The scene discussed below is from HBO's "Game Change," adapted by screenwriter Danny Strong from the book of the same name by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Based upon our sources, and recent comments made in a conference call that included foreign policy analyst Randy Scheunemann, a key segment meant to embarrass Governor Palin appears to be a work of fiction far removed from the genuine circumstances.
Worse, Scheunemann insists he spoke with the key players behind both the book and the movie, directly telling them his own impressions, which differ sharply from what was ultimately put both in print and on film as history. It appears that, instead of going with Scheunemann's version of events, a known direct source willing to put his name behind his assertions, both the authors and the filmmakers discarded his version, opting to rely upon unnamed sources unwilling to stand publicly behind whatever it was they told them.
At approximately 46 minutes into HBO's "Game Change," Scheunemann and Steve Biegun (played by Brian Howe and Spencer Garrett, respectively), enter McCain/Palin campaign headquarters. En route to the office of campaign chief cook and bottle washer, Steve Schmidt (played by Woody Harrelson), the two are identified by name and as foreign policy advisors on screen as they enter.
Says Schmidt, "The cavalry has arrived," closing his office door and window blinds. In a classier movie, this act might have been a segue to an honest, if low-rent, sexual escapade. Instead, we're led to believe Schmidt is so conscientious, so protective of Palin, he doesn't want anyone to hear just how much briefing work she needs on foreign policy.
Biegun sets up Schmidt's coming punchline for delivery to a viewing audience already dutifully informed (in earlier scenes) as to just how dumb Palin is. "Well, I, uh, think we should start by prepping the governor with Russian economic policy as it relates to post-Cold War tensions during the pre-Putin era," says Beigun.
Going for the laugh, Schmidt responds, "I was thinking something a little bit simpler," as if anything could be simpler than a bald Harrelson discussing any aspect of any kind of foreign policy.
"How much simpler?" asks Scheunemann. Cut to a shot of a world map laid across a desk with Scheunemann pointing to Germany, instructing a fascinated Palin, "This is Germany. They were the primary antagonists during WWI and WWII."
For her part, Governor Palin, played by a weary, if unworldly, Julianne Moore, listens intently to this amazing revelation, dutifully writing it down on a note card. No doubt, her hands were already scribbled over with hearts and arrows and love notes to husband Todd.
Biegun continues, "And during WWII, they were aligned with Japan and Italy to form what was known as the Axis."
Dissolve to Scheunemann explaining the wars being fought by America at the time. "Afghanistan, Iraq and the Global War on Terror," as a presumably clueless Palin looks on. Began then asks a still scribbling Palin, "Governor, would you like to take a break?"
"No way," says Palin. "This is flippin' awesome!"
Let's review. According to Scheunemann, he spoke to the book's authors and to the screenwriter before this moment was made captured on film. According to Scheunemann, what is portrayed above did not happen. But rather than go with a source willing to go on the record, the authors and screenwriter instead to go with those unwilling to go on the record.
And the key word there is ... chose.
If my joking tone strikes you as too light, consider what a lightweight joke the HBO film proves to be. Here's the real story, according to the real Randy Scheunemann. Oh, and unlike Halperin and Strong in "Game Change," we have no problem naming our sources.
Scheunemann was the Director of Foreign Policy and National Security for the McCain/Palin campaign. On a recent conference call, Scheunemann said:
I had several periods of intense interaction with the Governor.
The briefings were not to explain the history of the world to the candidate. This was about melding her views with McCain's, his view of America on the world stage.
I always use maps as a briefer and did so even with McCain.
The idea that at any point Gov. Palin expressed any uncertainty as to who were the various sides in World War I or World War II … or any other war, is absolutely untrue. She was incredibly intelligent. She asked very informed questions. She was very interested and she wanted to understand John McCain’s view of foreign policy because she wanted to be the best possible vice presidential nominee.
Scheunemann's work with Palin included two three-day periods at the convention briefing Palin on McCain's foreign policy views. He also played a role in her debate preparation. "I played the role of Senator Biden," says Scheunemann, not commenting as to whether or not he dumbed down his performance to match Biden. Unfortunately, "Game Change" doesn't appear to have avoided deliberately dumbing down Palin, or perhaps that was all Moore was up for?
The normal criteria for judging a vice presidential candidate stems from three events. Roll out of the candidacy, speech at the convention, and the debate. Governor Palin did extremely well on any of those normal criterias.
I've spoken to ("Game Change" screenwriter) Danny Strong -- I've actually spoken to ("Game Change" co-author) Mark Halperin over a couple of different periods. And I was very disappointed when I read the book. I was reluctant to talk to Danny Strong because I figured if he was going to do a movie based on that book it was likely to be misleading....
I have not read, been able to review the screenplay, or seen the movie, but based on media accounts, I've come to a couple of preliminary conclusions. If the book was very misleading, [the movie] is going to be far worse. This is not creative license, this is not dramatic effect. Frankly, it gives fiction a bad name to call this movie fiction, because it is deliberately misleading. Lies and mis-characterizations.
Steve Schmidt has already admitted that one of the key lines in the movie, where John McCain says "Go find me a woman," was never said. If that's not a lie and a deliberate misrepresentation, I don't know what is.
As far as the film's moment (which isn't in the book) where Palin is portrayed as unaware of the fact that Britain has a Prime Minister, here's another on-the-record source HBO chose to ignore -- her name is Sarah Palin.