“Get Me Roger Stone”: Documentary on GOP mastermind of dirty tricks

A new Netflix original documentary created by filmmakers Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme traces the life and scandalous career of right-wing political operative Roger Stone, who’s been an influential member of Team Trump for decades. With remarkable prescience, as early as 1988 Stone perceived in the brash real estate developer from Queens eventual presidential material that could be molded into a populist hero for an ill-educated, fearful America. In the fullness of time Stone reached the apex of his career.

Starting in 2011, Bank, DiMauro and Pehme, armed with cameras and questions, had seemingly unlimited access to Stone, who knew that liberal filmmakers would not paint a flattering picture of him. He flaunted these hangers-on before family and friends as though they were cute, adoring lap dogs. The film also includes other private and public footage to fill out the story, including interviews with journalists such as Wayne Barrett, Jeffrey Toobin and Jane Mayer, various public figures and even Trump himself. The result is a 101-minute-long horror show from which viewers cannot avert their eyes. It’s a comprehensive portrait of a malicious “agent provocateur” (Stone shamelessly uses the term himself) who transformed the way politics is conducted in America.

Though it’s clear the directors had a point of view from the start—and in 2011 they could not have been so clairvoyant as to imagine the unimaginable 2016 election—the documentary shows ultimate respect for the viewer insofar as it allows Stone to reveal (and sometimes embellish) his own part in history. This is no “truth-based polemics” editorializing at every turn such as we expect from Michael Moore’s advocacy journalism or the liberal rants of a Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann. Stone says the most damning things about himself.

Although liberal audiences will view this film with unmitigated disgust not only at the person of Roger Stone but also at his gall in being so cocky proud of himself, filmmakers DiMauro and Pehme, in the post-screening discussion on Nov. 28, observed that feedback from pro-Trump viewers has been as positive as from progressives. Some viewers from the right might not approve of the methods that produced a President Trump, but are pleased as punch that they worked to get him into the White House.

Stone shows scant interest in governance once his candidate is in office. What intrigues Stone is the “game.” Like his protégé Trump, he says, “I believe in winning.” Although he was on the Trump election team until he was fired (he says he quit) for being of greater interest to the media than the bizarre candidate, he still does, according to the film directors, communicate his one-page, bulleted memos to the now-president with talking points that often within hours become Trump’s tweets. For good reason he has been called “Trump’s brain.”

Born in 1952, Roger Stone as a 12-year-old became infatuated with Barry Goldwater’s ideas and campaign. One election cycle later, he was enmeshed in the Nixon comeback campaign and has been a loyal Nixon fan ever since: In fact, he’ll show off the Nixon tattoo in the middle of his back at every opportunity he can get, and feels ennobled for playing a minor role in the Watergate scandal.

One of the men who equally mentored Stone and the young Donald Trump was the HUAC lawyer and Joe McCarthy associate, Nixon’s ally Roy Cohn. Through those circles Stone befriended and worked for just about every GOP candidate since—Reagan, Dole, Bush I and II, and Trump.

It was Stone who invented the slogan “Make America Great Again” for Ronald Reagan. He also was able to identify the “Reagan Democrat” who catapulted the B-movie actor to power. And it was Stone who almost single-handedly created the National Conservative Political Action Committee, opening the flow of right-wing money into the political trough. He was, as Jane Mayer puts it, “a kind of wizard behind the scenes.”

The Bush II campaign in 2000 was interesting. Bill Clinton had won the presidency in 1992 by plurality owing to Ross Perot’s Reform Party candidacy. Stone was afraid that Pat Buchanan on the Reform ticket in 2000 would draw votes away from Bush in the close election against Al Gore, so he encouraged Donald Trump to also declare for the Reform Party candidacy in an attempt to put the Reform Party in disarray, weaken Buchanan and ensure that W would win. Buchanan emerged with half of one percent of the vote.

Still the decisive vote in Florida was too close to call, so Stone helped to organize the aggressively threatening “Brooks Brothers Riot”—paid GOP activists who made the Florida recount impossible, throwing the real and final election to the Supreme Court, which decided for Bush 5-4. According to the late journalist Wayne Barrett, “George W. Bush would never have been president of the United States without Roger Stone.”

