Abcarian: How many ways can a political memoir backfire? Ask Kristi Noem.


Not to beat a dead, ah, horse, but how can we ignore the spectacle that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has made of herself during her publicity tour for her just-published memoir, “No Going Back?”

Over the weekend, she sparred with Margaret Brennan on “Face the Nation,” when Brennan asked her to reflect on the wisdom of including anecdotes about killing her dog and goat, and some other egregious stories in the book.

Rather than answer simple questions about her judgment and memory, Noem proved to be a master of the kind of nonsensical pivoting segue that plagues politicians’ — especially Republican politicians’ — interviews these days. Allow me to paraphrase, but only barely:

Q: Do you regret writing about killing your dog Cricket?

A: Why is Joe Biden’s Secret Service agent-eating dog Commander still alive?

Q: Why’d you lie about meeting Kim Jong Un?

A: None of your beeswax!

But the receipts, as they say, are there.

Or at least they were. In the embargoed copy of her memoir that the Guardian obtained, Noem was quoted as having written, “I remember when I met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. I’m sure he underestimated me, having no clue about my experience staring down little tyrants. (I’ve been a children’s pastor after all.)”

There is so much wrong with that passage, and not even because it never happened.

Pretending that a global villain like Kim would give a second thought to an obscure American congresswoman is narcissism at its most delusional. But to throw her own pastoral ducklings under the bus by comparing them to a murderous dictator? That’s harsh. (Not puppy-killing harsh, but still.)

Noem was in Congress from 2011 to 2019. As South Dakota’s only representative in the House and a member of the Armed Services Committee, Noem of course traveled widely and came into contact with many world leaders. She writes about meeting, or being present at events with, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, England’s Boris Johnson and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni. She approvingly cites the reelection of Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban.

On Tuesday, when “No Going Back” became officially available, I downloaded it on my Kindle. Noem’s face-to-face Kim Jong Un fantasy was nowhere to be found.

That Kim anecdote, however, is not the only one Noem has been accused of making up.

Other challenged tales include her assertion that she canceled a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in 2023 after he said something she considered to be anti-Israel and pro-Hamas, and her report of what she called a “threatening” phone call during the pandemic from former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, then contemplating a run for president.

Macron’s office told the Associated Press that Noem had never been invited to meet him, although, it conceded, it was possible they’d been scheduled to attend the same event in Paris.

As for the call with Haley, writes Noem: “It was clear she wanted me to know that there was only room for one Republican woman in the spotlight. It was weird.”

Haley’s representative disputed Noem’s account, telling Politico that Haley, a former governor herself, had called Noem to offer support during the pandemic. “How she would twist that into a threat,” said Haley spokesman Chaney Denton, “is just plain weird.”

Sunday, Noem doubled down. “That story is absolutely true,” she told the hosts of “CBS Mornings.” “She’s a typical politician who says whatever she needs to on any given day to benefit herself.”

In a book full of puffed-up stories about her immense if imaginary courage, think of the real courage it would have taken to just suck it up and say, “I am sorry. I guess I got a little carried away.”

Instead, her spokesman, Ian Fury, essentially blamed Noem’s ghostwriter for the made-up incident with North Korea’s supreme leader. “Kim Jong Un was included in a list of world leaders and shouldn’t have been,” Fury told the Dakota Scout. “This has been communicated to the ghostwriter and editor.”

That non-responsive excuse is right up there with the classic obfuscation “mistakes were made.” Ironically, in her memoir’s acknowledgments, Noem writes, “Shout out to Ian for keeping me honest.” Heckuva job, Ian!

Instead of admitting she screwed up, as one wag put it on social media, Noem scapeghosted.

So who is the ghostwriter?

From the memoir acknowledgments, it appears that he is Mike Loomis, whom Noem describes as “a crazy guy” who “even scolded me once for not being prepared on having material written!” (Snark alert: You can see from that phrase why she needed writing assistance.)

Loomis is an experienced hand who has ghostwritten at least a dozen memoirs, including one by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. I reached out to him via his website but have not received a reply. Poor guy is probably being inundated by requests for comments.

On Monday, the day after her disastrous “Face the Nation” appearance, Noem was grilled by Elizabeth Vargas on the NewsNation network. Fortunately for Noem, her story about Cricket is no longer the big news. Unfortunately for Noem, interest now centers on whether she lied about staring down Kim Jong Un.

“When this was pointed out, we made an adjustment,” she told Vargas. “That name should not be in the book and I am not going to discuss those personal meetings.”

“But clearly if you’ve taken it out of the book, it’s because it’s untrue,” said Vargas.

“I’ve given you my answer,” said Noem, “and no, that’s not the answer.”

“You recorded the audio book, you read this whole book out loud, why didn’t you take it out then?” Vargas pressed.

“Did you want to talk about something else today?” Noem asked.

“We’re just trying to get a straight answer,” Vargas replied.

“You did,” said Noem, “and I mean, I took responsibility for it. The buck stops with me.”

President Truman would be spinning in his grave.

@robinkabcarian





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