Sarah Palin's Former Aide Accuses HBO of Reneging on Promise to Let Him Fact-Check 'Game Change'

2012-08 REV Game Change H
Phillip V. Caruso/HBO

John McCain (Ed Harris) and running mate Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) take on the 2008 presidential election.

Seven top advisors to the McCain-Palin campaign are furious with the cable channel and screenwriter Danny Strong for allegedly keeping them in the dark about the politically-charged movie that airs March 10.

Game Change screenwriter Danny Strong reneged on a promise to check the accuracy of his script against the recollection of one of Sarah Palin’s key aides, the aide said Wednesday.

Jason Recher, the senior adviser and trip director for the McCain-Palin campaign four years ago, said that early on in the writing process Strong asked him if the book Game Change, written by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, was accurate.

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“I told him absolutely, unequivocally, it was not,” Recher told reporters on Wednesday.

Recher, along with six other Palin aides and advisers from the McCain-Palin campaign, was speaking on a conference call with a handful of journalists. The event – unusual, considering that none of the participants from Palin’s camp have seen the movie yet – was an effort to discredit Game Change ahead of its March 10 debut.

Strong, Recher told the reporters, “Offered to share with me the script at any time if I read something in the media which made me uncomfortable with the direction of the movie."

He said that after watching the second trailer he contacted Strong to take him up on his offer, but Strong emailed him on Feb. 3 to inform him that HBO wouldn’t allow him to share the script. HBO also didn't supply Recher and other Palin allies a DVD screener of the film.

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Strong, who also co-executive produced Game Change, told The Hollywood Reporter in an email that Recher is mistaken.

"It is true that I interviewed Jason Recher to get his side of the story. He was one of 25 people involved with the McCain-Palin campaign that were interviewed for the movie," Strong said. "I did not offer to show him the script. I did not offer to show him the film. HBO offered to show Gov. Palin the film several weeks ahead of its debut and she declined the offer."

HBO’s Game Change is based largely on the bestselling book and information provided by Steve Schmidt, the MSNBC contributor who was chief strategist for McCain-Palin. Participants on Wednesday’s conference call were not kind in their assessment of their former colleague, who is played by Woody Harrelson in the movie.

“Schmidt is infamous for lining up and destroying,” said Meg Stapleton, senior adviser and spokesperson for McCain-Palin back then. “He was abusive. He was abrasive. And he is nothing short of a world-class bully.”

“You in the media, quite frankly, you let him take advantage of you,” Stapleton scolded the reporters. “You loved it because you got larger numbers using Palin’s name, and many of you told me that.”

“Nobody with the book and nobody with the movie contacted me," she said. “They don’t want to hear anything good. We all know Palin sells, and the dramatization of Palin sells even more. This is sick. The media has gone too far.”

“Looking at the trailers alone gets my blood boiling,” Stapleton said.

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Randy Scheunemann, the director of foreign policy and national security for McCain-Palin, said that, based on the source material and what the media has reported about HBO’s Game Change, the TV movie “is not creative license. This is not dramatic effect. Frankly, it gives fiction a bad name.”

“It reflects the view of two or three discredited staffers who were in over their heads in an unprecedented fashion -- engaged in character assassination,” he said.

In Game Change, Palin is depicted as an ambitious and talented politician who is loyal to her family but shockingly uninformed about global affairs. She is credited with delivering an electrifying speech at the Republican National Convention even though her teleprompter broke down halfway through it. By the half-way mark of the movie, though, the filmmakers begin to portray Palin as unprepared for higher office. Some, no doubt, will accuse HBO of making her look like a naive dolt. 

In one scene, for example, Palin is seen feverishly jotting down notes about basic historical facts, like who the Nazis were in World War II. Asked if she wants to take a break from her history lesson, Palin, played by Julianne Moore, says: “No way. This is friggin awesome.”

In other scenes she’s shown not knowing the difference between North Korea and South Korea and being ignorant of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda.

One particular allegation that’s getting a lot of online scrutiny is a scene where Palin is informed that the prime minister, not the queen, is the head of government in the U.K. Bloggers, though, are noting that Palin had revealed that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was one of her heroes long before the scene in Game Change allegedly took place.

Palin didn’t participate in Wednesday’s conference call, though she said recently on Fox News, where she’s a paid contributor, that the movie is “based on a false narrative.”