Fair Game has taken me on a wild journey around the globe, including a treacherous shoot in Baghdad. And now I'm happy to share with you the final steps of this amazing journey as I navigate the press corps in Washington, New York and elsewhere.
Tuesday October 19, Washington DC
My day starts with a 7:30 am pick up, starting a morning filled with live and taped TV interviews. Live interviews take a significant amount of energy, but not all of it intellectual. On a show called "Let's Talk Live" the host treads into forbidden territory asking me intimate details about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (they met on the set of my movie Mr and Mrs Smith). I am prepared for this -- Valerie Plame has taught me how to take secrets to one's grave -- I do not cave.
The afternoon is spent meeting with print journalists. Ironically, I am placed in a hotel suite in the Mayflower Hotel, which is the exact same hotel in which I first met Valerie Plame four years ago. Fair Game is a fundamental departure from the types of films I've directed before and no where is that more obvious than in the kinds of reporters I am meeting with. The reporters I met that day mostly cover national security -- they're not interested in Brangelina -- they want to know about the classified material that appears in my movie.
When I see that Walter Pincus and Rich Leiby from the Washington Post are scheduled to do a 15 minute interview, I ask my handlers to make it 20 minutes -- I want five minutes to ask some questions myself. You see, Walter Pincus is an actual player in the story portrayed in Fair Game. He is one of the reporters who was leaked Valerie Plame's name and I cannot resist the temptation to ask Pincus about that. He says he has testified about it so I can just read about it but I press him to tell me about it. I tell him that as a filmmaker, I would like him to paint a picture of the scene. What would it look like if it were a scene in a film?
Pincus goes on to describe the story he was researching about who in the White House knew, at the time, that Bush's statement, in the State of the Union address, claiming that Saddam tried to buy uranium from Africa, was untrue. He then received a phone call. It was from Air Force One, on its way to Africa with Bush. Ari Fleisher, Bush's press secretary said: "you know, Wilson was sent to Niger by his wife, she's an agency operative on WMDs." Like many of the other journalists to whom the White House leaked Valerie Plame's name, Pincus chose not to print the information leaked to him. After all it was not relevant to the story he was writing, and he didn't believe it to be true. In fact, it wasn't relevant to anyone's story and Valerie had not in fact sent Joe.
Now it was Pincus and Leiby's turn. They wanted to know about the Iraqi scientist in the film. What were our sources for this highly classified material, most of which has never been reported. I enjoy talking to journalists like this because they know better than I the challenges and risks of extracting top secret information from CIA employees, and I think I impress them with the sheer moxie I had to rely upon instead of experience.
That night, we screen the film at the AFI Labor Festival in Silver Springs Maryland. It is a beautiful theater and a packed audience who give Joe and Val a standing ovation at the end. I participate in a Q&A with Joe and Val moderated by NPR's Neil Conan who starts off with a lively question: "So Joe, are you really as big an asshole as you appear in the film?" Everyone laughs, Joe included. Then Joe says yes.
I'm in a great mood. I've just spent all day defending the facts of the movie to a press corps that would have skewered me had we not been so thorough in researching this story and I've passed with flying colors.
One of the first questioners wants to know what proof I have that the administration outed Valerie Plame since the reporter who first printed it got her name from the State Department. I'm always well armed for this question, because the Justice Department investigation found five instances of the White House directly leaking Valerie's name to reporters. Plus, the State Department employee got her name directly from the White House. But I don't need to go there. "How about a call from Air Force One?" Thanks to Pincus, I go on to nail the poor guy.
Tomorrow I fly to the middle east.