When Sarah Palin declared two weeks ago that she "wasn't too concerned about a HBO movie based on a false narrative," you knew instantaneously that she was fudging it more than a little bit about Game Change. Of course she cared. Just today she launched a video on her SarahPAC website defending her performance in the 2008 campaign and issued a statement that the film "presents a history that never happened."
A week ago Palin unleashed her dogs on HBO and, almost as predictably, on John McCain's senior campaign advisor Steve Schmidt, who has made his disdain for Palin quite public since the 2008 election. In a recent forum sponsored by the New Yorker, Schmidt openly acknowledged that Palin was "clearly not prepared for the presidency."
As part of the orchestrated pushback to Game Change, no fewer than seven of Palin's associates took to the telephone wires angrily denouncing HBO's upcoming fiilm, including her one-time mouthpiece Meghan Stapleton and her former foreign affairs advisor, the controversial neo-con lobbyist Randy Scheunemann.
What mainstream news accounts of the conference call failed to mention is that all seven of those who partook in the denouncement of Game Change were at one time or another on the payroll of Palin's political action committee, SarahPAC, at which they were all paid handsome monthly stipends between $6,000 and $10,000.
Never mind the fact that none of them had actually seen the film; all seven have had a significant and vested interest in Sarah Palin's post-campaign reputation. This was pushback with a fee attached. Stapleton went so far as to call the movie "sick" and described Schmidt as "abusive" and "abrasive."
That said, there are several aspects of Palin's erratic and dysfunctional behavior during the 2008 campaign that are well-documented via video, audio tape and emails, all of which I referenced in my own critical book, The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind Her Relentless Quest for Power. The he-said-she-said nature of the Game Change controversy -- all based on off-the-record sources -- creates an opportunity for pushback and denial. The uncontested documents from the 2008 campaign, however, provide no squirm room for Palin and her minions.
1. Palin Botched All of Her Major Interviews. Go back and watch the Charlie Gibson, Katie Couric and Brian Williams interview tapes. They are frightening. One forgets just how bad Palin's performances really were. The Couric interview is particularly disturbing -- this woman could have been a single heartbeat away from the presidency?
Palin has bitterly referred to Couric "as the lowest rated news anchor in network television" with "a partisan agenda" who hammered Palin with "repetitive, biased questions." In fact, they were anything but the sort. Go back and watch them. If anything, they were softball questions that could have been answered by any high school senior.
Recall Palin's immortal response when Couric queried her about the proposed federal bailout:
That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, we're ill about this position that we have been put in. Where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh, it's got to be about job creation, too. Shoring up our economy, and putting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade -- we have got to see trade as opportunity, not as, uh, competitive, um, scary thing, but one in five jobs created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation.
Tina Fey, in her masterful turn as Palin on Saturday Night Live, didn't need to change a single word.
2. Palin Lied About her Husband's Involvement with the Alaska Independence Party. One of the things I sensed in my interviews with Schmidt -- who consistently came off as a bright, sensitive, nuts-and-bolts, down-to-earth guy during our conversations -- is that Palin's penchant for veering from the truth is what ultimately turned him against her.
During the campaign, Palin became irritated with published reports that her husband had been a member of the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), the platform of which called for the secession of Alaska from the United States.
She demanded, in an email sent to McCain campaign manager Rick Davis, chief strategist Steve Schmidt and senior advisor Nicolle Wallace, that the campaign "get in front of that ridiculous issue" and release a statement contradicting the charges. Schmidt refused to issue one. He knew that Todd Palin had been an AIP member and that secession was a central AIP platform.
But Palin could not let it go. Her response was thoroughly duplicitous:
That's not part of their platform and he was only a 'member' bc independent alaskans too often check that 'Alaska Independent' box on voter registrations thinking it just means non partisan. He caught his error when changing our address and checked the right box. I still want it fixed.
It was a bold-faced lie. Todd Palin's voter registration forms, provided through a Public Records Act request that I initiated with the State of Alaska Department of Elections, reveal that Todd Palin registered for the AIP on three separate occasions. (PDF) Schmidt was not amused by Palin's duplicity -- and he called her on it. "The statement you are suggesting be released," he wrote, "would be inaccurate." He informed Palin that the campaign would "not put out a statement and inflame [the situation]." Palin was furious.
3. Palin Got Suckered by the French-Canadian Comedians. With the election only four days away, Palin was the all-too-willing victim of what would become an infamous prank by the Montreal disc jockeys known as Les Justiciers Masqués (The Masked Avengers). One of the comedians, Marc-Antoine Audette, portrayed himself as French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a protracted telephone conversation with Palin while she was traveling on her campaign bus in the heart of the Florida panhandle.
In Going Rogue, Palin thoroughly distorts her role in the prank and her response. She says that she initially thought that some of Sarkozy's comments were "a little off" and "weird." She says that she "laughed" after one remark, "trying to keep it light." She thought, "He's got to be drunk." This may be the biggest cover-up in Palin's career. What is "weird" is the way that Palin responded throughout her conversation, from the beginning until the very end. She engaged every remark from the faux Sarkozy with a fawning -- even flirtatious -- enthusiasm that bordered on the freakish.
Of all Palin's troubling incidents throughout the campaign -- and they were many and varied -- a close examination of the transcript and the audio recording of the incident reveals a profoundly troubling glimpse into Palin's interpersonal capacities and social skills.
When Palin first answered the phone (thinking that Sarkozy was on the line), she uttered a coquettish, elaborated "Huh-lowwwww!" only to be told that Sarkozy was waiting to come on. When the faux Sarkozy did get on, Palin returned to her flirtatious, girlish demeanor, "Hello, this is Sarah, how... are... you?!" Then Palin fully immersed herself in the call. As Audette's questions became more audacious and inappropriate, Palin continued to engage him. Her voice inflection remained animated throughout. She was clearly awe-struck by Sarkozy's international celebrity and status. Again, listen to the tone and intonation.
The entire six-minute conversation is bizarre on many levels, but toward the end, it turned downright freakish. "You know my wife Carla would love to meet you," Audette-as-Sarkozy proclaimed, "even though you know she was a bit jealous that I was supposed to speak to you today." Palin giggles in response, "Well, give her a big hug for me. " Audette responded immediately: "You know my wife is a popular singer and a former top model and she's so hot in bed. She even wrote a song for you." Palin still followed merrily along. "Oh my goodness, I didn't know that." Then finally, the conversation headed straight into The Twilight Zone:
Audette/Sarkozy: Gov. Palin, I love the documentary they made on your life. You know Hustler's Nailin' Palin?
Palin: Ohh, good, thank you, yes.
Audette/Sarkozy: That was really edgy.
Palin: Well, good.
It was only then that Audette told her the whole thing was a gag. He had run out of material before Palin ever caught on.
4. Palin Went Rogue in New Hampshire. On October 15, as the Palin road show landed in the Granite State, Palin was informed that she was slated to appear at a trio of rallies with Senator John Sununu (the son of the former White House Chief of Staff of the same name and a close colleague of McCain's in the senate) and congressional candidate Jeb Bradley (a GOP moderate who was vying to reclaim the congressional seat that he had lost two years earlier). Palin had apparently conducted an internet search of Bradley and discovered that he was a pro-choice Republican who also opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Palin was chafed by the news and refused to appear on the same stage as Bradley and wanted nothing to do with either candidate as long as Bradley was present.
Palin's behavior threatened to unravel the entire New Hampshire ground effort. In a lengthy and detailed email, which I cited nearly in its entirely in my book, Jim "Mad Dog" Barnett, director of the campaign's New England operation and a widely respected political operative from Vermont who in 2010 ran Scott Brown's race for the Senate, chronicled every instance in which the Palin operation had been difficult or went off-script during the preceding 48 hours:
We worked for many days on the programs taking into consideration all the political implications and working with advance to get everything flowing smoothly. Then, at literally the last minute, for 3 of the 4 events, someone with some apparent authority calls our advance on the ground and fucks everything up. This has so far resulted in pissing off two United States Senators and the creation of a total 'cluster' which has reflected very poorly on the campaign.
Then Palin went on to do the precisely same thing in Maine the following day.
5. Palin Betrayed John McCain. While often overlooked because it's so obvious, this was Palin's most egregious behavior during the campaign. On Sunday, October 5, with less than a month to go until Election Day, readers of the New York Times were greeted to an opinion piece by Bill Kristol entitled "The Wright Stuff." Kristol -- who had fawned over Palin that summer as his "heart throb" -- had conducted a lengthy telephone interview with Palin that betrayed her running mate John McCain at his very core.
For all her posturing about "respecting" and "honoring" McCain, in her interview with Kristol she was insubordinate and shamelessly disloyal to the man who had selected her as his running mate. There is no other way to put it. Country First? Hardly.
In the column, Kristol asserted that Palin had "made clear -- without being willing to flat out say so -- that she regretted allowing herself to be overly handled and constrained after the Republican convention." Palin was openly attacking her own campaign and her own senior strategists with Kristol, but her political apostasy did not stop there. Her remarks would soon border on mutiny.
Kristol noted that Palin had gone after Bill Ayers that weekend in Colorado and that she was eager "for the McCain-Palin campaign to be more aggressive in helping the American people understand 'who the real Barack Obama is.'" He brought up the issue of Jeremiah Wright, Obama's longtime pastor at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.
John McCain had made it abundantly clear throughout the campaign that the Wright issue was off limits. McCain, who himself had been the victim of racially-charged accusations by Bush II during the 2000 campaign in South Carolina, did not want his campaign to be associated with anything that smacked of racism. There had been no changing his mind. Palin, however, in addressing the issue with Kristol, didn't hesitate to undermine McCain's authority, openly and brazenly:
To tell you the truth, Bill, I don't know why that association isn't discussed more, because those were appalling things that that pastor had said about our great country, and to have sat in the pews for 20 years and listened to that-- with, I don't know, a sense of condoning it, I guess, because he didn't get up and leave-- to me, that does say something about character. But, you know, I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up.
Palin was brashly confronting the top of the ticket and airing the campaign's laundry in the national press. She was asked if she had any advice for McCain. Once again, she didn't hesitate to provide a response: "Take off the gloves."
Palin had clearly gone off the reservation. In Going Rogue, Palin is utterly absent of remorse about her behavior. "I did not apologize for calling it like I saw it," she declared. She admits that she was told "not to discuss Obama's pastor of twenty years, Jeremiah 'God Damn America' Wright." And then she betrayed McCain again. "I will forever question the campaign," she wrote, without acknowledging that the directive came straight from the Senator himself, "for prohibiting discussion of such accusations."
So much for Palin's loyalty.
In every one of these five instances, the record is clear. There's no wiggle room. Palin botched and lied and betrayed and then lied some more. She and her minions will no doubt push back further against HBO's Game Change, but the videos, audio tapes, transcripts and emails provide ample documentation that Sarah Palin was not -- and is not -- fit to serve as either Vice President, or President, of the United States.
Award-winning writer and filmmaker Geoffrey Dunn's best-selling The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind Her Relentless Quest for Power was published by Macmllan/St. Martin's in May of 2011 and will be published in paperback this May.