THE HUNTING OF THE PRESIDENT is a documentary version of the outstanding book by the same name by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. Although the film starts by indicating that it is based on the book, this is only very loosely true. A great deal contained in the book is left out in the film, and the film contains a surprising amount of content that is not in the book. In the end, they complement one another marvelously.
The film begins with a shot of the United States Capitol with former Senator Dale Bumpers memorably defending Pres. Clinton during his impeachment trial. When he asks how it was that the president was being impeached for lying about what was merely a private wrongdoing the film cuts back to the earliest days of the Clinton administration, and goes through the various trumped up and absurd charges made against Clinton during the nineties, from Whitewater to the ridiculous charge of the murder of Vince Foster to Troopergate to the allegations of Paula Jones (which not even her lawyers believed). Like the book, the movie excells because it shows in great detail the lack of concern with truth that the Right displayed throughout all of this, and the extraorinarily organized and partisan nature of all the opposition to Clinton.
As an Arkansan, I especially appreciated the way in which the film explains the various Arkansas characters involved in the story. As a former student of Ouachita Baptist University, I knew Bob Riley (one of the finest and most fascinating individuals in Arkansas history, as highly decorated war hero, professor, and politician), whose widow is interviewed extensively in the film. I did not know Jim McDougal. His wife, Susan, emerges in the film as one of the great symbols of the affair, as she is crushed by Kenneth Starr's inhuman prosecution machine because she refuses to lie about either Bill Clinton or Hillary. Her dedication to truth is so great that she goes to prison (where she is housed with child murderers instead of the general prison population, by Starr's orders) rather than lie. She emerges as one of the few heroes in the tawdry persecution of Clinton, and one of the most innocent victims.
Like the book, this documentary is essential viewing for anyone wanting the understand the Clinton years. It is also a cautionary tale, because the Right wing machine that mindlessly and irrationally attack a moderate Democratic president in 1993 will unquestionably do the same with a new Democratic president in 2005. All Americans should find such politics of division reprehensible and utterly opposed to the commonweal.
on September 28, 2004
Like Josef K. Clinton was drawn into a prolonged, surreal, and nightmarish trial. Like Macbeth, every time he thoguht he had made it clean Starr threw in an extra surprise. In the background Gingrich, Murdoch, and Scaife were playing the parts of the witches on the moor, pulling all strings of his destiny. And like Hamlet, he must have felt like he was fighting a sea of misery!
They could not have done without the media so obediently jumping on any juicy piece of gossip.
This film is biased, but everything is backed up by facts. Why can't it be biased? The present adminsitration is not well-known for their strict adherence to facts and fairness.
The sad thing is that the media moghuls will order the networks to give this film the silent treatment, when everyone should she it, and start asking questions why there are no similar investigations into the activities of the present administration.
on September 9, 2004
Remember when Hillary Clinton was mocked for claiming that she and Bill were the victims of a "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?" Well, it turns out, there really was a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, and The Hunting of the President names names (as well as dates, places and times). When you think about the millions wasted on investigating Clinton's sex life, and see the rampant misdeeds going on, unvestigated, in the Bush White House (hello, Halliburton), it's enough to make your blood boil.
on July 7, 2004
I have not yet bought the DVD, but I had occasion to see this film at a theatre in Little Rock, one of two such venues in the country. Less a vindication of Clinton than an indictment of the press, "Hunting" provides a timely commentary on the excesses of journalistic zeal that almost brought down a presidency. I was especially moved by the story of Susan McDougal, aka Joan of the Ozarks, who was treated like a serial killer during her near-two years in prison, after she ran afoul of nasty-minded Ken Starr and his minions. I also liked the brave and witty portrait of ex-Arkansas Governor Riley's wife, Claudia. The facts presented here may seem all too familiar by now, but we can thank authors Joe Conason and Gene Lyons for unearthing a good number of them. Students of history will long debate the merits of the Clinton presidency, but the incompetence of the press is now an established fact.
This expose by Harry Thomason, friend of Bill Clinton, is biased but authoritative -- believable primarily because it is filled with first-person accounts of the efforts to bring down the Clinton presidency. We hear from former right-wing hatchet man David Brock, Arkansas residents familiar with the disreputable sources who would say anything to hurt Clinton or get a stay in a fancy hotel, Paula Jones' lawyers, participants in the Arkansas Project, editors and journalists, and many others.
Remember that this was a twice-elected president, and taxpayers had to foot the bill for multiple investigations that lasted over 5 years and cost over $50 million, and NOTHING WAS FOUND AGAINST CLINTON EXCEPT LYING ABOUT AN AFFAIR. We should be outraged, not at Clinton's behavior (as bad as it was), but that conservatives tried to impeach an elected president! This happens in banana republics, NOT in America, right?!
