March 14, 2012 / Opportunity

HBO’s “Game Change” Facts Debunked, And The Numbers Are In


The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

One would have to be living in a cave to not have known about HBO’s recent depiction of Governor Palin in their movie, “Game Change.” The movie was based on two chapters in a book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin of the same name. Tom Hanks, of all people, produced this hit piece on the former governor. To say I have lost all respect for the man is an understatement.

And then there was Julianne Moore on The Ellen Show claiming that the incidents had been fact checked in a major way. I’m sorry, but if Sarah Palin was truly alone and in a fetal position, WHO would have known that? Never mind that it is a crock of hooey, but really – the license taken with the “facts” of  a movie that is a “docudrama,” but being treated like a documentary, is just startling. But there you have it.

HBO is just GLEEFUL at the numbers they got on viewership of this movie: 2.12s million viewers, according to this Washington Post article (h/t Crawdad Hole). Wowie zowie. Let me do some math here – the average attendance of the NY Yankees games in 2011 was 45, 441.  The viewership for this “docudrama” was less than the total attendance of 50 NY Yankees games.

But there is more from this WaPo article:

To put the audience in perspective, that’s slightly fewer people than sat down the next afternoon at 2 to watch a rerun episode of History’s “Pawn Stars” (2.129 million viewers).

Over the course of the weekend, multiple telecasts of “Game Change” — which chronicles the decision of Republican Sen. John McCain’s campaign to campaign with the little-known Alaskan governor as his presidential running mate — averaged a cumulative 3.6 million viewers. That’s slightly more than half the number of people who watched an original episode of History’s “Pawn Stars” last Monday night at 10.(Click here to read the rest.)

To further put this in perspective, even after “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” LOST viewers, it still had more than this movie. By a lot, I might add.

But here’s the thing that really must be said about this movie: it did not reflect the person Sarah Palin was, or is, according to those aides who worked closest with her. For space alone, I cannot include all of this article, “More ‘Game Change’ Fallout: ‘Staffers Talk Just To Save Their Asses,’” and I highly recommend you read the entire article. Suffice it to say, those who really DID work closely with her, to a person, say this movie does not reflect the woman they know at all. What is more, they TOLD the writer of the movie, Danny Strong, all of this, and he chose to ignore it. Who did the writer Strong  choose to listen to? A man named Steve Schmidt, a “bully,” according to the article:

Well, now we know who one of those bomb-throwing cowards is, Steve Schmidt, who HBO portrays as the calm, cool, reasonable hero of the film. In real life, however, it’s no secret that he was the “super-genius” behind (“Schmidt pushed for going all in“) the moment polls prove really lost the 2008 election; when Senator McCain foolishly decided to suspend his campaign and run back to DC to save the economy. Yes, it was Steve Schmidt who “pushed” to have McCain charge off on a white horse without having any idea as to where he was charging off to. McCain went to DC without a plan, looked feckless and reckless, and never recovered. “Game Change” blames the campaign’s loss on Palin, but that’s a total and complete fabrication.

Wow. What a surprise. A man described as a “bully,” “a screamer,” and “foul mouthed” is engaging in massive CYA, and Hollywood is all too ready to buy his BS, despite the numerous other reports from people who spent far more time with the governor. That sounds about right. Except that it is very wrong, according to those truly in the know:

“There are inaccuracies. Julianne Moore as Sarah saying she won’t stand on the stage with anyone who was pro-choice? Please. I was on Sarah’s plane. Small plane. No first-class section or anything. I’d written the women’s rights speech the night before but couldn’t be with her or give it directly to her because, although she was in the next hotel room in Reno, it had first to be faxed to McCain’s people in DC before she even saw it.

“I was paid $50,000 a month to teach her women’s rights and craft the speech. She has a photographic memory. …

“This 30-minute Henderson, Nev., talk she scanned. It was on YouTube. And that stage held pro-choice women. Sarah carried the whole operation. No venue could hold the crowds — 10,000 trying to get into a stadium for 3,000 people.”

Just out of curiosity, who here knew that Gov. Palin has a photographic memory? Anyone?  The percentage of people who have a photographic (or “eidetic,” as it is officially called) is very low, especially in adults.

