State of Play?


Steve Clemons and Ben Affleck.jpg
Yesterday, I lunched with Last King of Scotland Director Kevin McDonald on the set of his new film, State of Play.
McDonald told me that on Saturday he and Russell Crowe and some others were racing a car in a scene around the Library of Congress. They made it twice around without incident, but McDonald want a third go at it with a huge camera truck and all. One of the producers sitting with us rolled his eyes back at the words “a third time” telegraphing that going for it just one more time a dozen times over is a McDonald trait. The Capitol Police came out and nearly arrested Crowe and McDonald allegedly as “terrorist threats” — but “nearly” and “did” are different things.
I was there on the set along with a group of other distinguished journalists — including Bob Woodward, Margaret Carlson, Bob Schiefer, John Palmer, EJ Dionne, and Katty Kay. They wanted a blogger/journalist/wonk in the mix, and yours truly said sure. Our task was to make a large group of pretend journalists look more real when Robin Wright Penn makes a statement to the press following disclosure that her Congressman husband (Ben Affleck) may have been having an affair with a now deceased personal assistant.

Affleck was standing behind Robin Wright Penn as she delivered her tearful, poignant comments to the press that “we” should all leave them alone and focus on matters of state that “matter.”
It was really cool — and I learned a lot. First of all, Barack Obama should spend a day with Kevin McDonald who seems to defy gravity given the hundreds of wheels and operations and people who surrounded him on the set that day. He had it all going, but seemed to convey no stress at all about the tension and complexity of making the film shot work. Making movies and running a country, or campaign, are completely different of course — but my sense is that Barack Obama would benefit from being seen as able to run a complex enterprise that had to produce results (I know. . .his campaign. . .but beyond that).
Bob Woodward told me two things of interest. First, he said that the University of Texas which has his Watergate archives does not have everything. There are still other living sources that have not yet been disclosed and some “other big surprises” in the Watergate tale beyond Deep Throat’s identity. Second, he told me that he doesn’t take “senior citizen” discounts at the movies or elsewhere.
Margaret Carlson told me that Eric Schmidt — Google’s CEO and the new Chairman of the Board of the New America Foundation where I work — was “delightfully wonky” at the Gridiron dinner this week and sat at her table. (Our good friend Tom Toles of the Washington Post was one of the inductees this year. Congrats Tom!). Schmidt seems to be doing the rounds though as Bob Woodward told me had Schmidt over to his home for dinner recently. I wonder if Eric is planning to lateral over from his Google spot to become a political pundit.
We were exceptionally well treated by the producers and directors of State of Play and got to have some real discussion with Robin Penn Wright and Ben Affleck.
Affleck, no surprise, loves politics. He was thoughtful, modest, curious — and wants to know a lot about Washington and the political scene. He said DC reminded him of Hollywood — sort of a one industry power town in both places. Affleck told us that during his research about being a Congressman, he wanted to meet one and went over to the Capitol. Pretty soon, the whole Democratic leadership had assembled to meet him. I suggested that they were checking him out as a (future) candidate as much as he was kicking their tires.
Affleck is an Obama guy — though he said he did campaign for Hillary Clinton in her Senate race.
Affleck asked us what the “state of play” between Obama and Clinton was — and without putting words in any of the mouths of some of DC’s top pundits — the group split between the likelihood of an Obama or Clinton victory. A number thought that Obama would eventually win, but it would take some time. The others said that the Clintons would prevail. One person cynically said that “the Clintons would steal it from him.” Another said Obama wasn’t ready for prime time and the next month would be brutal for him.
In any case, it was a fun day — Hollywood meets DC’s political scene. I was wedged between two of the “speakers” in the film, one of whom is Russell Crowe’s “dialect coach” — Judith Dickerson.
Russell Crowe is playing a ruffled, frustrated journalist originally from Pittsburgh — and has to sound like it.
Margaret Carlson then chimed in to Judith Dickerson that before the Pennsylvania primary, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama needed her services.

— Steve Clemons


12 comments on “State of Play?

  1. ET says:

    Nice background in the picture – recognize Library of Congress


  2. Mr.Murder says:

    Tall, dark and Clemons is the new Hollywood look these days.
    Ben’s agent should of stood him on blocks for the pic. Isn’t there a clause in his contract for that?
    Splendid location filming.


  3. henry says:

    Cheshire-11 writes: “(journalists) continue to socialize with the people they’re supposed to be holding to account.” I am still sore at DAVID GREGORY for dancing with KARL ROVE a while back at the correspondents’ dinner. (Side: Did you all know that David Gregory has been named to replace Tucker Carlson (canceled!) on CNBC at 6pm?)


