The huge cache of Sarah Palin's emails released Friday offered not only a chance to see what she was writing about during her uncompleted term as Alaska's governor, but also an opportunity to see how well she writes.
AOL Weird News brought samples to two writing analysts who independently evaluated 24,000 pages of the former governor's emails. They came back in agreement that Palin composed her messages at an eighth-grade level, an excellent score for a chief executive, they said.
"I'm a centrist Democrat, and would have loved to support my hunch that Ms. Palin is illiterate," said 2tor Chief Executive Officer John Katzman.
"However, the emails say something else. Ms. Palin writes emails on her Blackberry at a grade level of 8.5.
"If she were a student and showing me her work, I'd say 'It's fine, clear writing,'" he said, admitting that emails he wrote scored lower than Palin's on the widely used Flesch-Kincaid readability test.
"She came in as a solid communicator," said Paul J.J. Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor. The emails registered as an 8.2 on his version of the test. "That's typical for a corporate executive."
An example of Palin's strongest writing came on Jul. 17, 2007 in an email to Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell about the controversial Gravina Island Bridge, infamously called the "Bridge to Nowhere."
"We cant afford it, the Feds won't pay for it, the general populace isn't placing it as a high priority … can you diplomatically express that?! Of course we want infrastructure -- and this is NOT a "bridge to nowhere" (that is so offensive), but as it stands today with the highest-cost bridge design selected by the Ketchikan community, we need to find a lower-cost alternative [if] a bridge will be built."
"She's very concise. She gives clear orders. Her sentences and punctuations are logical," Payack said. "She has much more of a disciplined mind than she's given credit for."
Although it's like comparing apples to oranges, Payack said that famous speeches like Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was a 9.1 and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" oration rated a 8.8 on the scale.
The Palin emails offer a rare opportunity to see the digital internal communication of a public official. One of the few comparable scenarios was the release of the relatively slim 928-page assortment of former FEMA chief Michael Brown's emails from the days around the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe.
Payack and Katzman restricted their analysis to 60 randomly chosen messages that were at least one paragraph long. They were just 60 among the avalanche of documents released in response to freedom of information requests lodged when Palin was the relatively unknown running mate of Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential campaign.
Incoming messages to Palin's firstname.lastname@example.org account made up the bulk of the correspondence between December 2006 and September 2008, while the majority of notes Palin penned were too brief to use in the grade-level tests, the analysts said.
Many messages were conjured on her Blackberry, where Palin shortened words in a manner familiar to people who conduct business with their thumbs on a minuscule keypad.
"I'll ck w/Nizich on letter and fwd your ideas," she wrote to Parnell in September 2008 about a conversation he had with Mike Nizich, a former chief of staff to Palin.
Her characteristic down-home manner as the self-proclaimed "Mama Grizzly" that has endeared her to her base and been the subject of ridicule by her opponents shined through in an email from Jan. 2, 2007, soon after she moved into the governor's mansion.
"I am a hunter. I grew up hunting - some of my best memories growing up are of hunting with my dad to help feel [sic] our freezer," she wrote to aides on a bear hunting issue under debate.
But this was a rare example where Palin's writing style matched with the public persona of the rugged frontierswoman that Americans recognize from her recurring appearances on television.
"Given her portrayal of herself as very much an Alaskan I had expected to find a lot of 'Alaskanisms' in her emails," said University of Alaska, Anchorage English Professor David Bowie. "But there were actually very few."
The one regionalism Bowie noticed that popped up was Palin's use of the word "outside" for things beyond Alaska's borders.
[Editor's Note: In the interest of fairness, the writer submitted his own work for scrutiny. His recent piece, on a New York man trying to row across the Atlantic Ocean is on the 8.8 grade level, Payack said.]
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