While Sarah Palin spent the Memorial Day weekend on her brilliant media manipulation bus tour (forcing her adversaries in the news media to play the pathetic role of paparazzi desperately trying to find Hollywood’s latest meltdown-prone starlet, and then whine about it), I was synthesizing a few short thoughts on the new anti-Palin book and pro-Palin documentary which made news last week before the fixation with the bus tour began.
Since I produced the only movie to date largely on Palin (and the only one for which she has done an interview), I have been asked a lot about my thoughts on the new film, which is scheduled to debut in Iowa soon. My general response has been that I think the idea of a documentary that seeks to reset Palin’s career narrative, especially regarding her resignation, is excellent.
In fact, I had suggested a similar concept to the Palins back in late 2009. For the record, had I been asked to produce (which I was not) this project now I would not have had either the resources or the inclination to do it in the manner which has been reported.
Based on what I know of the filmmaker and the content, I am confident that The Undefeated will make for great and important viewing and I wish the film all the best. However, I do have several questions/concerns about how much political impact it could possibly have.
Based on my experience with Media Malpractice, getting butts into seats for a political documentary is no easy task. Unless there is a huge budget for promotion, the film will have to live off of free media, which the largely horrendous record of conservative films shows is a precarious strategy.
As an example, I did a screening in the spring of 2009 in Anchorage, Alaska with the profits going to a local charity. We had Todd Palin, Sarah’s father, and her brother all in attendance (along with rumors she would be there) and the help of consistent radio promotion on two popular radio shows. Still, the state’s largest theater (about 1,000 seats) was still at least 40 percent empty.
While this film has already created a great amount of media buzz, it is almost entirely because of what people presume the creation of the film means (that Palin is running for president) and not based on what is in the film itself, which by definition is going to be at least somewhat “wonky.”
I have my doubts that, even in Iowa, huge crowds will pay theater prices to see a film about a former politician’s record in Alaska. Of course if Palin herself decides to show up at several screenings, that would obviously change, but that might also be politically dicey because then she will be tied by the hip to a film that she technically had nothing to do with producing.
But even if I am wrong, it still doesn’t mean the film will accomplish what it apparently seeks to, which is to change the minds of those Republicans who have been persuaded (mostly by the media) not to like her. This is because the only people likely to see it (especially if she isn’t there) are those who are already die-hard Palin fans whose minds don’t need changing.
Herein lays the most frustrating element of creating conservative commercial political content: For the most part, you end up just preaching to the proverbial choir, especially when the subject is as controversial and well known as Palin.
The only way to get any conservative message to the small group of people who might actually be open to changing their minds about anything of importance is to get it on a medium that is both free and has wide reach. Obviously that means network television, but unfortunately that is an outlet that is largely off limits to conservatives.
This was why I had high hopes for the E! Network’s Sarah Palin True Hollywood Story, which I participated in but which tried to be too “fair” to have any real political impact. It is also why I re-released Media Malpractice late last year on nationwide “Video on Demand” and Netflix, where it might be exposed to at least some people not already convinced either way.
I hope I am wrong, but unless I am missing something about the film’s strategy, I think it will be extremely difficult for it to either have any significant political impact or be a massive commercial success. (As an important aside, I am more than a bit concerned that at least one of the people who is used as a pro-Palin commentator in the film is someone I know firsthand to not be authentic in that opinion and has said some of the most negative things about her that I have ever heard from a “conservative.”)
More surprisingly to those who have followed my many attempts to defend Palin over the past two and a half years is my reaction to the new anti-Palin book Blind Allegiance by former Palin staffer Frank Bailey.
I am quite sure that most observers would expect me to blast Bailey with both barrels and simply add him to the long list of people who have used the media to create a false negative mythology about her, but that was not my overall reaction to the book. I have always tried to be an extremely open-minded person and I went into the book with that mindset.
While there were clearly exaggerations and false impressions which were created for commercial effect, I actually found the book to be very credible in some ways. This is because it relies on so many clearly authentic emails from Palin herself and because several of the episodes he writes about are situations with which I was personally involved.
Personally, it was rather gratifying to see an email in the book from Palin to the ghostwriter of her first book basically demanding that Media Malpractice be used as a foundation for the highly successful memoir, which is something I had heard had happened but didn’t know for sure. However, there were many other tidbits in the book which shed new light on situations which turned out badly for me but where I have been giving Palin and her team the benefit of the doubt.
It is a tired (and not always true) cliché that every story has at least two sides and it was fascinating to read an insider’s view of what may have been going on inside the same operation which I was dealing with from just outside the gates. While I am mindful that Bailey is not to be taken as a 100% credible source, there are several stories he tells which have forced me to do quite a bit of rethinking and soul-searching as I try to reconcile all the conflicting data I have accumulated over two and a half years of being associated, to varying degrees, with Sarah Palin.
It has been said that Palin is the ultimate human political Rorschach test and right now the image I have been seeing rather clearly for so long and through so much has been significantly blurred in my mind’s eye. I need to reflect and refocus before I can fully report on what my vision now tells me.
John Ziegler is currently a documentary filmmaker who most recently released a movie on the 2008 election called, “Media Malpractice… How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted.” He has also been in radio talk show host in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Louisville and Nashville. Ziegler has written two books and has appeared live on numerous national television shows including the Today Show, The View, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC.