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‘Game Change’ premiere lets Washington insiders relive drama of Election 2008

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Midway through “Game Change,” Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, played by Woody Harrelson, says, “The news is not meant to be remembered. It’s just entertainment.”

The Newseum, a grandiose monument to remembering the news, hosted the premiere of the HBO film on Thursday night in what was essentially a hall of mirrors: An insidery movie adapted from an insidery book was shown to an insidery audience of Obama staffers and political journalists, who chortled as they recognized themselves, their colleagues and their rivals onscreen.

“He really captured the character — although he was playing him maybe four years younger than me,” joked Wolf Blitzer, referring to the stock footage of him that pads the two-hour telepic about the implosion of the 2008 John McCain-Sarah Palin campaign.

“I think it’s a cynical line that works for the movie,” said “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough of Schmidt’s dismissal of political journalism.

“There is an appetite for news as entertainment,” added his MSNBC co-host, Mika Brzezinski, setting up a self-promotional pivot, “but our show proves that audiences also have an appetite for substance.”

The audience for the premiere was largely the “liberal media,” the treacherous horde of progressives that allegedly carried Barack Obama to the White House on its socialist shoulders. Even the Newseum’s red carpet was blue. Truly. A dusky azure walkway welcomed the creative team of “Game Change” into the atrium of the Newseum, where team members defended the film’s fairness of vision (the McCain and Palin camps have denounced it as abusive fiction without, they say, having actually seen it).

“The truth is not partisan,” the creative team repeated up and down the blue carpet as conservative news outlets inquired about its uniform financial support of Democratic causes, which were itemized Wednesday by the Hollywood Reporter.

But let us turn to the present, and future: If ever a campaign needed a game change, it’s the current one, which is even more of a bad reality TV show than the last one. What would the “Game Change” gang prescribe for 2012?

“A Martian invasion,” said journalist Mark Halperin, co-author of the book upon which the movie was based.

“A brokered convention,” screenwriter Danny Strong said.

“If one of the candidates were drafted,” said Palin player Julianne Moore, dressed in an emerald Tom Ford with bunchy velvet sleeves and a neckline that plunged more dramatically than Rick Perry’s polling numbers in October.

Before the screening, invitees nibbled on marinated hanger steak with Maui onions and roast Pacific salmon with caramelized fennel. In the house: “Game Change” producer Tom Hanks, Huffington Post Editorial Director Howard Fineman, White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard, HBO honcho Richard Plepler and more than a dozen journalists from The Washington Post. It was a typical Washington crowd getting ready to relive the stomach-turning acrobatics of Election 2008.

But why? Why dramatize those events?

To help us make sense of the nonsensical? To merely amuse ourselves with the highlights of a heyday? To fashion a moral out of a morass?

“It allows us to ask questions that are profound to society,” said Strong, the screenwriter. “Should celebrity and charisma be a deciding factor in choosing our leaders?”

The film’s answer is “no,” and this moral seemed well received by audience members, who, in unscientific exit polls, gave “Game Change” a thumbs-up. The tragic hero of the film, though, is not Moore’s Palin but Harrelson’s bald, bold Schmidt. The real Schmidt chatted with well-wishers during the pre-show reception and sat in the front section of the Newseum’s Annenberg Theater for the screening.

“To watch someone portraying you in the space where cynicism and idealism collide — I found it personally difficult to watch the scenes where good judgment becomes subordinate to ambition,” Schmidt said. “I think [the movie] talks about those realities that are taking place in these campaigns today and shows how the political process has dysfunctional elements. . . . It’s 10 weeks synthesized into a two-hour movie, so things are compressed, but the emotions, the spirit, the events, what happened — it’s true. It’s the true story of what happened over those 10 weeks.”

© The Washington Post Company