PREEMPTIVE STRIKE

02.27.12

Sarah Palin’s Posse Pans ‘Game Change’ Before HBO Movie Airs

A preemptive strike on the HBO film before it even airs.

Sarah Palin has exploded into the news again, thanks to Julianne Moore.

The debate about Game Change, with the ex-governor portrayed by the redheaded actress, is heating up even though the HBO film doesn’t air until early next month.

Palin’s posse is upset about what looks to be a harsh portrayal of the Fox News commentator, and the role of Steve Schmidt, the former McCain campaign strategist who clashed early and often with Palin and is portrayed by Woody Harrelson.

“I expected desperate spinning from devotees, like the ones who came out Wednesday saying they never saw her do any of the strange things the film says she did on the campaign trail,” writes Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik. “Of course, they haven’t seen the film, so they don’t exactly know what they are saying she didn’t do.”

But while the cinematic details remain to be seen, you don’t need to be Roger Ebert to know that the movie depicts Palin as an uninformed ditz. That, after all, is the portrayal in the book on which it was based, the prodigiously reported volume by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. And the trailer, which shows Moore dreamily suggesting she can see Alaska from her house (shades of Tina Fey), pretty much telegraphs the film’s tone.

Seven Palin associates denounced Game Change this week on a conference call with reporters, and as the Los Angeles Times reports, “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 [ex-treasurer Tim] 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 [Nicolle] Wallace.”

 And the war of words continues. One of the Palin associates on the call, Jason Recher, “last year told the screenwriter in an email that he could ‘confidentially consult’ on the movie and suggested a ‘formal agreement’ for his help,” Politico reports.

“Recher alleged on the call that Strong had asked him early on in the process of writing the script whether the book was an accurate account” and sayhs he told screenwriter Danny Strong “absolutely, unequivocally, it was not.”

But Strong, ah, strongly disputed that account to Politico: “I asked him if Game Change was based on a false narrative and he said, ‘No’…I never promised to show him the script and I never promised to show anyone the script.’”

It’s pretty clear, based on this initial dustup, that Game Change is destined to spark a fierce cable and Web debate. Is it supposed to be a documentary based on the book, or a cinematic recreation, with all the compression and invented dialogue that suggests? Does even a docudrama have a responsibility to seek out Palin’s side?

My prediction: This movie is going to overshadow, at least briefly, the candidates actually running for president four years after Palin’s tumultuous VP bid.