In the 21st century political arena, social media have transformed the dynamic of old-school politicians and their communications consultants.
Not so long ago, political image advisers like Michael Deaver deftly used photo ops to show Ronald Reagan atop the Great Wall of China or filling sandbags after a Louisiana flood. James Carville helped chart Bill Clinton's path to the Oval Office by distilling an election message to "It's the economy, stupid
Less than a decade after that, Karl Rove was the architect of a Christian revolution in the Republican Party that carried George W. Bush to the White House. Rove, often seen by political cognoscenti as "Bush's brain
," was a former direct-marketing executive who refined and repackaged a callow George W. Bush into a political force.
Compared to the information geyser of today, however, those preeminent pre-Internet political operatives maneuvered their campaigns like whistle-stop trains. Nowadays, Rove's history-making approach seems almost as quaint as a bulk-rate postage stamp.
Political strategists once relied on the press corps to ferry their candidates' message to the American people. No more. Candidates -- or their online messengers -- now take their message directly to voters via a host of social networks.
Enter, Rebecca Mansour -- a mystery woman who, while rarely visible, has become Sarah Palin's behind-the-scenes "cyber-messenger," Facebook ghostwriter
, online voice and secret asset. Mansour and Palin joined forces after Palin resigned as governor of Alaska
to write her first book.
In a July 2010 story on Palin's newly formed political action committee, Politico described
Mansour as "a Los Angeles screenwriter and political neophyte whose creation of the popular cheerleading blog Conservatives4Palin endeared her to Palin's inner circle." The following November, Robert Draper's in-depth profile
of Palin and her universe in the New York Times Magazine tried to dig deeper into Mansour but couldn't find much. The magazine's cover art, showing center planet Palin
surrounded by satellite lieutenants, depicts Rebecca Mansour as a faceless, colorless silhouette.
Less than a year ago Mansour did not even rate inclusion in analyses of Palin's brain trust by the New York Times nor by award-winning investigative political blog, TPM Muckraker. But this week, after Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot at a constituent event, Mansour could be heard on a special edition of conservative talk show host Tammy Bruce's podcast, addressing claims that Palin had helped to foment the attack.
Mansour defended Palin's now controversial, and legendary, "Take Back the 20
" map, which used cross-hair symbols to mark vulnerable House seats held by Democrats in the midterm election. She argued to Bruce that the symbols suggested those surveyors use rather than ones found on gun sights.
Whether you believe Mansour's interpretation that the target marks were harmless or not, the discussion shed light on a still shadowy figure when Mansour shared a personal story about her past. Mansour noted that her father was assistant dean of the business school and a math professor at the University of Detroit, a Jesuit school, in the 1980s. Joseph A. Mansour was shot at point-blank range by two assailants who followed him to the campus from a bank visit one afternoon in July 1984. Rebecca Mansour, who was 10 at the time, told Bruce that her father, a devout Catholic, survived and forgave his assailants. From that, she learned about forgiveness.
"He was left to die. . . . I mean it's a miracle that he survived. It was truly a miracle, and my father, the first word he said to us when he was in the hospital . . . to my mother was 'forgive,' " she said. "That was the first thing . . . and the second thing that he said, is . . . 'Do not bash the university,' because he loved that university. . . . It was his life. He spent his life there and he wanted to make sure that nobody would politicize this or accuse anybody of lax security or try to make this any sort of a racial thing either, because that was really a concern at that time."
She added, "He forgave them and that, to me, has always been the example . . . about how you handle tragedy and about how you behave as a Christian."
(A university official confirmed Mansour's story and said that her father, who returned to the college, was a "Will Rogers kind of guy.")
Mansour grew up in an academic Lebanese-American family in an industrial city that was struggling with race relations, white flight to the suburbs and economic turbulence during the 1970s and '80s. She graduated from Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights, Mich
., a sleeper community outside of Detroit.
She left the cold of Michigan for sunny Los Angeles, where she attended the prestigious American Film Institute. IMDB cites
only one screenwriting credit for Mansour -- on a 24-minute film from 1999, "Something Between Us." Produced by the AFI, the movie about a teenager who is left with South Carolina relatives
was directed by Nayef Yassine.
Mansour was reportedly writing screenplays as a freelancer in Los Angeles when Palin was picked by Arizona Sen. John McCain as his running mate in 2008. That same year, Mansour had attempted to volunteer for Barack Obama's campaign, according to Time magazine
That alignment drastically shifted, she told Draper in the November New York Times article, after she witnessed "what I perceived as unfair treatment" of Palin. Consequently, Mansour became a founder of Conservatives4Palin
, a popular pro-Palin blog. (On that platform, she was known as R.A. Mansour.) She often attacked anyone who was perceived as anti-Palin. She even explained herself to Meg Stapleton, a Palin aide, in April 2009
"Here's the truth: we are 'Cincinnatus' bloggers," she wrote at the time. "We are ordinary citizens. We have dedicated our spare time to rectifying the great wrong committed against an honest and honorable leader during the 2008 election. We watched with horror and helplessness as a decent and sincere woman was savaged by a dangerously biased media."
With such boldness, Mansour soon appeared on Palin's radar screen.
A Lexis/Nexis search of news articles reveals the earliest mention of a Mansour-Palin connection at about the same time: On April 29, 2009, a McClatchy-Tribune article about grassroots groups supporting Palin quoted Mansour as saying the group was separate from Palin.
"She has nothing at all, whatsoever, to do with any of what we're doing here, that's what's rather funny about it," Mansour said. "We have no idea if she knows we exist. We hope she does, but we have no idea. We don't take our cues from her. We interpret what we see as happening. We just speculate."
She added that the Conservatives4Palin blog was receiving 5,000 hits a day. But by that summer, Mansour's media attention was growing. A July 5, 2009, editorial in the Anchorage Daily News credits Mansour with taking Alaska state Rep. Jay Ramras
to task for a $172,000 investment in British Petroleum. (Ramas was a critic of Palin's Alaska Gasline Inducement Act.) Mansour told Politico that same month that she first aligned with Palin because of her views on energy independence. Politico also reported that Mansour "did not like McCain from the start and became 'creeped out' by people's worshipful attitude toward Obama."
Additionally, Mansour and her blog led a web-a-thon fundraising effort on behalf of Palin's legal defense fund. "There were people who couldn't pay that much, who said they were in between jobs and really can't afford to do this, but they gave 10 bucks, 25 bucks, because they believe in her," Mansour told the Associated Press.
Soon after that AP story, a Palin aide asked Mansour to help with "Going Rogue
," Palin's biography. Mansour told the New York Times that she met with Palin in Southern California and the two bonded like kindred spirits. She then decided to turn the Conservatives4Palin blog over to other Palinistas and Palin hired her as a "speechwriter, researcher, online communications coordinator and all-purpose advisor."
Mansour takes her roles seriously. She uses social media skillfully to broadcast Palin's messages on an array of topics. She is suspected by many to be the true author of Palin's tweets and Facebook posts. (Mansour told Draper, "the governor reads, checks and approves everything that's under her name.")
For someone as media-centric as Mansour, there is a surprising dearth of pictures available of her on the Internet. On her personal Twitter page
, her profile picture features an ancient coin depicting Queen Elissar, Dido
, the founder of Carthage, whose metropolis grew to be a "shining city." She emphasizes the three letters of her first, middle and last names -- RAM -- and lists Los Angeles as her city.
She has more than 1,800 followers and follows 269 Twitter users, including Politics Daily
, many reporters (whom she often questions and insults) and politicians, as well as C.S. Lewis Daily
, mystery author and screenwriter Andrew Klavan
, and AllahPundit
, described as "a cross between Piven and a fluffy little bunny."
She often returns tweets, allowing a glimpse into her personality. (Disclosure: She once tweeted me, but she did not return requests for an interview for this story.) She has tweeted that she likes Celtic and folk music and listens to NPR for the music. A Los Angeles Kings
fan, Mansour uses a BlackBerry Torch. She has also read "Memories of Maggie
" about Margaret Thatcher -- who, Mansour pointed out, "didn't read newspapers; she relied on news clips."
Mansour uses Twitter to defend her viewpoints
-- and her ethnicity. In one tweet, she wrote, "I happen to be one of those 'brown folks,' you racist cretin. Look at my last name, you disgusting fool."
She has also lashed out at news veteran Helen Thomas
as "a total embarrassment to my fellow Lebanese-Americans and to the Maronites
. Shame on you, Helen." (Thomas lost her job at Hearst Newspapers last year after making disparaging comments about Israel.)
