Palin's Coming Attractions
What the new Sarah Palin documentary gets right, and wrong, about her politics.
"This is a story that's been hiding in plain sight."
This is how Steve Bannon describes his new documentary, The Undefeated, at a Thursday screening for reporters in the Washington suburbs. The bulk of the movie–stuff he was told to cut down, but didn't–is a biography of Sarah Palin before her BlackBerry rang with John McCain on the line, asking her to be his running mate. If Palin's critics learned this stuff, Bannon just knows they'll change their minds about her.
Bannon has shown his movie to friends in the movie business—"Greenwich Village progressives," he says. "And to a man they did not know she took on the Republican Party this hard in Alaska. They did not know she took on Big Oil in Alaska. A lot of them do not like her, do not agree with her politics, but they have a grudging admiration."
There's a much tougher crowd in the room today: reporters from CNN, the Washington Post, and NBC News. Less than 24 hours later, they're going to be analyzing 24,000-plus e-mails released from Palin's gubernatorial records. For now, they're sitting on comfortable chairs and a sofa watching nearly two hours of narrative documentary, peopled by Palin's closest staffers and friends. One by one the people on-screen are informing the world that Palin was a fantastic success as governor who was brought down by—in the words of Palin's former communications director Meg Stapleton—"Saul Alinsky tactics." Those first 18 months of Palin's term, says Bannon, were a historic success. No wonder they've been papered over.
"Take the best 18 months of your life, and think about what you accomplished," says Bannon. "Think about the best governors we've ever had and match their record to those 18 months. Let's take the last three guys who've had this job [the presidency] and match their records."
The movie, according to the title card, is based on Palin's memoir Going Rogue. Palin was not interviewed for the movie—Bannon did not want to involve her, wanting to keep total control of the production—but her voice pops up again and again in the movie as clips from the audio version of the memoir. Palin talks about her work on the State Oil and Gas Commission, the negotiations for a natural gas pipeline, and the crafting of Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share, a tax hike on oil companies. Every political news outlet tore through Going Rogue. It was the rare reviewer who mentioned any of this.
The dream scenario for Bannon is that The Undefeated restarts the clock on Palin. People who read about her popularity as governor, and wondered how she pulled it off, get some facts and old interviews to bolster their impressions; people who know her only as Tina Fey's best act will hang their heads and reassess this person they dismissed as "Caribou Barbie."
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
Photograph of Sarah Palin by Mario Tama/Getty Images.