Last night I attended the premiere of The Undefeated, a new documentary that sheds light on the political career of Governor Sarah Palin. While at the theater, I had the pleasure of shaking the hand of Steve Bannon, the film’s director. I also interacted with a crew from CNN who were covering the event.
Now, I had assumed that the media would be there covering the story surrounding the opening of this film, reporting on such facts as the attendance (sold-out), the mood of the audience (enthusiastic), and the comments from the viewers (highly impressed and supportive, as far as I heard). Silly me. It seems that this crew attended the event with a story already written, and showed up just to collect the footnotes for their piece of investigative journaling.
My part in the story begins when I ducked out of the theater into the hallway amidst another round of rousing applause from the audience, cheering one of Sarah Palin’s bold speeches. I saw a reporter standing nearby with a camera, and I remarked, “It’s too bad you probably can’t take a camera in there for copyright reasons, because there is so much energy in there. I wish you could capture it on camera.”
He asked me whether I was involved in the film’s making, and I told him no, I was just a supporter of Sarah Palin who wanted to learn more about her career. He then asked me if I would like to share my opinion about the film, and I agreed. After all, I am a supporter of Sarah Palin's, I did enjoy the movie, I did think it was insightful and informative, and I’d be happy to share that opinion on camera.
He started off by asking me if I was a fan of Barack Obama’s, to which I honestly replied, “Not so much.”
He asked me whether I thought the movie was accurate, whether it represented truth. I said honestly that I believed it was accurate and truthful. He pressed the issue: “Really? Those pictures of cigar-filled back rooms? You think that really happened? The guns and knives? Were there people actually carrying guns and knives?”
I answered that I believed those scenes were dramatized, and merely representative of the culture of corruption that Palin stood up to. Of course thugs aren’t going to pose for a movie. He asked me whether I thought people would make a movie of Obama showing smoke-filled back rooms. I thought this was a foolish and hypothetical line of questioning. As far as I am concerned, if people want to make movies about Obama showing smoke-filled rooms, that’s their business. I replied that Chicago has a reputation for smoke-filled rooms.
He asked if I thought the movie was fair and balanced. I paused for a moment, because I did think it presented a fair image of Governor Palin, but I didn’t want to sound rehearsed or unthinking. I said that I thought some of the imagery depicting the savagery of nature seemed a bit of hyperbole, but I understood that it was just artistic license to make a point.
Then he started asking me questions like, “Do you think the price of oil has gone up since Palin was Governor?” (“Um…well, I know the price of gasoline has gone up over the last few years, so yes, since those are correlated”) and “Do you think something-or-other [alas, I do not have a phonographic memory] did something-or-other in 2002 when Palin was Governor ?” (No, since Sarah Palin was elected Governor in 2006).
There were several other derivative questions about oil, prices, the Bush family, other countries with oil, and whether high-priced oil is good for Alaskans. I tried answering these to the best of my knowledge, but I felt increasingly manipulated. The questions were suggestive, leading, and speculative, and were not really related to the documentary I had just watched.
After he stopped the camera, I said, “You really put me on the spot with all those oil questions.” “Yeah, well, I’m a journalist,” he replied. “I’m pro-low-oil prices, and I think that big oil bought her off.”
So that’s the story. CNN has it that Palin and the Bushes are, if not actually in collusion with one another, at least both in collusion with Big Oil to drive up the price of oil, thus saddling us all with expensive gasoline.
That’s their big story? It’s ludicrous. I could have answered that straight up if he’d asked me whether that’s what I got out of the documentary. I would have said something like, “No, Palin stood up to Big Oil. She broke up ExxonMobil’s monopoly on the oil fields, forcing them to drill, which drove up production and, presumably, drove down the price of oil overall. Yes, the people of Alaska would still have benefited, because more production means more profit overall. No, I don’t think Palin is in cahoots with the Bush family. As far as I know, the Bush family represents the GOP Establishment, which Palin is decidedly not part of. I don’t know about President Bush’s connections to Big Oil because I hadn’t just attended a documentary about his career. Send me to a movie about him and I can tell you my opinion about it. But that still wouldn’t give CNN a story about the actual connection between Bush and Big Oil, if there is one. Artificially higher prices due to the carefully controlled illusion of scarcity is the work of a monopoly or a cartel, and Palin certainly gives no appearance of being a part of that. You know, like the diamond racket? But that’s just my opinion on politics and economics in general. Didn’t you say you wanted my opinion on the documentary?”
That’s how the interview would have gone, if he had conducted it like a fair journalist and asked me open questions instead of pummeling me with leading questions that just bolstered his story line. And then he dismissed my discomfort at my awkward answers with the comment that he was just being a journalist.
Yet a true journalist tracking down a story like this would do the research on Palin and Bush, interviewing people from their respective political spheres and within the oil companies. You know, track down original sources. Do actual investigative reporting. Instead, here he was, interviewing Palin supporters about what they thought the connection was between Palin, Bush, and Big Oil. How is that supposed to be a story?
After I walked away and his parting comment had had time to sink in, it dawned on me that my remarks weren’t likely to be put into the proper context. Once I realized the angle of his story, I suspected that my quotes would be cherry-picked to support his thesis and to present me, a supporter of Palin, in as uninformed and discombobulated a light as possible. I am sorry that my mind reverted instantly to such suspicious thoughts. But I have already seen how the media tend to present Palin, picking out her worst few minutes from among hours of stellar footage, so it made sense to me that the same thing might be done to her defenders.
In the interest of protecting myself from a potentially highly-edited and unrepresentative portrayal, I walked back to the CNN crew and asked that they not use my video, after all. I said that if we had time to negotiate a contract, where I could ensure that my remarks would not be taken out of context and misconstrued, I’d be happy to oblige, but in the absence of such protection, I revoked my consent. Just to be safe, I scribbled my revocation of consent down on a piece of paper and asked one of the journalists to sign it.
If the whole interview were to be released on YouTube, I’d probably sound a bit rambling at some points, brilliant at others, annoyed at times, and just plain confused at others. Some of the questions were pretty disorienting. But at least the context of my rambling would be plain.
I chose to err on the side of caution. But I did see the CNN film crew interviewing other attendees and, presumably, asking them the same kinds of leading questions that they asked me. I was not close enough to hear what the answers were, but I suppose CNN managed to capture enough footage to oblige their storyline. So whatever story CNN comes up with, just realize that they went out on a fishing expedition and completely missed the whale of the story. The real headlines should be: PALIN FILM SELLS OUT MULTIPLE PERFORMANCES! CHEERING AUDIENCE GIVES REPEATED STANDING OVATIONS!