Rebecca Mansour has tweeted
more than 4,000 times since June 1, 2010. Her first tweet from her current account was a retweet: "Mike Gallagher -- Palin's Stalker on the Today Show" and linked to a clip.
The Conservatives4Palin blog remains part of Mansour's world. She is listed as the 'founder emeritus,' and the site frequently retweets or posts Mansour's and Palin's social media posts.
Mansour also uses Tammy Bruce as a messaging outlet. Mansour has appeared on Bruce's show several times, including in September to defend Palin against a controversial Vanity Fair article
by Michael Joseph Gross (and bitingly illustrated by Edward Sorel). Gross described Mansour as "Palin's most unconventional hire" and called her "a novice media consultant." About her blog, Gross wrote:
C4P functions as a hybrid news service, discussion board, and field headquarters for a virtual army of Palin supporters, who pride themselves on brute devotion. "Who We Are and What We Stand For," a post written by Mansour, declares, "We're ordinary barbarians here. No one controls us. We're a horde." A prominent C4P contributor, Nicole Coulter, told CBS.com this summer, "We would literally walk across hot broken glass for this woman. . . . She's our family, and you protect your family; it's like the mafia."
On C4P, any journalist or public figure who questions Palin in any way is flicked off as a "creep," a "hack," a "loser," a "storm trooper," a "liar," or as just plain "slime." "I assumed the governor was above that," says Jay Ramras, an Alaska state legislator who has been a frequent target of the site. "Or at least that there was a Chinese wall between her and these people. But then they crossed over -- she hired them."
Mansour's words have continued to appear on the site occasionally, even after she was formally taken on board by Sarah PAC. She used to police C4P message boards for dissenters from the party line and, under the name RAM (her initials, shortened from her earlier, more descriptive handle, RAM Hammer), rip them mercilessly: "Now you are banned for life, you sick son of a bitch." . . . The nastiness on C4P exists alongside an idealization of the former governor, as displayed in the closing lines of "Who is Sarah Palin?," an 8,000-word posting by Mansour: "C4P has your back, Governor. And when you finally ride out from the north with your banner lifted high, we'll rally."
On her most recent podcast, Bruce acknowledged that Mansour works for Sarah PAC
, but as Politics Daily reporter Sandra Fish noted recently
, Sarah PAC does not pay Mansour directly.
Last summer, Talking Points Memo linked
Mansour to Aries Petra Consulting LLC, a Virginia corporation begun in September 2009. (Aries the Ram, is a zodiac sign
and RAM is, as noted, an acronym from Mansour's initials.) A report from the Virginia secretary of state's office shows that the principal address of Aries is in Los Angeles. That same address also links to Mansour.
Aries' Virginia "registered agent" is Sally Hook Merchak in Woodbridge. (Merchak is a partner in the law firm Ryland & Merchak and is described on the firm's
website as the "most senior woman attorney practicing in Prince William County, with more than 29 years experience as a divorce and real estate attorney.") Sarah PAC is also registered in Virginia.
According to Federal Election Commission reports, Sarah PAC paid Aries Petra Consulting $92,000 between Oct. 28, 2009 and Oct. 28, 2010 for speechwriting, Internet, grassroots, media and political consulting.
It's easy to see how Mansour could skillfully use her ability and intuition as a screenwriter to sculpt Palin's posts. She knows Palin's voice thoroughly, and therefore, can shape Palin's message so well that it is often hard to tell who is speaking. Palin or Mansour?
A Mansour tweet from December: "As it is, the media is comprised primarily of leftwing ideologues, lazy incompetents who can't check facts, & gawker-style tabloidists."
A Palin tweet: "Corrupt bastards. CBS/media plot against Joe Miller before our Anchorage rally Thurs Kinda'what I've put up w for 2 yrs."
Simply hard to tell.
Much ambiguity still surrounds Mansour, a woman who ruffles Beltway insiders while smartly staying in the heartland's chattering-class arena. What does she look like? What are her streams of income, other than Aries Petra Consulting? What screenplays did she write before becoming a significant political operative to one of the most intriguing political figures in this still-young century?
One thing is clear: Mansour, as writer, has discovered a character in Palin.
"I am sick & tired of the 'lack of substance' argument against Sarah Palin," she once tweeted
. "Try reading her Facebook posts & listening to her speeches."