Sarah Palin‘s associates slammed the makers of HBO’s upcoming movie “Game Change” in a phone call with reporters Wednesday, claiming the movie is a fictional trashing of the former Alaska governor, who is portrayed as clueless about foreign policy and emotionally unprepared for the pressures of the campaign.
Events depicted, they said, either did not happen or are out of character with the Palin they know.
They reserved their harshest words for former John McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, portrayed in the movie by Woody Harrelson. Schmidt plucked Palin from the relative obscurity of the Alaska governor’s mansion and brought her to the attention of then-GOP presidential candidate John McCain. After McCain lost, Schmidt said he regretted tapping Palin for the job.
The call was unusual, given that Palin’s staffers -- even those who are designated her spokespeople -- are notoriously averse to talking to the media. Four of the seven who participated -- advisors Jason Recher, Doug McMarlin, Andy Davis and Alaska attorney Thomas Van Flein -- have rarely if ever spoken on the record to reporters.
The other three were SarahPAC treasurer Tim Crawford, who organized the call, former advisor Meg Stapleton and foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann, who advised Palin during her debate preparation in 2008.
“To call this movie fiction gives fiction a bad name,” Scheunemann said.
“Game Change,” which is to air March 10, depicts Scheunemann explaining to Palin that Germany was the antagonist in both World Wars. (In the scene, a note-taking Palin, played by Julianne Moore, does not indicate whether she knew this or not.)
“The idea that there was at any point that Gov. Palin expressed any uncertainty as to who were the various sides in World War I or World War II ... or any other war is absolutely untrue,” Scheunemann said. “She was incredibly intelligent. She asked very informed questions. She was very interested and she wanted to understand John McCain’s view of foreign policy because she wanted to be the best possible vice presidential nominee.”
Scheunemann and Recher said they were contacted by the filmmakers, but their positive views of Palin, they said, were not incorporated into the script. The others said they were not contacted.
Bush White House veterans Recher and McMarlin traveled with Palin during the 2008 campaign and have been at Palin’s side during nearly every public appearance she has made in the last year or so. Recher said he reviewed daily schedules and plane manifests from the campaign and concluded that neither author of “Game Change” was ever present, and that Schmidt was present on only five of 200 bus or plane trips taken by Palin during her two months of campaigning.
Though facts are reconstructed all the time by historians, authors and others, McMarlin and the others took issue with a book and movie crafted by people who did not witness the events they recounted. “It’s like me telling you what happened at your wedding by talking to your caterers,” McMarlin said. “It just doesn’t happen.”
Recher said he had also pored over 2,000 behind-the-scenes photos taken by McCain’s campaign photographer and could find no evidence of “a majority of the scenes, interactions or meetings” portrayed in the HBO film. “These are my feelings, these are the facts, which seem to have gotten in the way of HBO’s dramatization of history.”
Of the seven Palin associates on the call, Meg Stapleton exhibited the most emotion, her voice at times trembling with anger. Stapleton was Palin’s press secretary in Alaska, and worked as an advisor on the 2008 campaign, tangling with Schmidt over how much Palin should allot to Alaska business during the campaign’s eight weeks. She accused Schmidt of being “abusive,” “abrasive” and “nothing short of a world-class bully.”
Stapleton denigrated “Game Change” -- though she said she had only seen the trailer -- and reserved some of her sharpest criticism for the press.
“We all know Palin sells and the dramatization of Palin sells even more,” said Stapleton, who, like Crawford and other Palin spokespeople, rarely if ever returned reporters’ phone calls. “This is sick. The media has gone too far. You accepted the false narrative of a couple of people who sought revenge and fabricated a story more than three years ago,” she said, referring to Schmidt and Wallace.
“They mock Gov. Palin, you mock Gov. Palin as weak and being unable to cope and press forward. ... And yet, look with your own eyes at what she and her family have endured and inspired over the last few years. Any lesser man would have hanged himself by now.”
In July 2009, Palin resigned from her first term as Alaska governor, saying ethics complaints about her had hamstrung her ability to govern effectively. Since then, she has earned a fortune writing two bestselling books, has a regular platform thanks to a million-dollar contract with Fox News, starred in a reality show for the Discovery Channel and commands handsome speaking fees. In October, she announced she would not be a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination.