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‘Media Malpractice’ Filmmaker John Ziegler on Film’s Wide Re-release

Media Malpractice, John Ziegler‘s 2009 film that turned the media narrative of the 2008 election on its head, played like a Rocky movie on crack to conservative audiences when it was released. However, the film, despite featuring newsmaking exclusives with then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, didn’t find much of an audience beyond that.

Two years (and one midterm election) later, an updated version of Ziegler’s film is set to be re-released to retail stores, and will be available on demand to 80 million cable subscribers. We talked to Ziegler about his hopes for the film to find a wider audience in post-Tea Party America, and what it might mean for the film’s de facto star, Sarah Palin.

The new version of the film includes 45 minutes of updated material, including many of Ziegler’s haymaking interviews (complete with commentary), and carries the Sarah Palin seal of approval. In fact, Ziegler says that Palin even had her ghostwriter watch the film before starting work on her bestseller, Going Rogue.

Upon the film’s initial release, Ziegler says he was in talks with Vivendi-Universal to distribute the film, but the political climate at the time wasn’t right. “In Hollywood, you can take a chance on a liberal film all day long, but if you try and fail with a conservative film, you get fired.”

Still, Ziegler hit the road to screen the film for various conservative audiences, and sold enough copies of the film (around 40,000) to roughly recoup the film’s original $250k production budget.

Since then, though, Palin has evolved, from mere politician into a being of pure media energy whose every Facebook utterance makes headlines, while President Obama has become the scapegoat for huge midterm losses for the Democrats. Add to that the simmering speculation over a possible Palin presidential bid, and suddenly, the climate is a lot friendlier for Media Malpractice.

Some of the folks who had mulled acquiring the film for Vivendi-Universal had moved on to Synergetic Distribution, but remembered the film and approached Ziegler about the re-release.

While its availability at retailers like Best Buy is significant for a conservative film, the video-on-demand aspect of Media Malpractice’s re-release gives Ziegler’s audience an unprecedented opportunity to vote with their eyeballs. Palin’s Facebook and Twitter supporters number in the millions, and could singlehandedly make the film a commercial hit, paving the way for other conservative films. Add to that the energized Tea Party supporters, for whom Palin has become an important figurehead, and the film’s prospects loom large.

We spoke to Ziegler about the re-release, how it relates to Palin’s presidential hopes, and whether President Obama is getting a fair shake (the answer may surprise you).

Mediaite: The film contains a lot of footage, some extensive interviews with Sarah Palin. What does she think of the film?

John Ziegler: Well, there’s a clip on our website of Sarah talking about the film, back while she was still Governor of Alaska, and she was effusive in her praise. In fact, I was told by her spokesperson at the time that the first thing Sarah Palin did in the first meeting with her ghostwriter for the book was to give the ghostwriter the film and say “Here, this is what happened,” which I was very proud about. the main reason I did this was to correct the historical record of what really happened, and the person closest to what really happened believes that that’s what the film accomplished.

Mediaite: Well, you’re still in touchb with the Palins, right? How are they feeling about the re-release?

JZ: I met with Sarah and Todd a few weeks ago, we had a really nice meeting, took some nice photographs. It’s very difficult for me to know where this fits  in, because I don’t know if Sarah Palin’s running for president, I mean, if she is, if it was me, I would certainly want this film out there as much as possible, because clearly, any presidential run is going to have to battle the negative perceptions about what happened in 2008, and this film’s re-release might be the very last opportunity to change those perceptions.

I know that they are hoping that this goes well.

Mediaite: How much do you think a possible Palin run for president has to do with the renewed interest from the distributor?

JZ: Oh, there’s no question that part of the reason we were able to do this is that Sarah Palin and Barack Obama are the principal figures in the film, and might well be the two principal figure in the 2012 election. This release is timed right after the midterms, when people will begin to discuss the 2012 election, and there’s a good chance these will be the two leading figures in that race.

Mediaite: Recently, there have been polls that show that Americans don’t know they got a tax cut, they don’t know that the economy is growing, they don’t know that the government stands to make money on the TARP funds. Do you think that’s another form of media malpractice, that the media has failed to deliver that message?

JZ: I  may surprise you with this, but I do believe that, while I don’t necessarily know if it’s the media’s fault, I do believe that Barack Obama may be getting more of the blame for the current economy than he actually deserves. I think it has a lot more to do with our attention span in this country, which has gotten dangerously short. I guess you could blame the media for that. Everything has shrunk. Two days is an eternity now, people have become incredibly impatient.

I’m someone who believes that economic impact takes an enormous time to take hold, and the notion that it’s a year-and-a-half, or two years, is ridiculous, to judge any administration on the economy. I fully acknowledge that what the Obama administration inherited was a mess. I dispute liberals who say it was all George W. Bush’s fault, but it was a mess. If a Republican had inherited the mess that Barack Obama did, economically, Republicans would be screaming bloody murder that they were getting too  much blame.

But I don’t think you can say Obama has gotten negative coverage. No one jokes about him, the comedians are totally hands-off, which is what really destroyed George Bush and Sarah Palin. I think the media has lost some of its power to impact perception. When the economy is this bad for this long, people want someone to blame, and they blame the guy in power.

Mediaite: What do you think a Palin presidential run will be like for the media?

JZ: Since leaving the governorship, Sarah Palin has had to reinvent herself, and she has done so brilliantly. Sarah 2.0, since then, has been playing the media like a fiddle. I think we might be approaching a bizarre situation where the same media that assassinated Sarah Palin during the 2008 election is now desperate, desperate for her to run. It would be the most entertaining, most highly-rated campaign in history, and for a full year, no one in the media would have to do any hard work., and that’s what members of the newsmedia despise more than anything is hard work. You wouldn’t have to worry about your ratings, or your circulation, for an entire year. I worry about that, because I don’t think it’s healthy for democracy.

Mediaite: How do you respond to critics who say that your film is one-sided, that it ignores legitimate points in Barack Obama’s favor, while glossing over Sarah Palin’s mistakes?

JZ: Well, I would hope that it wouldn’t be portrayed that way, but here’s how I would respond. After the mountain of positive President Obama, and negative Sarah Palin, coverage during the 2008 election and beyond, I really don’t believe that the historical record is threatened by the fact that one less-than-two-hour film would take a look at the other side of that mountain. This film was about presenting a side of the story that the American people were never allowed to see.

What I’d like to know is why, after two years, no one has been able to provide one example of a single inaccuracy in my film? Not one. Not to mention that Sarah Palin acknowledges, in my interview, that she made mistakes. We go into a few of them in the film.

As for Barack Obama, I personally like the guy, and the film goes out of its way not to be personally critical of him, but of the unwarranted adulation…we didn’t include any of the crazy birther stuff. I took so much flack…at least once at every screening, someone would ask me why I didn’t put the birther issue in the film. So, it’s not a right-wing hatchet job.

When you look at it two years later, I think the film is amazingly prescient. You can see, now, how ludicrous some of what was being said at that time really was. I think the film is ten times more credible now than it was when it first came out, and I’m thrilled that so many Americans are going to have the chance to hear the film’s important message.

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