The film also gives Susan McDougal her due. A victim of heartless ideologues, she was told she would go to prison unless she cooperated and made statements against Clinton THAT WOULD BE SUPPLIED FOR HER. They put her in death row garb so that she would be abused by the other inmates, and disobeyed a judge's order to move her to another prison; in the meantime, Ken Starr went on to become president of Pepperdine Law School, funded by Richard Mellon Scaife, the fanatic who financed much of the vile anti-Clinton campaign. Who is more corrupt here?
Amazingly, in the disk's only extra (other than a trailer), a 43-minute talk by Clinton at the film's premiere, he tells supporters that we should not use the same techniques, that we should not try to personalize attacks, but that we should insist on a civil debate of the issues, because we will prevail. As in the 90s, the Clintons show more class than the conservative ideologues could ever dream of having.
The film can be heard in English and subtitled in English or Spanish.
on October 23, 2004
The abuse of power portrayed in this film is absolutely despicable and should be a lesson to us for the future. Even if you despise Clinton, you owe it to yourself to see what was done to the innocent people around him all because of a partisan fight for washington. The film is NOT an apology for Clinton; the film is a civics lesson, especially the speech at the end in the special features. If more people don't see the truth of what happened with the office of independent council and how horribly the constitution was trampled on, it will happen again. ...in fact, the next one could be you or me. Wake up!!
Overlooked among the plethora of anti-Bush DVDs currently on the market before the election, this documentary takes an intriguing look at the purported plot to destroy the career of Bill Clinton by what Hillary claimed was a "vast right-wing conspiracy". Given that this was co-directed by famous "Friend of Bill" Harry Thomason, along with Nickolas Perry, one can hardly expect a completely impartial view of its subject. Consequently, it is unlikely to change the minds of any staunch Republicans out there already critical of the Clinton presidency. At the same time, the film does provide important context for a lot of the more unsavory details surrounding his case than some of the more conservative media would have you believe. The result is an intriguing examination of a President scrutinized with unprecedented zeal.
Although the film begins with Clinton's early days in Arkansas state government, its focus is on two of the more damaging episodes in his political career, the Whitewater scandal and the attempted impeachment trial based on his sexual escapades before and during his White House years. Many of those involved in both scandals are featured here through news clips with a few of them newly interviewed. Surprisingly the events do not reflect an overly biased perspective, thus showing a warts-and-all portrait of a flawed man though a reconstruction of sorts. Whether or not you agree with what is presented, the filmmakers do a convincing job of backing up their portrayal with some less than flattering footage of the Clinton years. The use of dramatic re-creations and clips from a variety of Hollywood movies sometimes undermines the film's seriousness, but they don't minimize the points raised. Some of the higher profile personalities in the anti-Clinton camp come off poorly but according to the evidence presented, justifiably so - Paula Jones is seen as a fame-seeking narcissist, while Kenneth Starr is portrayed as a ruthless opportunist obsessed with his agenda and indifferent to the damage his tactics incur upon his duty in serving the public trust. On the other side, former Clinton advisor James Carville sums up accurately the documentary's main question, i.e., how much money should be spent on a clearly partisan effort to pull a virtual "coup d'état" against an elected American president? Probably the most telling moments belong to Susan McDougal, whose refusal to cooperate with Starr on the Whitewater case led to her serving two years in a maximum-security prison. She recounts her prison experiences with piercing and often horrifying detail.
Unfortunately, the Monica Lewinsky affair is given short shrift in the film, a sad omission, as this was the one development that expedited Clinton's fall from grace. Nevertheless, the film also illustrates his amazing resilience in rising above the political fray. In fact, Clinton himself provides clear evidence of this in an interesting supplement to the DVD, a videotaped segment that shows him introducing the documentary on stage at its premiere. For 45 minutes, he discusses with candor and a sense of humor, the historical context of the events that take place in the film as well as their impact on him. Highly recommended as a fascinating record of a most unusual presidency.
on October 5, 2004
More sleazy backwater characters than a James Lee Burke novel, however, this is not the Bayou, and unfortunately, it's not fiction either. What becomes apparent early on in this film is that the vast right wing conspiracy doesn't necessarily have to be all that vast, or even a full-blown conspiracy for that matter, particularly if your enemies already share a common mindset. And evidently, Bill Clinton had several well-funded, highly motivated enemies prior to his arrival in Washington. Using interviews with some of the key players in this sad saga, Hunting of the President goes a long way toward exposing the who's, how's and why's behind the eight year quest to destroy BIll Clinton. Standouts among those with speaking parts are Susan McDougal, David Brock, Paul Begala, Jeffrey Toobin, Claudia Riley, and too many others to mention here, many of them familiar names and faces stretching from one end of the country to the other. The film is as much an indictment of the enormous amount of power concentrated in the hands of the American media, as it is a commentary on the overall state of the political process today. One has to wonder why, if the media is so "liberal," do we have to wait for documentaries to reveal the essential facts that the press has seemingly omitted.
