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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  • Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy

    Outstanding piece, Whitney. You are spot on. I love the description of the new “genre” of film. That is perfect for what this movie was, “a complete fabrication.”

    And yet, some people continue to take it as Gospel truth…Wow…

  • BevWKY

    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.

    Is HBO calling it that last?

  • Whitney Zahnd

    Hi BevWKY,

    Thanks for reading. HBO isn’t calling it “histrionic, historical fiction”. That’s just what I’m calling the film since it’s so factually wrong and over-the-top.

  • truth

    Honestly, this film really didn’t need to be made.
    Sarah Palin’s 2008 interviews and all subsequent soundbites say MORE than enough about her character and her suitability for the Vice-Presidency.

  • Amy Siskind

    Thank you Whitney.

    I’m quite sure if the shoe were on the other foot, and Hillary was running against Obama, this movie would be an sexist rage at the Clintons!

  • BevWKY

    I thought that’s what you were doing, Whitney, but I just wanted to make sure.

    What’s truly unbelievable are the “political” body blows this woman has taken and she’s standing. When I finally watched The Undefeated Sunday night, the impression I was left with at the end wasn’t so much about what it told us about her, but what it told us about us. Particularly since the entire weekend news seemed to be saturated with stuff about this Game Change movie for the most part.

    Then to have that campaign ad by Obama pop up the next morning… un-flipping-believeable – to borrow a phrase from the Governor, herself. There comes a time when one cannot ignore the pattern to the body blows or who’s behind them.

    And she’s not even running?!? I mean seriously, someone somewhere still feels that much of a need to destroy a woman who is not running? It reveals so much that’s very, very dark about something and it’s not all political.

  • L. Anselmi

    “histrionic, historical fiction…” Nicely coined Whitney!

  • Ron

    Excellent article… Thanks for setting the record straight Ms. Whitney.

  • Marille

    Excellent article Whitney. thanks.
    what came just through on Yahoo
    Axelrod is not going to Maher’s show.
    we need to keep the pressure on against these vile creatures.

  • RevAmyinSC

    Bev, I was thinking abt that earlier as I reflected on this post, and the movie. This movie so clearly embodies the “Politics of Destruction.” They truly will not be happy until they completely obliterate her. The only problem is, as you noted, she’s still standing.

    Even after her husband had to go back to work on the North Slope to help pay the over $500,000 in legal bills from those frivolous lawsuits (all of which were dismissed, and that amt is what THEY had to pay). The desire to just destroy her (and Hillary before her) is staggering. And yet, there she still is.

    What really gets me, though, is how women treat her. From Julianne Moore and her depiction of Palin in interviews, to Eve Enlser, who trashed Palin – starting in 2008 and continuing on, and even Gloria Steinem, who also trashed her.

    We continue to be our own worst enemies, either through what we say, or what we support being said. Sad, sad, sad…

  • Susan

    From what I’ve read about what Steinem said about Palin, it was mostly that Palin didn’t support feminist positions such as the Lily Ledbetter Act which is true. Steinem compared Palin to Phyllis Schlafley which is a pretty accurate protrayal. Schlafley has spent decades opposing the ERA and any law or policy that was directed toward making it easier for women to have both families and careers, including equal pay for equal work laws which gave birth to the Lily Ledbetter Act.

  • Marille

    Susan, comparing Schlafley, whose life work was to work against equal rights with the dumbest and lousiest arguments possible, to Sarah Palin is quite an insult.
    below you find quotes which I found in “on the issues” in the civicl rights chapter which quotes relevant questions from the COuric interview.
    I would really appreciate if Sarah Palin would support the amendment and work in her party to remove the time line, what she doesn’t for fear of trial lawyers heyday. had quite some experience with them. I find this view unfortunate but in no way comparable to Schlafley.