“Morality is for losers.” “Losers” is one of Trump’s favorite slurs—we wonder if he picked it up from Stone. “Hate,” Stone says, “is a more powerful motivation than love.”

With “no boundaries,” Jane Mayer reflects, Stone takes “the low road in American politics.” “He’s very smart about anger. That’s very useful to the richest people in the country.”

Stone is, of course, the last word in the infamous Black, Manafort, Stone lobbying firm, which, besides advising GOP campaigns has also consulted for a string of brutal dictators and torturers such as Jonas Savimbi, the warlord who with U.S. support conducted a civil war aiming to topple the Marxist government of newly independent Angola. Other clients included tobacco and the polluting industries. Stone expresses no remorse, only cynical pleasure, at making millions. He sees morality as simply “a synonym for weakness.”

He may not have invented “fake news,” but he’s the master of planting stories that have no basis in fact in various news sources to defame his opponents. The “birther” movement against Barack Obama was one of his creations that Trump rode mercilessly. The media have ample reason to feel chagrin at the way this colorful, hedonistic, charming rogue of a news magnet manipulated them to serve his clients with miles of column inches of made-up rumors.

When in 1996, in the middle of the Dole-Kemp campaign, the nominally Catholic Stone was unmasked in the media for his participation in sex orgies, he employed another of his rules: “Deny, deny, deny.” Yet those stories were true: Stone is personally more of a Libertarian than a strait-laced conservative Republican. He’s pro-gay, pro-choice, and pro-marijuana.

In the run-up to 2016 Stone published The Clintons’ War on Women, smearing Bill for his infidelities and Hillary for her “enabling.” Surely there were enough voters in enough places who, because of this book, would refrain from casting their ballot for the first major-party woman candidate for the presidency, thus opening the door to the molester-in-chief we have now. One of Stone’s rules: “Attack, attack, attack, never defend.”

Guardian writer Luke Harding’s new book Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win contains numerous references to Roger Stone and his connections to the underhanded dimensions of the Trump campaign, including the Wikileaks on Hillary Clinton. If Paul Manafort has been indicted in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, one can only wonder if his partner Roger Stone might be among the next quarry in Mueller’s net.

Manafort was, of course, the point man in creating Viktor Yanukovych as the corrupt president of Ukraine (2010-14), a bait-and-switch move where a “man for the people” (with generous Russian support) would “drain the swamp.” Was this sorry episode the blueprint for what was soon to be in store for America?

At the post-screening Q&A the moderator asked if the Democrats have anyone like Roger Stone, and do they need one? DiMauro responded, “We could use a little more sharp elbows in the coming election.”

The film title has dual levels of meaning: Obviously he’s the man you want to get if you’re orchestrating a campaign of political innuendo and skullduggery. But there’s an intensely narcissistic character to this self-exposé five years in the making as the devil incarnate of the right wing. Oh, yes, Roger Stone, we get you: Hands-down, incontestably, you take the prize as the slimiest, ugliest, most brazen, corrupt, amoral, conscienceless, depraved, base, wicked, perverse, dishonest and dishonorable, rotten, disgraceful, sordid, unscrupulous, unrepentant and unapologetic man in America. Got it?

Dear Reader: If you don’t see this film, you have no idea what we’ve been up against, and that’s without even mentioning the Koch Brothers!

Get Me Roger Stone has screened in theaters for Academy Award purposes but that’s not where you’ll find it. It’s available on Netflix. The trailer can be viewed here.


CONTRIBUTOR

Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon is the author of a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein, co-author of composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography, and the translator (from Portuguese) of a memoir by Brazilian author Hadasa Cytrynowicz. He holds a doctorate in history from Tulane University. He chaired the Southern California chapter of the National Writers Union, Local 1981 UAW (AFL-CIO) for two terms and is director emeritus of The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring Southern California District. In 2015 he produced “City of the Future,” a CD of Soviet Yiddish songs by Samuel Polonski.

Dale Greenfield
Dale Greenfield

Dale Greenfield is a Licensed Marriage Family and Child Therapist (LMFT), University Lecturer on The Psychology and Neuroscience of Film, and writes reviews for People's World and LA Progressive.

Comments

comments