On Sunday, the East Coast media elite faced off over what the McCain campaign would have you believe is their favorite target. Both the Washington Post and the New York Times tossed big Sarah Palin investigations on their front pages. The Post‘s piece, by Alec MacGillis, went provincial, focusing exclusively on Palin’s work as mayor of Wasilla. It was a nice narrative, deeply reported and rich with context. Here’s one of the money quotes, from a Wasilla politico:

“Sarah always did and still does surround herself with people she gets along well with…They protect her, and that’s what she needs. She has surrounded herself with people who would not allow others to disagree with Sarah. Either you were in favor of everything Sarah was doing or had a black mark by your name.”

MacGillis had fun with the podunk nature of Palin’s mayoral purview, drawing a vivid picture of just how little Palin actually controlled. The piece begins and ends with excerpts from minutes of Wasilla government meetings, for example:

“In September 2002, she presided over her last City Council meeting. The council took up an ordinance to ban sex shops. The police chief announced that Raymond Chiemlowski was promoted to sergeant. Keller “reported that traffic lights on Knik-Goosebay Road will be turned on soon and encouraged everyone to use caution while adjusting to the new traffic pattern.”

Nice touch there.

For all its charms, though, the Post piece clearly lacked the blow-me-away feel that the Times mustered on the same day. Titled “Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes,” the account draws both on Palin’s mayoral and gubernatorial records, pretty much delivering the final word on her management style. A huge nugget comes early in the story, when the Times people expose the attempt of a Palin subordinate to stop a blogger from blogging (on general principle, a really bad idea.) Here’s the money quote:

“You should be ashamed!” Ivy Frye, the [Palin] assistant, told her. “Stop blogging. Stop blogging right now!”

Tough to beat that—though the NYT piece does. Check out this comment, from an old Palin associate:

“I’m still proud of Sarah,” she added, “but she scares the bejeebers out of me.”

There’s much, much more, of course. From a detailed account of Palin’s library censorship tendencies to her penchant for putting friends in high places—and unqualified friends at that—to her way of dealing with others—you’re going to want to read this one two or three times.

Part of the reason NYT got better results is that they sent more resources. Jo Becker, Peter S. Goodman, and Michael Powell were all on the case. One thing they have in common is that they’re all great reporters. Another: They’re all former Washington Post reporters.