Last week, I wrote about HBO's "Game Change" right after screening the two-hour film about the 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain and Sarah Palin. You can read it here.
I described the film as "so political in so many good ways," and predicted it would be one of the most important cultural movies of the year if it generated the the kind of discussion and debate about Palin, the campaign, media, politics and history that I thought would.
The film does not premiere until March 10, but that debate has already started in earnest, especially with those on the right attacking the film without having seen it -- often in the most ideological and uninformed ways.
As for Palin's hard core stooge cadre living in a land to the right of right, well, they are all "wee-wee'd up," as Palin likes to say, further dumbing down our national political discourse.
(And if I spelled that lovely term wrong, I apologize, to the half-term governor who gave up leading the state she says she cares about so much to become a million-dollar-a-year part-time analyst for Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch on Fox News. Oh I'm sorry, her other call to duty that forced her to leave office and meshed so nicely with that "desire to serve and give back" that she's always talking about involved starring in a reality TV show on TLC right alongside Kate Gosselin. You remember, the one that featured her killing an animal for viewer entertainment.)
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. Of course, they haven't seen the film, so they don't exactly know what they are saying she didn't do. They are basing most of their spinning and knockdown attempts on an HBO trailer for the film.
The target of much of their anger: Steve Schmidt, a senior McCain adviser played wonderfully by Woody Harrelson, and Nicolle Wallace (Sarah Paulson), the communications adviser brought in by Schmidt to handle Palin's press once she joined the ticket.
I have to share this bite from the Los Angeles Times report of the phone call with seven of her former staffers, many of whom never returned calls or spoke to the press during the campaign when it was their jobs to do so.
Of the seven Palin associates on the call, 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 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 Wallace.
"They mock Gov. Palin, you mock Gov. Palin as weak and being unable to cope and press forward. ... And yet, look with your own eyes at what she and her family have endured and inspired over the last few years. Any lesser man would have hanged himself by now."
Would you want someone who says stuff like "any lesser man would have hanged himself by now" as your press spokeswoman -- especially when she is talking about a woman? I think that choice says something about Palin's managerial skills right there, don't you? Maybe it was a good thing Stapleton didn't return phone calls. But she and her Palin pals are jumping out of their pants now to get on the phone and try to take down this film.
In the interest of wee-weeing the Palin camp up even more, let me also say something I didn't get into in that first hip-shooting review: how deftly the film uses documentary evidence to show Palin's incredible ignorance of foreign and even national affairs. Yes, the Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson interviews are front and center -- and amplified.
And Palin looks even more uninformed, dazed, confused and silly because the filmmakers share the point of view of senior McCain advisers like Schmidt who literally moan in agony as Palin infamously starts talking about the geography of Alaska and Russia.
Harrelson is superb as Schmidt screaming at the TV monitor during the Couric interview for Palin to name a newspaper, any newspaper on the planet, when Palin was asked what she reads.
And spare me your talk about the evils of docudrama. I have been debating docudramas in these pages and on TV shows like ABC's "Nightline"since 1989. I know all the sins and I have condemned many a writer and director to hell for them.
But I also know the great truths docudramas can tell and the mass audience they can tell them to when they are as compelling as "Game Change." And one of the great truths here is that we are in trouble as a nation when a candidate this ignorant, self-absorbed and imbalanced can make it to the Final Four of a general election.
In a rational world, this film will help guarantee that Sarah Palin will never be elected to any major office again. I think she and her posse know that, which is the reason for the mania in moose country. And what does it say about Fox News that it gives her a national platform for her uninformed views? (By the way, did you see her with Sean Hannity Tuesday night going into high delusional mode at the thought of a brokered convention with "the people" coming to her and begging her to lead them?)
If you want to see some of the less wee-wee'd up trailer-based attacks on the film from the right, here are a couple that caught my eye.
The first from Andrew Breitbart's Big Hollywood website got my attention because it referred to me as a "liberal columnist." I would urge that writer to Google "Zurawik, Fox News and Obama" to see what a "liberal" I am. Would that the world and my beliefs were that black and white.
The attack on the film is as informed as that simplistic, one-dimensional characterization of me and my beliefs. But I am not surprised to see it at Big Hollywood.
I am a little surprised, though, by Byron York, of the Washington Examiner, disinigenuously wondering why HBO chose to make a "biopic" about Sarah Palin when there were so many other important historical stories to tell from the 2008 election.
You can read it here.
But you should know, if York doesn't, that "Game Change" is not a "biopic," which is an industry term used to describe a biography done on film. You probably don't need me to trace the term back to the show-biz lexicon that the trade publication Variety popularized.
York is dead wrong in his premise of calling the film a "biopic" and saying it is "about just one topic: Sarah Palin."
That is not close to being true. It deals with only a few months of her life, and, in fact, I would argue that Schmidt is more the center of the film than Palin. He's there at the beginning and end.
The thing is that it helps to see the whole film before making that kind of call. Just a suggestion, but it really does.
There is more, and more, and more to come on "Game Change" here at Z on TV. I am enjoying this movie and the debate too much to stop now.