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11.29.09

Palin's Bus Hoax

On her book tour, Sarah Barracuda pretends to be one of the people. But she's really winging across the country on a private jet.

As much of her entourage, including HarperCollins publicist Tina Andreadis, risked a collective case of White Line Fever, covering more than 3,000 road miles during the book tour’s first week, Sarah Palin herself seems to have remained above it all, apparently cosseted in the luxury of a Gulfstream II 12-passenger jet rented from Universal Jet Aviation of Boca Raton, Florida, at a cost of more than $4,000 per hour.

More than two weeks ago, quoting Andreadis, USA Today reported that Palin would be “making two and sometimes three stops a day, traveling in a bus painted with the cover of her book.” And just before the tour started, Palin herself said on her Facebook page: “I’ll post our progress from the road.” To further the illusion, the populist heroine gave televised interviews from the bus, including one to Greta Van Susteren en route to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

To further the illusion, the populist heroine gave televised interviews from the bus, including one to Greta Van Susteren en route to Fort Bragg.

Last week I was in The Villages, the fantastical Back to the Future-style retirement enclave north of Orlando, when Palin popped out the front door of the bus to greet the thousand or so worshipers gathered outside Barnes & Noble. I thought she sure looked good for someone who had been riding a bus for a week, changing diapers—as she said—all the way. Publicist Andreadis, by contrast, had the worn and harried look of someone who had been earning an honest living by riding a bus for a week.

It seems now that Palin hasn’t been on the bus, except for short hops between local airports and hotels and book-signing sites. Instead, as first reported by the Alaskan blog Palingates, she’s apparently been aboard UJT750, the Gulfstream American twin-jet that she first boarded at Westchester County airport shortly after noon on November 18, bound for Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the first stop on her tour.

The full activity log for UJT750 can be found here. The bottom line is that the plane’s goings and comings track Palin’s tour perfectly: from Grand Rapids to Washington, Pa. and then to Rochester, N.Y., Roanoke, Va., Fayetteville, N.C., Birmingham, Ala., and Jacksonville and Orlando.

On November 25, the plane carried Palin, her parents, her two youngest children and her Aunt Katie to Pasco, Washington, for Thanksgiving. And there it sat, at Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco, for four full days, which is a lot of inactivity for a plane that rents for more than $4,000 an hour. But it was Thanksgiving weekend and the Pasco-Richland area was where Palin wanted to be.

Palin apparently returned to New York Sunday night. At least UJT750 was scheduled to take off from Tri-Cities at 6:55 p.m. EST with an 11:30 p.m. arrival at Teterboro, N.J., anticipated. Her next signing is not until Thursday, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Presumably, she’ll fly to Fayetteville and then board her bus again for the short ride to the local Sam’s Club. Presumably, she’ll also fly over the much greater distances that separate the stops on the western half of her tour, which stretches from Dallas to Minneapolis. Will she continue to pretend she’s riding the bus?

I emailed Tina Andreadis and Jonathan Burnham, HarperCollins’s publisher, yesterday to ask:

--How much is Universal Jet Aviation charging?

--Is HarperCollins paying?

--Will Sarah continue to fly throughout the second half of the tour?

--Does anyone else ever ride on the plane with her?

--Can you give me a list of where she actually stayed overnight from Nov. 18 until her arrival in Tri-Cities?

--I assume she did not use her own name checking in: Can you comment on my information that she used "Sheeran," her mother's maiden name?

--In regard to the other plane used on Nov. 19-20 in Ohio and Indiana, was that supplied by [Billy Graham’s son] Franklin Graham?

Burnham did not reply. Andreadis wrote back: “Harper has no comment on the logistics of its tours.”

Oddly, Palin herself let the mask slip a couple of times on Twitter. At 9:48 p.m. on Nov. 21, she wrote, “Just got off flt.” A few hours later, she wrote, “Landed in VA.” Other than that, except for the side trip to Asheville, N.C., for dinner with Billy Graham—aircraft provided by Billy’s son, Franklin, and his evangelical organization Samaritan’s Purse—Palin has played along with the charade. Indeed, she may have insisted on the charade.

There is, of course, nothing the least bit inappropriate about flying from place to place on a book tour. Back in the day when publishers still sent non-celebrity authors out in public, I flew on all of mine. It’s the only sensible approach. And if someone will spring for an executive jet, all the better. On the other hand, nobody tried to pretend I was riding a bus.

What’s wrong in this instance is the apparent fakery created and sustained for the sake of building pseudo-populist appeal—and selling books. Sarah Palin and HarperCollins have consciously tried to give the impression that she is doing her book tour by bus when the evidence suggests she is not. At every stop, she’s been filmed getting off Big Blue looking rested and radiant. She dazzles onlookers and interviewers with her seemingly bottomless reserves of energy. And no one suspects she may secretly be hopping on and off her main means of transport, UJT750, and resting up in hotels.

Both Palin and the publishing house that has invested so many millions of dollars in her seem to have felt it would send the wrong message to let the “common-sense conservative” be seen winging her away across the country just like any other good old-fashioned Republican CEO.

The people with whom I spent 18 hours in The Villages last week, waiting for Palin, would not begrudge her the luxury jet. But they’re not going to like hearing they’ve been had.

Plus: Check out Book Beast for more news on hot titles and authors and excerpts from the latest books.

Joe McGinniss is the bestselling author of The Selling of the President , Fatal Vision and Never Enough , among others. His next book, tentatively titled Sarah Palin’s Year of Living Dangerously , will be published by Broadway Books in 2011.