March 15, 2012 / Opportunity

HBO’s “Game Change” Creates A New Film Genre–Histrionic, Historical Fiction


Over the weekend, HBO debuted its film “Game Change”, which supposedly depicts Governor Sarah Palin’s run for Vice President. The film is based on a book by the same name that focused on the 2008 presidential primaries and general elections as a whole. As I wrote a few weeks ago, this book has been denounced as “sexism at its worst” in its portrayals of not only of Palin, but also of Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Edwards. The section of the book devoted to covering Palin’s time on the campaign trail amounts to just over 10% of the book, yet HBO, the same station that still gives Bill Maher a platform to denigrate women, has aired a movie caricaturizing Governor Palin’s time as Senator McCain’s running mate. As has been revealed by the film’s debut, it not only caricaturizes Governor Palin; it does so in a blatantly false, histrionic, and sexist manner by portraying Governor Palin.

“Game Change”, the book, was anonymously sourced, as none of the sources were willing to put their names with their statements. It seems that the film itself is largely anonymously sourced as well, with the exception of former McCain staffer Steve Schmidt who has happily stated his involvement in the film. Schmidt and another McCain-Palin aide, Nicolle Wallace, have been making the rounds touting the veracity of the film. Wallace claims that the portrayal of Palin as one who went into catatonic stupors as accurate enough to “make [her] squirm. Wallace is also cashing in on her delusional self perception of Palin through her nascent writing career. However, her perception of Palin is just as fictitious as the fictional character “inspired” by Palin. Wallace notes in an interview with Time Magazine about her book:

In the book, the vice presidential character, Tara Meyers, is completely unfit for her job.

The idea of a mentally ill vice president who suffers in complete isolation was obviously sparked by the behaviors I witnessed by Sarah Palin. What if somebody who was ill-equipped for the office were to ascend to the presidency or vice presidency? What would they do? How long would it take for people to figure it out? I became consumed by this question.

Despite the claims of Schmidt and Wallace, three members of the McCain family-John, Cindy, and Meghan-all have harsh criticism for the film. Meghan McCain, who is general dismissive of Governor Palin, notes that the portrayal of Governor Palin is “sexist and completely off the mark.” Michael Goldfarb, member of the McCain campaign communication team denounced the film and Schmidt and Wallace for their disloyalty. Seven current or former Palin aides, four of whom worked on the McCain campaign, have called the film “historical fiction.” Jason Recher, who works for Governor Palin’s political action committee and was a McCain aide in 2008, noted that Schmidt was only present on 5 of the 200 legs of the campaign trail with Governor Palin. Meg Stapleton, who had worked with Governor Palin as part of her gubernatorial staff and as part of the McCain campaign noted :

…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.

As someone who worked with Governor Palin far longer than the few months Wallace did, Stapleton’s perception of Palin carries more weight than Wallace’s.

As if the anonymous sourcing and disloyalty wasn’t enough, the film has proven to be completely devoid of fact. McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann repudiates the movie’s charge that Palin was uninformed about World Wars I and II, Iran and Iraq. The portrayal in the film that the words “Kill him”, in reference to then candidate Obama, were shouted by supporters at a Palin rally during the campaign had already been disproven by Secret Service agents during the campaign itself. The film’s assertion that Palin would have been the only losing VP candidate to give a concession speech, had she been allowed, is false. Geraldine Ferraro gave a concession speech after she and Walter Mondale lost the 1984 election. These are just among the many lies of the film.

Beyond the lies about Palin’s supposed lack of knowledge,  hateful rally comments that never happened, and incorrect election history  are a whole slew of sexist lies and incorrect portrayals.  The film charges that Palin would not go on stage with anyone who is pro-choice. However, Governor Palin appeared with pro-choice Senators Joe Liebermann and Olympia Snowe during the campaign. Additionally, she was supported by two NOW officials, two members of the Democratic platform, and a former editor of Ms. Magazine at a rally in Henderson, Nevada during the campaign, as depicted below.

One of the individuals on the plane to that event and an adviser to the campaign has noted about “Game Change”:

“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. They worried she’d memorize it instantly and say it, whether they’d approved the words or not. She often went dark for four days before a major address. She’d pray over it.”

“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.”

The mention of Governor Palin’s “photographic memory” also shoots down one of the memes of the movie that she is unintelligent or ill prepared.

The film also falsely portrays the controversy surrounding the amount of money the RNC spent on Palin’s clothing. The focus on such expenditure is sexist on its face, as male candidates are rarely if ever scrutinized on such an issue to the extent that Palin was, but the movie even gets this charge wrong. The film asserts that Governor Palin was giddy as she tried on the clothes provided to her by the campaign and that she only was upset by the price of the clothing after the news of the expense was made known in late October of 2008. However, a campaign aide noted that Palin actually was shocked by the price of her wardrobe as early as the RNC convention in early September:

Initially, Palin objected to the very idea of clothing being purchased for her to wear at the Republican National Convention. When she was first presented with a $3,500 jacket, an aide recalls, the price tag sent her into shock: “I don’t spend that much money on my clothes in a year,” Palin said. “I will not do this.” Aides decided, in future, to cut off the price tags, so Palin wouldn’t quite know how much was being spent.

That’s hardly a picture of someone who would giddily accept an expensive wardrobe, nor only be angered when the expense became national news. Again, the truth runs counter to the Game Change narrative.

Both the book and the film “Game Change” have proven themselves to be a complete fabrication, and a sexist one at that. HBO marketed the film as a “docu-drama”, but  with the lies and false portrayals, HBO has instead created a new genre of film—histrionic, historical fiction.

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