on December 30, 2004
First of all, most Americans don't read books and will never read the scandalous story of the abuse of power conducted by Ken Starr and his minions. Therefore a more 'condensed' version is an important part of spreading the truth about what went on in this country in the late nineties when the Republicans found they had twice been voted out of the Oval Office where they believe they have inherited rights. It puts more of their current behavior into historical perspective, and explains why many Republicans of good faith could not support George II on his second run.
Second of all, it's important to support this type of documentary no matter what your politics if you want some sort of independent voice to survive in America. It's true that the movie cannot cover in detail all of the abuses documented both in the Conason/Lyons book or in the Jeffrey Toobin book. However, the interviews and story of Susan MacDougall alone are worth the time and the price of the film. MacDougall's sincerity and good faith come through starkely in this movie in a much more powerful fashion than through the written word.
Some of the pictures of the individuals involved speaking in interviews or on newsreels are much more powerful than on the printed page....a picture is definitely worth a thousand words, and this is a VERY convincing documentary with a great deal of power for those interested in the future of our democracy.
Even many who think they know a lot about politics will be surprised by much of the testimony in this documentary. I thought I had read everything about it and the audacity of those behind Ken Starr and Paula Jones still took my breath away.
on October 22, 2004
Based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name by Gene Lyons and Joe Conason, "The Hunting of the President" is an explosive DVD telling the incredible story of how a coup d'etat by highly financed right wing operatives launched against a popular American president almost succeeded.
Reclusive Pittsburgh billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, whose $1 million donation to President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew was the largest of the 1972 campaign, combines a natural propensity for Republican candidates with rightist agendas alongside a seething hatred for Bill Clinton that knows no bounds.
As noted in this documentary, Clinton, a governor from the small southern state of Arkansas, was considered an outsider by Washington power brokers. Many for this reason resented him. A second reason for the burning resentment against Clinton was breaking what Republican activists believed was a stranglehold on the presidency as the party won all but one election, the sole Democratic exception being President Jimmy Carter, between Nixon's first victory in 1968 and that of George Herbert Walker Bush in 1988.
Money was no object to Scaife and his motivation was strong to get Clinton. Money was spent in droves in Arkansas as a band of junior college dropout country boys used the opportunity to outslicker invading reporters from the big cities lying northward. They were supplied with great motivation as the money poured in and the talk flowed. Scaife was able to get things rolling in The American Spectator, the right wing publication he bankrolled, while Reverend Moon's Washington Times also generated support.
All it took was some publicity whipped up in right wing journalistic circles and the city slickers in the designer suits wearing Guccis descended on Arkansas with word processors in hand. As Democratic Party consultant Paul Begala said, "I used to watch the Andy Griffith Show and noticed the way that city slickers would come into Mayberry and get taken by country folk. This is what happened in Arkansas."
The stories were told and the well-financed effort gathered enough momentum to generate attention in mainstream publications such as the New York Times and Washington Post. It then became a question of time before a major effort was undertaken to remove the president the right wing ideologues loathed.
After the creation of the Special Counsel's Office headed by staunch Republican attorney and former judge, Kenneth Starr, moved into action, created through major impetus from controversial right wing Senator Jesse Helms from North Carolina, it was full speed ahead. When the Whitewater land investigation and alleged harassment against former Arkansas government employee Paula Jones failed to generate the necessary impetus to move toward an impeachment action, the ultimate lightning struck.
The lightning came in the form of a brief White House affair between Clinton and a young White House intern from California named Monica Lewinsky. The $80 million effort of the Starr Committee spun toward a new success as the House of Representatives ultimately impeached Clinton before he was acquitted in a trial before the United States Senate.
Washington personalities such as Paul Begala, Dan Moldea, James Carville and Sidney Blumenthal decry the expensive vindictiveness of the Scaife movement and how it diverted the country from serious business such as the crisis in the former Yugoslavia. The taxpayers bore an ultimate bill of $80 million for a right wing coup attempt, which came perilously close to succeeding. There was no figure available on how much the bloodthirsty Richard Mellon Scaife spent in the blindly partisan endeavor.
In arguing on Clinton's behalf in the Senate trial, Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas soberly revealed that an extramarital affair compounded with lying about it in an affidavit in a civil action hardly constituted an impeachable offense. His source was Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Paper 65, not Ann Coulter.