Released on Netflix in May 2017, Get Me Roger Stone is a documentary exploring the career of political advisor and ‘dirty trickster’ Roger Stone. Written and directed by Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme, the documentary looks at how Roger Stone influenced and maneuvered through the American political system to increase the influence of PACs (political action committees), and Stone’s hand in bringing Donald Trump to the American presidency.
Beginning with the story of Stone’s youth, the documentary quickly turns to his involvement in the Nixon administration as political advisor. By 20, Stone become entangled in the notorious Watergate Scandal. As the laws surrounding campaign funding changed in the post-Watergate age, Stone was instrumental in the creation of the NCPAC, the National Conservation Political Action Committee. According to Stone, “NCPAC … was transformative in the sense that we really pioneered negative campaign advertising in massive doses to win elections, up to that time it hadn’t really been done.” Negative campaign advertising is simply a wordier way of saying a smear campaign–using media and advertising to mar the public image of another individual or group. Smear campaigns, as anyone with access to any news station is aware, are rife in the American political establishment, a marketing scheme to alter the perceptions of citizens.
The issue of PACs and their influence on politicians, and politics in general, is crucial. PACs are special interest groups that can raise unlimited funds of money to campaign on behalf of a candidate. Where candidates are legally limited in their acceptance of campaign donations, PACs are not. Thus, if a PAC campaigns on behalf of or supports a candidate, although the candidate is not obligated to support the initiatives of the PAC, the candidate is unlikely to bite the hands which feeds it. Simply put, if Stone could help raise funds and camping for candidates, he would have easy access to the ears of those candidates, if and when successful. Lobbying is a lucrative business: if lobbyists can help put people in power, they can also put a price tag on offering the time of the successful candidate.
“You have to be outrageous in order to get noticed.” Roger Stone
Stone worked with the Nixon and Reagan administrations and, apparently, had wanted Trump to run for office since 1988. In Trump, Stone seemed to sense the same raw desire to win that emboldened his own actions and motivated his career. Although the Trump campaign publicly distanced itself from Stone, the replacement of Corey Lewandowski with recently indicted Paul Manafort, a longtime associate of Stone (they worked together as lobbyists at Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly), was seen as the direct hand of Stone at play. The relationship between Stone, Manafort, and Trump highlights the small community of powerful individuals in Washington.
Truthfully, the documentary sheds Stone in a negative light, however, Stone is a politicizing figure and enjoys the act of politicizing in and of itself. Stone himself first introduces himself as an agent provocateur. Although the term sounds mysterious and flashy, it’s definition is “a person who intentionally encourages people to do something illegal” (Cambridge English dictionary). Commentators including Tucker Carlson (Fox News commentator), Jeffrey Toobin (lawyer and contributor to CNN and The New Yorker), and Jane Mayer (investigative journalist and staff writer for The New Yorker), among others, generally negatively perceive Stone. Although anyone aware of the political dealings of Stone can easily see him as arrogant and offensive–this is all up to perception. You can also see him as a creative genius who manipulated media output in order to best serve his interests. Removing any normative aspects of Stone’s behaviour, yes, he is incredibly intelligent and possesses an acute sense of how to politically engage America’s large middle class. Whether or not to allow normative concerns to categorize your view of Stone is, again, individual preference.
“I tend to believe the worst of people because I understand human nature.” Roger Stone
The hour and a half documentary provides raw insight into the workings of the American political system. It also, however, seems to amplify the role of a single individual in influencing the Republican Party. Yes, Stone was, and is, a crucial figure in American politics since the 1980s. Stone, however, is not the singular reason of why Trump was elected as president. Although I recommend the movie to anyone interested in understanding how lobby groups function, the Trump presidency and the relationship between Stone and Trump, and anyone interested in documentaries in general, I remain wary of the seemingly exaggerated role of Stone as the pivotal figure in American politics in the last forty years.
“I revel in your hatred, because if I weren’t effective you probably wouldn’t hate me.” Roger Stone
The documentary paints Stone more as a character than a person. Stone himself presents himself more a character than an individual with whom you’d easily sympathize. The documentary was a real and refreshing look at how certain individuals can powerfully influence contemporary politics. Although I hasten to attribute Stone with the seemingly far-reaching powers described in Get Me Roger Stone, I do feel far more educated than I was ninety minutes ago on his role in American politics and his relationship with Donald Trump.
Books written by Roger Stone: