How Can HBO's 'Game Change' Be 'Fact-Based' When It's Based on Gossip and Lies?

A lot has been written lately regarding the upcoming HBO movie, “Game Change.” based on a book written in 2009 with the same name. Feeling the heat, HBO released a statement last week:

“HBO’s ‘Game Change’ is a balanced portrayal of the McCain/Palin campaign. ‘Game Change,’ the book, was applauded by audiences and pundits on both ends of the political spectrum when it was released in 2009. The events depicted in ‘Game Change’ have been thoroughly sourced by not only Heilemann and Halperin’s best-selling book, but also through our own research, including extensive first-person interviews with those involved with the campaign. HBO has a long track record of producing fact-based dramas, and our mantra has always been ‘get the story right.’ We stand by our movie and we hope that people will withhold any judgment until they have viewed the film.”

HBO claims that “Game Change, the book, was applauded by audiences and pundits on both ends of the political spectrum.” Really? If this is true, just like the writers of the book, HBO doesn’t name any of their sources to back it up. There are plenty of people on the record however, who did not applaud John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s work.

Howard Kurtz wrote that the authors not identifying their sources was a “recurring weakness” in the book, and later added: The most cooperative sources may have gotten to spin the narrative their way, and no one – such as Steve Schmidt, the former McCain aide who has publicly criticized Palin – was pressed to be on the record.”

Don Campbell from USA Today called it: “A gossipy, behind-the-scenes presidential campaign book once again illustrates how the public is poorly served by some in the political press corps.”

Doug Sosnik, a Democratic consultant said: ”It’s disgusting.”

Michael Smerconish wrote: “It reads like fiction. Indeed, many of those above claim that it is.”

I wouldn’t classify that as being “applauded.” And no, HBO, Heilemann and Halperin did not “thoroughly” source their research. To this date, only one person they used as a source for the Palin chapters has come forward to admit to talking with them. That was Steve Schmidt, who just did so last weekend.

There were people who were close to Palin during the 2008 campaign who took issue with Heilemann and Halperin’s work, however. During a conference call with reporters, Jason Recher, who worked for Governor Palin during the 2008 campaign, said that the book did not reflect reality. From the Associated Press: “Palin wasn’t the primary focus of the book, and he said he told screenwriter and co-executive producer Danny Strong that the book “absolutely, unequivocally” did not accurately reflect his time with the McCain campaign.

During the same conference call, Randy Scheunemann, who also worked as an adviser to Palin during the presidential campaign said: “If the book was very misleading, the movie’s going to be far worse.” Other current and former aides to Palin who attended the conference call, criticized Heilemann and Halperin “for writing about Palin when they weren’t physically there covering the things that were reported in the book.”

The LA Times reported: Bush White House veterans Recher and McMarlin traveled with Palin during the 2008 campaign and have been at Palin’s side during nearly every public appearance she has made in the last year or so. Recher said he reviewed daily schedules and plane manifests from the campaign and concluded that neither author of “Game Change” was ever present, and that Schmidt was present on only five of 200 bus or plane trips taken by Palin during her two months of campaigning.

Though facts are reconstructed all the time by historians, authors and others, McMarlin and the others took issue with a book and movie crafted by people who did not witness the events they recounted. “It’s like me telling you what happened at your wedding by talking to your caterers,” McMarlin said. “It just doesn’t happen.”So, this is the standard that HBO uses to produce it’s “fact-based dramas?”

Heilemann and Halperin’s one named source and their own research team who selectively omitted versions of events that didn’t fit their narrative.