More than any other Republican presidential prospect, Sarah Palin draws white-hot journalistic loathing. She's too red-state, too gun-toting, too religious and too unwilling to abort a disabled "fetus." Even so, filmmaker Stephen Bannon remains deeply optimistic that his forthcoming Palin documentary, "The Undefeated," will sway the media to see Palin in a different light.
Bannon, a former Goldman Sachs banker turned filmmaker, told National Review's Kathryn Lopez that once he and his producing partner delved into Palin's life story, "we decided that not just the American people but even the mainstream media were both fair and decent — that when presented with something that represented a completely different point of view, they would be at least open to considering it."
The movie is not an attempt at objectivity. It's a campaign film, a longer version of the kind Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason produced for Bill Clinton. You know, "I believe ... in a place called Hope." Or the one PBS darling Ken Burns made for Ted Kennedy in 2008. The only difference is that our media tend to greet liberal films with open arms and swooning heads, while similar conservative efforts are inevitably trashed.
Still, it would be nice if journalists would be open to considering as accurate the movie's version of Palin's life and career, since they often still confuse Palin quotes with Tina Fey satire ("I can see Russia from my house!"). The three phases of this movie are antidotes to media myth-making.
Myth 1: She's a bubblehead. The first part of the movie covers her time as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. The film shows that Palin rebuilt Wasilla's infrastructure to attract national retailers, which helped grow the local economy. (Rather than give her any credit, reporters were more concerned with false rumors about her ignorant censorship/mistreatment of the town librarian.) As mayor and as governor, Palin governed in boring detail, not with Crayola crayons.
Myth 2: She's no populist. The media want Palin's post-gubernatorial book and TV deals to cancel out her appeal to fly-over country. The second part is where Bannon's real passion shows: the story of Palin's tenure as governor, especially her management of energy issues and her advocacy of a gas pipeline into Canada. This is a story that voters either forgot or never even heard about (and it's the one that's emerging again from her vault of e-mails). She was a hands-on populist executive, not the "Caribou Barbie" cartoon.
Myth 3. She can't appeal to the middle. This section's 2011 footage of Palin at a rally in Madison, Wis., against the union-thug takeover of the state Capitol was certainly impressive. Reporters are so enthralled by government and its employee unions that they can't envision a scenario where centrists or independent voters would vote in favor of taking out the scissors to slice government budgets with "draconian" cuts. But independents voted for conservative Gov. Scott Walker and other budget-cutters in 2010, and they loved Gov. Palin. Before John McCain selected her for the GOP ticket, she had an 80 percent approval rating.
Most conservatives are Palin fans, but if she runs for president, will they favor her over other candidates? This is where the film begins to grate, suggesting Palin is a better, more conservative alternative than all the male GOP presidential contenders. Andrew Breitbart, Mark Levin and Tammy Bruce suggest Palin is Ronald Reagan's natural heir. The governing experience of other conservatives is somehow translated into a negative.
Is Palin that much better? Breitbart steps on more than a few toes by insisting that conservative men inside the Washington Beltway are all "eunuchs who have run as men but aren't men" for failing to be aggressive enough against Obama and for allowing Palin to be criticized. That's not exactly a page from "How to Win Friends and Influence People."
The movie also implies that every other conservative in the race is "the establishment," as if Palin will be able to claim that somehow Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum or Herman Cain is the latest version of a Gerald Ford or Bob Dole campaign. That dog won't hunt.
The public will have a decent chance to consider the movie, at least in some markets, with AMC Theatres. The major film chain will screen the film beginning July 15 in Dallas, Denver, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Atlanta, Phoenix, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Orange County, Calif. That's a nice alternative to theater chains that generally only run leftist Michael Moore-like documentaries.
One thing is for certain. "The Undefeated" is more than a documentary. It's an event — one that shows that Palin is far better prepared, at least technologically, to wage a primary campaign than any of her rivals. And she hasn't even announced.