  4. Chesire11 says:

    Thanks Arthur – you’re too kind!
    To be perfectly honest with you, I’m probably cranky the rest of the week as well, it’s just that people generally give up and stop listening after Monday, so it’s kind of like the tree falling in a forest effect.


  5. arthurdecco says:

    IMO, Cheshire 11’s got a brain behind those all-seeing eyes.
    BTW, Everyday that I read or watch the news makes me cranky – how do you reduce it to Mondays only, Cheshire 11?


  6. jon says:

    “Our task was to make a large group of pretend journalists look
    more real…”
    Maybe your crew could do a command performance for the DC
    political press, so they get to see what real journalism looks like?
    You know, asking questions that matter, demanding answers,
    doing actual research… and a bit less of them telling us whether
    the seats were comfy enough, the wine the correct vintage, and the
    repartee witty enough to reassure the reporters that they’re really
    part of the in crowd.


  7. Chesire11 says:

    Yeah, upon further reflection, I suppose that may have been a bit harsh – especially the (now somewhat ironically timed) “whores” crack.
    On a more optimistic note, I’m sure you’ll be relieved that I wouldn’t lump you (nor anyone else at the Note) in among the “whores” and so far as the fawning…it’s generally pretty mild and peripheral to the policy stuff, so I can cut you some slack on that.
    In any case, I can understand that concentration of wealth and power in Hollywood and Washington inevitably produce the sort of “bubble” to which Woodward refers, but it is the acquiescence if not open embrace of the “bubble culture” by the media that I find so alarming. The purpose of the media is to penetrate and burst that bubble and inform the public of what our government is doing, ostensibly in our names, but too often behind our backs. Instead, the media has become part of the bubble, perpetuating it, aware of but indifferent to their own growing isolation from the public in favor of their new constituents – Washington power brokers and Wall Street moneymen.
    Woodward and others occasionally offer rueful acknowledge that the problem exists, but continue to socialize with the people they’re supposed to be holding to account, serve as uncritical conduits for anonymous leaks, cover political celebrity at the expense of serious policy debate. They prefer to read tea leaves and prefdict the future than report actual events. They consult pollsters and focus groups to guess at what the unwashed masses are thinking, but are so removed from the common condition of their countrymen that it becomes little more than an academic exercise. Sixty-three thousand lost jobs in a month and millions of Americans on the brink of foreclosure aren’t human tragedies any longer, they’re either dry statistics on a scorecard tracking which political club is “up” and which is “down” or they are grist for patronizing, romanticized portraits of quaint villagers from some primitive, alien tribe. (Honestly, watching the media dutifully tramp through Iowa and New Hampshire every four years is like watching Margaret Mead among the Samoans!)
    The bubble to which Woodward and his peers resign themselves with a shrug exists largely as a result of their own complicity (if not outright duplicity) and it is within that bubble that our democracy is being dismantled. Perhaps I would be a tad less peevish about the Woodwards and Carlsons of the world having a fun day in the sun, hob-nobbing with Ben Affleck, if they treated the accelerating collapse of American democracy with the same sense of urgency they devote to Britney Spears’ undergarments.
    There, now I’ve gone off on a rant again…I really shouldn’t write on Mondays – Mondays always make me cranky.


  8. Steve Clemons says:

    Cheshire — my did you get up on the wrong side of the bed! Thanks for your note — which is passionate and mostly reasoned. I enjoyed the afternoon as I said, and some folks like to hear what went on. To add more, despite the various responses about Obama and Clinton, Bob Woodward did say that we are all living in bubbles in DC and Hollywood — and whatever we thought or felt was quite distant from what the average voters out in America might be thinking about and acting on. So that is a bit more of what you would have liked to have heard.
    All the best — and cheer up!


  9. Chesire11 says:

    I’m not sure which I find more disheartening, how eagerly the fawning elites of the Washington press corps pimp themselves out as extras to lend a verisimilitude of legitimacy to a Hollywood backdrop or how eagerly they co-opt themselves to politicians for the same purpose. On second thought, I guess it’s that they are so utterly oblivious to how unseemly is their behavior that most depresses me.
    I would have liked to have read more about Ben Affleck’s comparison of the similarity between Hollywood and Washington (Hollywood for ugly people). Not only are both towns dominated by single industries, but both are riddled with similar incestuous networks of self-important blowhards, sycophants, weasels, hacks and whores. It must have felt like he never left home!


  10. henry says:

    Steve writes: “a group of other distinguished journalists — including … Bob Schiefer ….” I love Bob Schiefer: he is the man.
    SC writes: “AFFLECK asked us what the “state of play” between Obama and Clinton … A number thought that Obama would eventually win … The others said that the Clintons would prevail.” Wonder which one of our “distinguished journalists” said what? What did BOB SCHIEFER say?


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