To the point Moore made, anyone who knows anything at all about Gov. Palin knows that is blatantly false from the get-go. Palin is pro-contraception and thinks the -Morning After pill should be legal, something she stated to Katie Couric in that infamous interview.

But wait, there’s more refutation to this hit job by Hanks and Company by those who actually do know the Governor, like Meg Stapleton:

In 2008 I served as senior advisor and spokesperson to the McCain/Palin campaign and I remain in that position through my tenure with SarahPAC.


He (Schmidt) is abusive.  He is abrasive and he is nothing short of a world class bully and his threats are just—they’re a mile long and deep.


I have known Governor Palin longer than anyone here—certainly longer than anyone in the campaign.  We worked closely together for a number of years and during Governor Palin’s most stressful time, in her professional life and her personal life, whether it was creating an infrastructure for a natural gas pipeline, pushing oil and gas companies to their limits, scrutiny over the entrance to a national campaign overnight, the campaign itself, the debate, a book deal, numerous entertainment offers, a resignation of writing the book, we worked closely together.  Working together, sometimes living together, living with her family and hers with mine—never before, during or after that campaign, never, ever, did I see the kind of behavior described at the end of the 2008 election, in the Game Change book, or what we have seen, read, or heard about in this movie.  Like all the others, I’ve not been granted access to it and nobody with the book and nobody with the movie contacted me either.

Oh, come on – what could she possibly know of the Governor, having lived with her and all? Sheesh! Ahem.

And Ms. Stapleton, along with the others, make an important point: none of them, including Palin, were allowed – ALLOWED – to see the movie before it aired. That, to me, is telling in and of itself.

As for the depiction of Gov. Palin as being despondent, ending up in a fetal position on the floor, her attorney, Tom Van Fein, had something to say about that, too:

I was Governor Palin’s attorney from August, 2008 through December, 2010.  I was directly involved in certain campaign issues, most critically what’s been referred to as Trooper-Gate.

Because of that, I had had regular and sustained daily contact with Governor Palin during the 2008 campaign.  I traveled on the plane with her, sat next to her at times, and I worked for hours with her.  We reviewed thousands of pages of documents in preparing for her deposition and in dealing with the accusations that were then being made and the person that I worked with and the person that I represented was very focused, diligent, and sharp.  She was motivated and enthusiastic about the campaign and enthusiastic and motivated to exonerate herself, which she did, from the false allegations that Mr. Wooten.

What you saw from her publicly at rallies and at other public events is essentially what you saw privately, if you got a chance to spend time with her privately the way we did.  She was engaged, optimistic, mastering the events and the facts of the day and all of my interactions with her, she showed leadership and resolve and was very much engaged in the entire process in a very optimistic manner exactly as you saw at the rallies and elsewhere. (Emphasis mine.)

So to the extent—and I have not seen the movie obviously or read the book, but to the extent there are any allegations that somehow behind the scenes she was not cogent or depressed or somehow lethargic or not responsive, I can categorically say that that’s false and whoever said that made that up entirely.

That is all to say, the people who know her, really know her, who walked through the 2008 campaign with her, have a VASTLY different opinion of her than this hatchet job movie takes. Only those who have already been told they should hate Palin buy any of this BS. Those of us who didn’t buy into the rumors know better (and my all-time favorite rumor was that she banned the book, “Harry Potter,” while mayor of Wasilla. Just one little problem with that – it hadn’t been written yet. Oops.) Again, there is so much more to this article, and I hope you read all of it, including the reflections by others who actually  worked with her on the campaign.

Bottom line, this HBO production was nothing more than a hatchet job on a former opponent of VP-candidate Joe Biden. Oh, I mean, Barack Obama. (You know, I am still trying to figure out why Obama always went after the VP candidate when running for president, and why he is STILL going after her in another ad that just came out recently. Really does make one wonder.) It is a shame that some folks are still so determined to tear down this competent, successful woman, who achieved one of only 50 positions in the entire country, who did great work for her citizens, enjoyed an extremely high approval rate, and was/is most definitely not the dunce she has been portrayed as being.

