Palin Camp Condemns ‘Game Change’ Movie

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(Photo credit: CNN)

By Peter Hamby, CNN Political Reporter

PHOENIX — In a rare show of public unity from a notoriously media-shy group, several current and former Sarah Palin advisers spoke out Wednesday about the upcoming HBO film “Game Change,” which they said portrays the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee in a harsh and unfair light.

“It’s false portrait cobbled together by a bunch of people who simply weren’t there,” said Jason Recher, a senior adviser to Palin during the 2008 race who was a fixture at the candidate’s side during campaign, but does not appear in the film.

Recher joined six other Palin loyalists in pushing back against the film, and the best-selling book that inspired it, on a conference call with reporters Wednesday evening.

None had been offered a chance to view the final cut of the movie, and they said they were making their assessments based largely on the “tone” of the two-minute trailer, which at times portrays Palin as moody, arrogant and unhinged.

The film, which stars Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin, Ed Harris as John McCain and Woody Harrelson as top McCain adviser Steve Schmidt, will debut on HBO on March 10.

The group of current and former Palin advisers – Recher, Randy Scheunemann, Meg Stapleton, Andy Davis, Thomas Van Flein, Doug McMarlin and Tim Crawford — took questions from both political reporters and Hollywood entertainment writers.

They chiefly blamed Schmidt, a source for many of post-campaign stories following McCain’s loss, for spreading falsehoods about Palin that became the basis for storylines in the book and film.

“Steve Schmidt is proud to stretch the truth in his shoot-first style, and this time he has gone too far,” said former Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton. “He is abusive and abrasive and nothing short of a world class bully.”

Recher said flight manifests from the campaign show that Schmidt only traveled with Palin four times during the campaign, while the authors of “Game Change,” Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, were never on the campaign plane.

Contacted by CNN, Schmidt said that he has screened the movie and defended its accuracy.

“The movie accurately and truthfully captures the experience of the campaign,” Schmidt said.

Two of the advisers, Recher and Scheunemann, said the film’s screenwriter Danny Strong initially reached out to them while researching the campaign but did not consult with them on the script or film production.

Both said they discouraged Strong from using material from the book “Game Change,” which they called a “fiction.”

“If the book was very misleading, the movie was going to be way worse,” said Scheunemann, who spoke to Halperin after the campaign and said he was ultimately disappointed with his book. “To call this movie fiction gives fiction a bad name.”

Scheunemann took specific issue with one scene that, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, depicts Palin struggling with basic facts about history and government during debate prep sessions.

Scheunemann, who briefed Palin numerous times during the campaign as a foreign policy adviser, called the scene “ridiculous” and said the movie is “deliberately misleading.”

Strong defended his script and told CNN that he interviewed “almost all” of the staffers involved in the McCain-Palin campaign, though Palin herself declined an interview request.

He said Palin’s defenders should wait to view the film in its “multi-dimensional” entirety before criticizing it.

Strong said the production team offered a private screening to Palin and her husband Todd — which they also declined.

“We stand by the film as being an accurate and fair portrayal of the events of the campaign,” Strong said in an email to CNN. “It is based on the book ‘Game Change’ which was unchallenged and unrefuted by these people when it was published. The script is also based on 25 interviews I conducted with members of the actual campaign. Secondary sources include Sarah Palin’s book ‘Going Rogue’, other books written on the campaign and innumerable newspaper and magazine articles.”

Both McCain and Palin have brushed aside questions about the film.

“I’m really not too concerned about an HBO movie based on a false narrative when there are so many other things that we need to be talking about,” Palin told Fox News Sunday last week.