview, and exited the building to load up the car. After we finished I left Dennis outside with the equipment and went inside to get my friends and tell them that we were ready to hit the road.
When I located them in the sports center one of my friends asked “Did you see her?”
“See who?” I asked warily.
“Sarah Palin! When you left she handed Trig to Piper and charged across the middle of the basketball court in hot pursuit of you guys!”
As we walked toward the exit we kept our eyes peeled, but did not see any sign of the Governor, so I figured that maybe it was no big deal and that she had given up and decided to rejoin her kids on the basketball court.
However when I climbed into the car I asked Dennis if HE had seen Palin.
“Oh yeah” he said. “She came out with a notebook and wrote down your license plate number.”
I started the engine and we left the parking lot. As we drove I kept looking to see if the Wasilla police were suddenly going to appear in my rear view mirror. However we kept assuring each other that we had really done nothing wrong and that we certainly could not be arrested for interviewing the Governor. (Though to be honest I kept hearing the dueling banjoes from Deliverance playing in my head.)
Just a few minutes after leaving the sports center Dennis’s phone rang and we all jumped.
He looked at the number and said “Frank Bailey.”
Uh oh, again!
I listened as Dennis talked to Bailey who was calling on behalf of a clearly angry and suspicious Governor Palin. When asked who I was Dennis started off saying “Joey”, but as the conversation continued he slipped a few time and used my real name, “Jesse”. Joey, Jesse, Joey, Jesse, it went back and forth several times. I kept looking over at Dennis trying to get his attention to let him know he was not sticking to the story, but he never once looked in my direction until the call was already over. (By the way we never volunteered my last name.)
(Later I would be teased mercilessly by my fellow bloggers who until today were among the very few to hear this story and who, for several months, always referred to me as “Joey-Jesse”.)
When Dennis got off the phone he said that Palin was not happy and that he probably would not be getting any more interviews with her. (He never did.)
We stopped at a little Mexican restaurant in Wasilla to get some lunch and discussed what had just happened. Because the incident had clearly upset the Governor, and we did not want to give her cause to believe she had been set up, we decided to keep this story to ourselves until some undetermined time in the future.
After what happened to Joe McGinniss I decided it was time to tell the story. So I checked with Dennis and my other friends, who had been part of the decision to wait, and got their okay to tell all of you this bizarre tale.
Now let me just say that I have always regretted the fact that I was dishonest with Sarah Palin. Essentially it was only a small lie, and not even in the same category as the whoppers that she has been caught telling, but it was a lie nonetheless and I usually pride myself on being scrupulously honest.
However, looking back, even if I had given her my real name, it would have changed absolutely nothing. Clearly Sarah Palin was highly paranoid and whether I called myself “Joey” or “Jesse” she was still going to chase us out into that parking lot.
Now fast forward to August of 2009.
As many of you already know that was the month that I wrote the Splitsville story. After that my anonymity came to an end, resulting in death threats against me and the harassment of the people working in the elementary school where I had been employed.
The website that “outed” me has always claimed to have discovered my name on their own with their “super internet sleuthing powers”. But the fact remains that Sarah Palin wrote down my license plate number on January 10th. She certainly did not write it down just for fun, so it stands to reason that she made a call shortly afterward and discovered the name assigned to that license plate number, which would mean that from that day forward she was well aware of “Gryphen’s” true identity.
Now when Van Flein sent an e-mail threatening to sue me he used my real name and threatened to serve it “at the kindergarten where you assist or at your residence,” which means somebody gave him my name well before those idiot bloggers were unleashed.
There is of course no way to prove it, but I think the circumstantial evidence suggests that Sarah Palin herself was the one responsible for the revelation of my real name, and that the right wing blogger, who bragged about having direct contact with Sarah Palin's attorney, indirectly got it from her.
You know the funny thing is that the interview was only mildly interesting. It showed up on a few news programs, but only because she mentioned anonymous bloggers. Compared to the vast majority of interviews Sarah gave this one was pretty harmless.
So essentially she overreacted to something that ended up not being that big of a deal, just like she did when Joe McGinniss moved in next door. And isn't that a pattern we have observed over and over again with Sarah Palin?
P.S. I have made reference in the past to the fact that I suspected Trig Palin may have been, at least partially, deaf well before it was public knowledge. This was the day that those suspicions first arose. Go back and watch the interview again. At the 1:23 mark there is a VERY loud buzzer which sounds. It literally made me jump, but notice that Trig, who is kind of nodding off in Sarah's arms, does not even budge.