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'Game Change' Authors Can't Imagine Why Palin Would Be Unhappy with HBO Hit Piece

On this Sunday's Web-based "Press Pass" feature, Meet the Press host David Gregory spoke to "Game Change" co-authors John Heilemann and Mark Halperin about the recent Sarah Palin-bashing HBO film based on the book and wondered: "Governor Palin has not been happy with this film. Why?"

Heilemann laughably argued: "...it's hard to know why she's not happy with it....the movie is an incredibly balanced portrait of her..."

While proclaiming the movie to be fair and balanced, the facts prove otherwise. One scene in the movie shows then-Governor Palin being taught basic grade school world history. The movie also showed campaign advisors treating Palin like she was out of control. Another clip showed McCain senior staffer Nicole Wallace yelling at Palin following the September 2008 Katie Couric interview. [Video below the jump or listen to the audio]

Even though the actual book is based upon the entire election narrative, also examining, for example -- the Democratic primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton -- the movie chose to only focus on the McCain-Palin campaign. Halperin defended the editorial decision by the filmmakers:

Jay Roach, the guy who directed you know, a 12-year old's favorite movie, as well as George W. Bush's favorite movie, the Austin Powers movies. Also did Recount for HBO. He was fascinated by the Sarah Palin story. Not as a political story, which is how we approached the book, but as a human story, as a great American story.

It should be noted that Roach, donated more than $2,000 to Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008, something Gregory failed to mention to viewers. Despite this fact, Halperin proclaimed that the movie was a fair and balanced portrayal of the former Alaska governor:

...they had such a concern about making the book – the movie – accurate. And they also were very concerned about the whole thing feeling to even insiders accurate and that – that's what they ended up doing." Gregory agreed: "Yeah, I want to get to that. Cause I really did feel that...

Gregory teed up Heileman to further denigrate Palin's candidacy: "Again, journalistically, how did she not only change the game, but then more negatively, how did she change it in Obama's favor?"

The panel also had no qualms about slamming Palin's qualifications to be vice president. Gregory even cited Tina Fey as proof that the governor was unprepared to be vice president:

HALPERIN: She performed not just at the convention but almost every case, every challenge she performed pretty well or extraordinarily well. It was those few instances of, the Katie Couric interview in particular and then, the bad luck that Tina Fey looked enough like her to produce this iconic imitation that really helped define her.

GREGORY: Right. And define her as just not at all ready...

HEILEMAN: Yeah.

GREGORY: ...to be Vice President of the United States, let alone President of the United States if that were to happen.

Since the media thinks Tina Fey is a credible source when discussing Palin's candidacy, one has to wonder when they might cite fellow Saturday Night Live performer Fred Armisen as a credible source for discussing Obama's experience?

Here is a transcript of the exchange:

DAVID GREGORY: I'm David Gregory. This is "Press Pass," your all-access pass to an extra "Meet the Press" conversation about what's driving Washington. This week what happens in Washington and Hollywood collide. Well the product is the new HBO film "Game Change,” starring Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin. It debuted last night and with me, the guys who wrote the book, literally, Mark Halperin, senior political analyst for "Time" magazine and John Heilemann, national affairs editor for "New York" magazine. Hey guys, great to have you here.

HALPERIN AND HEILEMANN: Thank you, David.

GREGORY: This is a huge event. I just gotta ask you the Hollywood question first. What was this like for you guys to be involved in the film in your capacity having – haven written the book "Game Change" based on the '08 election and then translating that into the big screen?

HALPERIN: If people are looking to do the Game Change about making the "Game Change," they're going to be disappointed. Cause there was no drama. We actually thought of the book as a movie in terms of our thinking about the narrative and, and – the big opportunity there to sell the story of 2008 before we thought of writing a book. We said someone should do a movie here. So we sold it to HBO before we even had written the book. They were interested in being involved and kind of collaborating in going along . They were great to work with. They, they had such a concern about making the book – the movie accurate. And they also were uh, very concerned about the whole thing feeling to even insiders accurate and that – that's what they ended up doing.

GREGORY: Yeah, I want to get to that. Cause I really did feel that. But what was so cinematic John, to you, about the story, before you even committed it to paper?

HEILEMANN: Well, You know, you – by the time we even started to write the book in the spring of 2008 and by that point, Sarah Palin was not even a figment of our imagination at that point in terms of the 2008 campaign. But, you had already had 15 months of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. You had the John Edwards implosion. You had McCain's incredible collapse in 2007 and his rebirth to claim the nomination in the first part of 2008. These were people who were like not normal politicians. They’re not, they weren't interesting for politics. Like the way John Kerry is interesting for politics. These were like really interesting people who are interesting to a wide swath of Americans. They were celebrities. And all of them across the – especially, you look at that you thought these people were household names. And there, you know, as comfortable on the cover of People magazine as on Congressional Quarterly. There was a lot of drama. And these were bigger than life figures. That sort of spells Hollywood to me.

GREGORY: But isn't it interesting that a dramatic tale, a cinematic tale about 2008 is not about the Clinton/Obama showdown, it’s about Sarah Palin. Why is she the dramatic centerpiece do you think?

MARK HALPERIN: Really because of production and the necessity of telling a story well and having the character development that the story demanded in two hours. HBO wanted to make a two-hour movie. They tried for a long time, many months to make, to write a script about Clinton and Obama in that narrative and it just – two years as opposed to the 60 days of Sarah Palin.  All of the characters, all of the various primaries and back and forth, they just didn't think they could pull it off. And at that point we did have a game changing moment of our own. Which is Jay Roach, the guy who directed you know, a 12-year-old’s favorite movie, as well as George W. Bush’s favorite movie, the Austin Powers movies. Also did recount for HBO. He was fascinated by the Sarah Palin story. Not as a political story, which is how we approached the book, but as a human story, as a great American story. So, as they were trying to figure out what do we do about Clinton/Obama, how  do we do this in two hours, Jay Roach came forward and said I’d love  to make this but I’d love to do the part of the book about Sarah Palin.

GREGORY: So, both cinematically, but also journalistically, why is Sarah Palin the story of the 2008 race?

HEILEMANN: Well, I mean you know, look, we think there are a lot, we think there are a number of movies in the book and so does HBO in there. So I don’t know if there’s the story. In this particular case there's a compelling case for her.

GREGORY: As an artist you don't want to limit yourself.

HEILEMANN: No, no, no. Never. I mean, no look, she's – if you think about, she's incredibly a relatable character to use jargon of of showbiz. You know, she was the every woman. She came out of nowhere. She was – had been a small town Mayor for most of her political career. She had only been Governor for about 18 months. She's plucked from obscurity and put in the most high pressure situation, high stakes situation you could possibly imagine. She's unprepared on a variety of levels, not well prepared by the campaign, not someone with a lot of foreign policy experience. So she didn't know a lot of things about foreign policy, and yet expected to perform at the highest level. There's never been I don’t think a situation where there's been more pressure than the pressure on her at the Republican Convention in 2008. Republicans saying she might have to be off the ticket 12 hours earlier. And she goes out on stage and she gives one of the great political speeches that either one of us have seen. That's is – that's something that most Americans they think, my god, that could be me and she came through. It's incredible.
    
GREGORY: Before you answer that, let's, let's give people a little bit of that flavor. This is a scene of ug Senator McCain and his advisors as portrayed by the actors discussing running mate selection more generally so let’s look at that.

STEVE SCHMIDT [PLAYED BY WOODY HARRELSON]: We can't win without our base. Lieberman is the right thing to do but the wrong way to win.

JOHN MCCAIN [PLAYED BY ED HARRIS]: Who all have we vetted?

ADVISOR: Romney, Crist, Pawlenty. We’re trying to vet Bloomberg.

MCCAIN: Who can we win with?

SCHMIDT: None of them.

MCCAIN: None of them?

ADVISOR: John, Obama just changed the entire dynamic.

SCHMIDT: It is a changed year, sir. We desperately need a game changing pick. And none of these middle-aged white guys are game-changers.

GREGORY: The game changing moment was is the pivotal moment from that clip. And, Again, journalistically, um, how did she not only change the game but then more negativity, how did she change it in Obama's favor?

HALPERIN: One of the things that animated us to do the book and that interested the filmakers was the real story of what happened. We all covered this campaign in real time. But, we said to ourselves, there's lots of things we don't know that we need to go back almost like archaeology and figure out what happened. There was a rough sense at the time that Senator McCain had done this kind of at the last minute without a lot due diligence. We went back tried to really recreate what happened. Why did he suddenly turn to her because all the other options looked like they would fall short. The pick could have been much more successful than it was. And again, by many measures it was successful. She did raise a lot of money. She did draw a huge crowd. She did caused the ticket – the republican ticket to pull even for a time.

HEILEMANN: Energize the base.

HALPERIN: And energize the base and discombobulated the Democrats. She did a lot. But It was that rush of vetting her but also not having the time to prepare. Very few people within the campaign knew she was under consideration. That she would be picked. They did not have what you need today in modern presidential politics. The squadron of researchers and communications specialists and, and others to get those talking points out there to say here's why this is a great pick. It worked for a long time. She performed not just at the convention but almost every case, every challenge she performed pretty well or extraordinarily well. It was those few instances of, the Katie Couric interview in particular and then, the bad luck that Tina Fey looked enough like her to produce this iconic imitation that really helped define her.

GREGORY: Right. And define her as just not at all ready...

HEILEMANN: Yeah.

GREGORY: ...to be Vice President of the United States, let alone President of the United States if that were to happen. Uh, Governor Palin has not been happy with this film. Why?

HEILEMANN: Well, I mean it's, it's hard to know because at least as far as she said she hasn't seen it. And so it's hard to know why she's not happy with it. I mean, I think some of her fans have seen things in the trailer that they don't like. I mean we've been saying all along we encourage them to see movie because one of the things that we think really strongly is that the movie is an incredibly balanced portrait of her and as we've shown it at premieres and screenings around the country, people come in and even people predisposed not to like her, walk out and almost to a person say, "Well I found, I feel better about her. I feel more sympathetic towards her now than when I walked in the door."

There's everything, This movie is – it's accurate. It's true to history. And it shows a lot of strengths that we've been talking about here today. It shows her weaknesses. It shows the places where she rose to the occasion and places where she fell short. It’s hard for any public figure to see themselves presented on a page or on screen as a person in full. That is hard. It's hard to see where you fall short. But I think if she could see it through fair eyes, she would think it was a fair treatment.
 

-- Josh St. Louis is an intern for the Media Research Center's New Analysis Division.