The e-mail heard round the world
SUMMARY: Anne Kilkenny of Wasilla, Alaska, shared some thoughts on Gov. Sarah Palin in an e-mail to a few friends. But then they told a few people and they told a few people and so on and so on.
The first draft of Anne Kilkenny’s e-mail went to her mother in California. Then she sent it out to a few dozen friends and family members, many “in the lower 48.”
Within a week, Kilkenny’s words, the observations of a Wasilla, Alaska, homemaker who remembers Gov. Sarah Palin when she was mayor, circled the globe. The letter is posted on a thousand Web sites. It’s being cited in countless blogs and e-mails. Read it for yourself here.
Kilkenny, 59, has been quoted on the front page of the New York Times. She has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, four British papers, L’Express from France and Der Spiegel from Germany, to name just a few. She has gone on TV with ABC and NBC and CNN, which spent four hours at her house. She has spoken with National Public Radio.
Kilkenny is now a significant voice in the national discussion of the presidential election, but she began with a modest goal. She merely wanted to answer out-of-town friends who asked: “You’re from Wasilla — what’s Sarah Palin like?”
Kilkenny was more than a casual observer. She says she attended virtually every City Council meeting in Palin’s first year as Wasilla mayor in 1996. She is not a fan.
Kilkenny put her thoughts in a six-page e-mail in which she praised Palin as smart, energetic and hardworking but also labeled her intolerant, ambitious and ruthless. Kilkenny was perhaps the first to spread the story, now being widely reported, of how Palin once tried to fire the town librarian after the librarian made it clear that she would oppose efforts to remove books from the local collection. Palin was the freshly elected mayor then, and although she didn’t have any particular books in mind, she posed what she later called “rhetorical” questions about how objectionable books could best be removed. It's a murky issue, but we dove in and ruled Kilkenny's statement Half True.
Kilkenny was part of the insurgency that saved the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, from dismissal by Palin, who had asked for Emmons’ resignation, according to news accounts at the time. Palin relented after a public uprising.
Another claim in Kilkenny's e-mail is that Palin "fired Wasilla’s Police Chief because he 'intimidated' her, she told the press." Palin did write a memo suggesting intimidation was at play, but it's clear issues of loyalty and support were also factors in the firing. We find this claim Mostly True.
Kilkenny, whose husband is retired, says Palin left the city in debt over pet projects. And she concludes “there has to be literally millions of Americans who are more knowledgeable and experienced than she” and who would be better suited to be vice president.
We examined Kilkenny's claim about Palin leaving the city in debt, as well as several other figures she cites from city budgets to make the argument that Palin was hardly the fiscal conservative she is portrayed as. We found that while Kilkenny's numbers are Mostly True, they get a fuller context from the current mayor.
At the top of the e-mail, Kilkenny told friends they should feel free to distribute the e-mail to friends. But, she asked, “please do not post it on any websites as there are too many kooks out there.”
Ha ha ha.
Within hours, she was getting e-mails referencing her “blog.”
“What blog? Did I blog?” she wondered. She had never blogged before.
Google “Anne Kilkenny and Palin” and you’ll get more than 17,000 page hits now. Her letter has become a popular chain e-mail. “Intellectually, you realize there is this pyramid effect,” Kilkenny said. “But it’s still mind-boggling.”
A couple of factors conspired to propel Kilkenny’s letter to Web fame. First, few Americans outside Alaska had ever heard of Palin before she was announced as Sen. John McCain’s running mate. Since that day just a week ago, the public has had a voracious appetite for information about her.
Second, Kilkenny provides a critical voice. Palin is wildly popular in Alaska, and even more so in Wasilla, a town beaming with pride at having one of its own nominated to become vice president of the United States.
Kilkenny’s critical voice has appealed to journalists, who have called by the dozens, eager for a perspective that differs from the hometown boosters. More than one reporter has called with just two questions: “Are you a real person? Did you write this?”
She’s not sure how all this may be playing with her neighbors. She has been so inundated with calls and interviews, she hasn’t had time to leave the house. Her mother worries about the attention. She suggested her daughter change her phone number and move in with her until the firestorm passes. But so far the e-mail response has been overwhelmingly positive, Kilkenny said. Many have praised her courage. Others have written in defense of Palin. That’s okay with Kilkenny, too.
Kilkenny, a Democrat, said she does not share Palin’s political point of view. But for those who are socially conservative, she said, her e-mail should be in some ways reassuring. “I want people to know,” she said. “If they are social conservatives, they can trust that’s who she is.”
Overall, she has been pleased with the tone of responses.
“The American public is not a vicious, vindictive, ugly group of people,” she concluded. “They care deeply about their country. They take their responsibility as citizens very seriously. My faith in the American people was really pumped up.”
Another thing she has learned: The public is very distrustful of the media. “But they are very trustful of me,” she said.
Which she finds a little alarming. Because, she said, they really don’t know who she is. She could be anyone.