Order Media Malpractice

"Game Change” Evokes Sadness and Acceptance

I come at HBO’s “Game Change” from a truly unique point of view. Having created the only movie about the 2008 election from the conservative perspective and the only film which “stars” the real Sarah Palin (as opposed the character in the HBO version), I literally lived this subject matter for over two years.

My view of this movie is almost 180 degrees from what it would have been when my documentary came out in 2009.  Had I seen it then I would have most certainly been enraged at an unfair characterization of Palin which was clearly designed to cripple her political future.

Today, after I have personally seen a very different side of Palin than the one I perceived in her Alaska home while doing the movie’s interview, and after she has made several decisions which have already ended her political career, I see our national human Rorschach test (Palin) and “Game Change” in a totally different light.

The film itself is technically extremely well done and there is no doubt that the Palin narrative is far more interesting (not to mention safer) for HBO to focus on than would have been the campaign of the guy who actually won the 2008 election.

Julianne Moore looks a lot like Palin but fails to get her unusual speech patterns down and gives the sense that she is relieved whenever she is able to spit out a full sentence without completely losing character. 

Ed Harris is fine as John McCain but he is almost a bit player in this docudrama. The real star is Woody Harrelson who plays McCain strategist Steve Schmidt. Schmidt is, without a doubt, portrayed as the “hero” of the story, which I find laughable on several fronts.

First, Schmidt is the one who essentially picked Palin and so for him to somehow emerge as the superman when it all went to hell is beyond absurd.

Secondly, the book/film is clearly based on confidential information provided by Schmidt himself which, as a stunning betrayal of everyone in that campaign (especially McCain and Palin) should immediately disqualify him from ever receiving any figurative “medals” for heroism as well as any future jobs in the political arena. 

Thirdly, Schmidt is quoted in the film as saying he would rather “lose by ten points trying to win, than lose by one point while playing it safe.” This piece of wisdom came from the guy who ran the campaign which literally wouldn’t even allow anyone working for it to even utter the name “Jeremiah Wright.” Unbelievable.

I must admit that I can’t stand Steve Schmidt. He blatantly lied to my face while running Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reelection campaign (which, given how that second term turned out, should tell you what kind of “conservative” Schmidt really is) and at one time I was completely convinced that he unfairly threw Palin under the bus to distract from his own mistakes and enhance his celebrity.

However, as much as it pains me to say it, I now believe that much of what Schmidt has claimed about Palin is indeed truthful (though he still shouldn’t have said it when he did because she was still politically viable at that time and using his campaign position to destroy her then needlessly hurt the Republican Party).

While she is much smarter than the media has portrayed her as being and I stand by everything in my film, it is clear now that she was not fully prepared for the hurricane of a presidential campaign (how could she possibly have been?). It is also obvious to me that she is, at least now, motivated far more by fame than she is by winning elections or creating actual policy.

There is only one anti-Palin scene in “Game Change” which I am confident is inaccurate. Ironically, trying to correct the record on that subject matter started the process of me seeing Palin as not a politically serious person.

In the movie, Schmidt asks Palin why we are fighting in Iraq. Palin tells him it is because Saddam Hussein attacked America on 9/11. I strongly believe that this conversation never happened.

The advent of this myth began on September 11th, 2008 when, while helping to send her own son off to Iraq, Palin told a brigade of soldiers that they were going there to "defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans."

At first glance (especially if you incorrectly presume that Palin is an idiot) this appears to back up the dialogue in the movie, but in reality it does not. If one understood that “Al Qaeda in Iraq” was the primary enemy in Iraq at the time, you would realize that what Palin said was quite accurate (especially when you consider that Iraq’s official newspaper did indeed “rejoice” in the 9/11 attacks).

Interestingly, the Washington Post, even the very same media outlet which began this bogus narrative, also questioned whether her statement was interpreted properly using an argument similar to mine.

When “Game Change” the book came out and Palin joined Fox News, I sent her an extensive set of talking points on this particular issue (as I did for her from time to time) because I anticipated it coming up in her first interview with Bill O’Reilly. Much to my chagrin, even though she acknowledged and thanked me for the suggestions, when the question did in fact get asked she completely booted it. It was as if she hadn’t even bothered to actually read them.

The strongest feeling I get from watching “Game Change” is a profound sadness based in all that could have been had things gone the way they should have for Sarah Palin and the conservative movement. 

I found myself wondering how incredibly different the presidential race would be today if people like Schmidt had properly attacked the media instead of Palin, if Palin hadn’t resigned to stay famous and get rich, if she had never pretended to be a Tea Party conservative (the person I met when she was governor of Alaska was NOT a Tea Party Republican), if she had never done a reality show, and if she hadn’t gone through that embarrassing presidential tease.

I honestly believe if none of those things had occurred that Sarah Palin would have clinched the Republican nomination by now and we would be getting ready for the most compelling (and highly rated) presidential campaign race in history. I am not sure she would have won (I had told her in while she was still governor that she could not), but it is incredible how many factors would have seemingly fallen in her favor.

Not only has no dominant Republican contender emerged  (she would have matched up well in a one-on-one against Romney) and many imploded on their own, but the economy and gas prices are at exactly the level where a governor in her second term from an oil-rich state could have presented a viable alternative to Obama.

Instead, Palin, in her understandable but short-sighted effort to cash out and survive the onslaught on her life and reputation, has largely become what the media caricatured her as being during the 2008 campaign.

She is now politically irrelevant (how did that Newt “endorsement” work out?) and, should Mitt Romney beat Obama, she would soon be little more than a dark haired Ann Coulter. Unfortunately, I believe her tepid support for Newt and a contested convention have come out of her obvious but twisted career self interest in Obama being reelected. She is now reduced to constantly pretending that she may one day again be a legitimate candidate in order to maintain the charade with her dwindling fan base. All of which completes a fall from grace as dramatic as anything short of the John Edwards/Herman Cain realm.

It didn’t have to be this way but is. Similarly, “Game Change” tells a story which shouldn’t have been true, but mostly is.

John Ziegler