    “I’m a feminist; equal rights for women

    Q: Do you consider yourself a feminist?
    A: I do. I’m a feminist who believes in equal rights and I believe that women certainly today have every opportunity that a man has to succeed and to try to do it all anyway. And I’m very, very thankful that I’ve been brought up in a family where gender hasn’t been an issue.
    Q: What is your definition of a feminist?
    A: Someone who believes in equal rights. Someone who would not stand for oppression against women.
    Source: 2008 CBS News presidential interview with Katie Couric , Sep 30, 2008
    Equal pay for equal work; but not Ledbetter Act

    Q: Where do you stand on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act?
    A: I’m absolutely for equal pay for equal work. The Ledbetter pay act–it was gonna turn into a boon for trial lawyers who, I believe, could have taken advantage of women who [would] allege discrimination many, many years ago. Thankfully, there are laws on the books, there have been since 1963, that no woman could be discriminated against in the workplace in terms of anything, but especially in terms of pay. So, thankfully we have the laws on the books and they better be enforced.
    Q: Why should a fear of lawsuits trump a woman’s ability to do something about the fact that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes?
    A: There should be no fear of a lawsuit prohibiting a woman from making sure that the laws that are on the books today are enforced. I know in a McCain-Palin administration we will not stand for any measure that would result in a woman being paid less than a man for equal work.”
    Source: 2008 CBS News presidential interview with Katie Couric , Sep 30, 2008

  • BevWKY

    Steinem compared Palin to Phyllis Schlafly which is a pretty accurate protrayal.

    ROTFL! Okay, I’m sorry, Susan. This isn’t specifically directed at your comment but at yet another area where so many people on “the left” seem to be so far off base on their depiction of who both this woman (Palin) is and conservative women are in general. I suppose part of that is because there are very few women on the right who gain prominence and become a national “voice” for any of OUR causes. So it’s easy to pigeonhole whomever comes next.

    Doesn’t mean Schlafly and Palin actually have all that much in common, either in beliefs or methods, except for the well-established fact that they won’t sit down and shut up. Of course, once well and truly riled about something that matters to them, I’ve seen very few women who will sit down and shut up, regardless of their personal ideology. 😉

  • Susan

    Palin’s explanation of her opposition to the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act makes me wonder if she either read the act or informed herself of the reason why it was needed. Frankly, she sounds as patriarchal as any man who feels that they need to “protect” women from unscrupulous lawyers. For her information, the law was needed because the US Supreme Court interpreted the Fair Pay Act to say that a pay discrimination suit had to be filed within a limited amount of time after the first time a woman received less pay than men in comparable positions in the same company. This was an outrageous ruling that denied women the right to sue if the employer managed to conceal the discrimination for a relatively short period of time. The Supreme Court acknowledged that Ledbetter had been discriminated against in pay for approximately seventeen years but because she didn’t know it until years after the discrimination began, she had no legal recourse even though the discrimination had continued for almost two decades.

    Palin’s lack of support for the Lily Ledbetter Act demonstrates, to me, that she either doesn’t understand the ruling or has no core conviction that it’s a woman’s basic right to receive equal pay for equal work.

    I think it’s more important to watch what people do instead of taking what people say at face value. Palin and Schlafley both claim to “protecting ” women by opposing legislation that makes it possible for women to assure that they do, indeed, have equal rights.

    I will absolutely defend Palin when she’s unfairly demonized or diminished based on her gender and I’ll criticize her just as I do male politicians when her statements or actions work against the best interests of women. That’s true equality.

  • Juliette

    The Lily Ledbetter Act is legislation by lawyers for lawyers. Since just about ever democrat elected official is or was a lawyer, why wouldn’t they create legislation that creates profitable opportunities for lawyers why exploiting inequality for women at the same time. The breath takingly hypocritical left destroyed the governorship of one of the finest public servants this country has ever known, and if you ask me they did it because she is a pristine example of a Christian woman, and Marxist seek to destroy all things Christian.
    Is it any wonder that Tom Hank’s of “The DaVinci Code” a fictional movie that Hollywood’s Pagans loved to accept as fact, would be involved with another hit piece on someone Christians tend to love and support?
    Hanks is a total Obama sychophant just like most of Hollywood. There is alot of Saudi money being infused into the Film industry so expect more anti-Christian bigotry and along with the same old misogyny Hollywood has been peddeling for years.

  • Morgan Michaels

    “Honestly, this film really didn’t need to be made.
    Sarah Palin’s 2008 interviews and all subsequent soundbites say MORE than enough about her character and her suitability for the Vice-Presidency.”
    -‘truth’ March 15, 2012 at 11:34 am

    I’m going to go out on a limb and infer that the above quote disparages Sarah Palin. What leapt out at me was, however negatively ‘truth’ views Palin, that the issue for ‘truth’ was whether the smear-u-drama needed to be made, despite the libels, abuse, and ‘histrionics’ Whitney has exhaustively documented.

    “It was worse than a crime; it was a mistake.”

    Game Change yet another “unnecessary slander” from Hanks and HBO.