When will we, as a nation, not feel the need to demean and tear down strong, successful, charismatic women? For that matter, when will WOMEN feel the need to stop tearing down other women? For now, sadly,  it seems that day is too far off…

Join Our Email List

Be the first to know the latest initiatives from The New Agenda to improve the lives of women and girls.

Thank you for joining our list! Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.

  • Mary Luke

    Nice analysis, Amy. I thought the whole book was a hit job on women, and completely partisan and biased toward Obama, as well as downright meansprited.

    Why do people start foaming at the mouth when Sarah Palin is mentioned, but Rick Santorum, who is truly a religious fanatic, is out there winning primaries! Goddess help us.

  • Susan

    The book was written by Obama sycophants who certainly didn’t want to close off any access to the White House by being honest about Obama in the book. Instead, they took the opportunity to work out their mommy issues by portraying every significant woman in the book, except Michelle Obama, as spending the primary battle on the verge of a psychotic breakdown. This unsourced collection of gossip describes Hillary’s top advisers as being so freaked by her reaction to losing the Iowa caucuses that they concluded that “this woman should never be preseident”. In fact, Hillary never expected to win Iowa and, while she came in third, the candidates were only one percentage point apart. They were particularly cruel to the terminally ill Elizabeth Edwards, describing her as a shreaking bully. Even Cindy McCain was quoted as telling John McCain that he had ruined her life and that she never wanted to see him again. According to the Christian Science Monitor, they went lightly on Obama describing him as the perfect husband and father and finding only his occasional arrogance to be worth noting while his female opponents and the wives of his male opponents were pilloried.

    Which brings us to Game Change: The Movie. It was outrageous. While the occasional stupid person can get elected governor (see Rick Perry and George W. Bush), this movie made it seem as if Palin couldn’t add two and two. Equally bad was the repeated theme that she was mentally unstable. While I disagree with Palin’s politics and think she tends to speak in word salad as does Obama, the woman went through the a national election while her unmarried daughter was dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, her son was in Iraq, she had an infant child and people were cruelly attacking absolutely everything about her to the point of being obsessed with when she started to leak amniotic fluid when her youngest child was born. Yet, she got up every day and made endless public appearances, not missing a single one in more than two months. While I could not bring myself to watch the Couric interview, I thought she handled the Charlie Gibson interview very well. Gibson, whom I had always liked, was condescending to Palin and really did lob “gotcha” questions at her. He would never have asked any other candidate about the Bush Doctrine without giving a brief description of it. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about politics and I had no idea what he was talking about.

    I don’t have a solution. Anybody can write anything they want to write and, if you’re a public figure, there’s little or nothing to be done about it. But I think it’s important to pay attention to the subtext. In this book and movie, the subtext was that women are unstable bitches or bimbos or both who need to be kept away from the halls of power. I can only hope these are the last sputterings of a dying breed of men (and the women who help them) clinging to the power that they will soon be forced to share.

  • Alison

    Susan, the most ridiculous thing about the “Bush Doctrine” is that people who refer to it as proof of her stupidity usually have no idea that this “doctrine” was not some official piece of policy but a term coined by a pundit with a meaning that evolved over time. Absolutely a gotcha question and Palin did answer correctly with referencing “Bush’s world view” because it did come to mean this. But… to explain each little piece of media-created controversy to the masses is overwhelming and people usually aren’t interested in the truth – not when they’ve already made up their own minds (according to what the media wanted them to think).

    Excellent article, Amy, although I must admit to feeling quite enraged by the end of this! Personally, I can accept different schools of thought in terms of politics. I’m a socially liberal moderate independent and if I didn’t accept different ideas I would be very alone. But I have a big, big problem with dishonesty and this is where I have difficulty discussing Palin with most people since they have such an inaccurate perception of who she is.

  • Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy

    Outstanding comment, Susan. You hit the nail on the head on so many levels.

    The inherent sexism in the book, and movie, is staggering. And yes, one need not agree with Palin’s politics to appreciate what an incredibly strong, capable, woman she is. She wasn’t the most popular governor for no reason, after all…

    Thanks for the comment, Susan – well said!

  • Whitney Zahnd

    Great post, Amy! Thank you!

  • Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy

    Allison, sorry abt the making you mad by the end of it part!

    And yes, that whole “Bush Doctrine” thing was quite the trap. You and Susan are quite right abt that. I remember Gibson being so patronizing to her. It just reminded me of how Hillary was treated all over again.

    Thanks, Allison – great comment, and I know exactly what you mean abt the dishonesty. The rumors that came out abt her, the crap abt her youngest son, so many attacks based on nothing more than innuendo- all of it was just appalling. Then came this book, and the movie. Wow…

  • Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy

    Thanks, Whitney and Mary Luke!

    And Mary, that is an excellent question. Ironically, I was just re-reading the transcript of that interview with Couric when she tried to pin on Palin that she was a member of a church that had a connection to James Dobson. Palin said she attended several different churches, and the only connection she knew of was a flyer. Couric’s reaction was very telling indeed – she didn’t want to hear anything else except trying to make Palin justify her membership. When Palin pointed this out, she suggested that Americans just wanted to know the truth, so it was important to clarify.

    We all know, you can’t have THAT, can you? Sheesh…

  • Alison

    Amy, do you know if the complete transcript of the Couric interview is out there? I’ve always been so curious to read the whole thing. It was 3 days of interviews, for crying out loud, that were edited down. I’d like to see 3 days of extemporaneous remarks by Obama being interviewed by Michelle Malkin and edited down to 45 minutes all the while when Obama had just hit the scene…

  • Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy

    Allison, there is this “unedited” transcript from Sept. 29, 2008:

    When you read it, you can just see the way Couric treats her – the condescension seems apparent to me, but that’s just my opinion.

    Are you kidding me? Heck, an interview of that length with Obama of something more than, “so, what’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” type questions even by the staunchest supporter would have been something. Actually, I’m still waiting for the real vetting to be done(like how many of Obama supporters know he got everyone kicked off the ballot the first time he ran for office, including his political mentor, Alice Palmer?). Had the MSM treated him like every other candidate, even now, would be a nice change of pace…

  • myiq2xu

    I haven’t seen the movie (nor do I plan to) but supposedly it does occasionally reflect Sarah Palin in a positive light – but only when she is being a wife and mother.

  • Kali

    There were complete falsehoods manufactured by the media about Palin, for example the “Palin thinks Africa is a country” falsehood which was proven to be a lie. However, no one was held accountable for making up and spreading all these lies. If they had made up and spread these lies about Obama or any other male politician running for election, they would definitely have lost their jobs. Before the media got their hate on for Palin she was one of the most popular governors. After they had done their hatchet job on her, she was forced to quit. It truly is amazing how much the media hates women, and how powerful they are. It’s the tail wagging the dog, and the tail hates half of that dog. I don’t think it is the general American public that hates women, because if that was true, Palin wouldn’t have been so popular as a governor. I don’t know what it is about the media that makes them so hateful towards women.

  • Marille

    It seems to me that “women hate” is not the most accurate interpretation. They (media MSM etc) hate women who have the grits to go for power positions. As long as we fit into any category of servitude we are not hated. why some women act just as sexist as men? possibly jealousy? or possibly a gut reaction about what is not a woman’s place. I don’t think we as society have moved beyond Britain at Virginia Woolf’s time or France at Beauvoir’s time.

  • Bes

    No way does the Corporate Media reflect our culture. The woman hate is the bias of the old men who run media. The best way to stop it is to force Corporate Media in to a free market. Cut the cable and only watch the programs you want over the internet or delivered by Netflix. That way you stop subsidizing misogyny and with out being able to gate-keep competition from reaching the market and also without being able to force feed their misogynist drivel into your home over your cable connection most misogynist programming will shrivel up and die.

    I didn’t watch this misogynist HBO POS but I have lost respect for anyone who associated themselves with it.

  • Alison

    I agree, Bes. I’ve completely lost my respect for Jullian Moore, Ed Harris and Tom Hanks. I used to defend Tom Hanks from the many people who make fun of him but no more! Ed Harris I always thought was guilty of over-acting but Jullian Moore… this is hard to digest as her portrayal in Great Lubowski was nothing short of brilliant.

  • RevAmyinSC

    myiq2xu, that is such a good observation. Yes, she IS a good wife and mother, but that that is the one area where they will give her props (well, except when claiming Trig isn’t her baby – sigh), is telling indeed…