Is “The Hunting of the President” a partisan documentary? Sure it is. Does it exhaustively present all the attacks that went on before and during the Clinton presidency? Unfortunately, no. (More on that in a moment.) But will it give you a greater understanding of why the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky “scandals” happened, along with the resulting impeachment proceedings? Yep.
Now, I’m a registered independent, but I do tend to lean toward the Democrats, and I certainly think what happened to Clinton was a bunch of nonsense. Unfortunately, partisanship in this country has become so shrill that, if an e-mail address was attached to this review, I’d likely get barraged with messages calling me a “pinko commie liberal blah blah blah” just for saying that. It’s gotten so bad that Bill Hunt over at The Digital Bits remarked recently that he can’t even mention that “Fahrenheit 9/11” is coming to DVD without getting a couple dozen such e-mails.
I don’t know about you, but I find something really wrong about that. And when I watched “The Hunting of the President,” I had to wonder just why some people were so enraged by just the fact that Clinton was elected President twice. It was as if some of our fellow citizens had decided that the White House was the Republican party’s to control indefinitely, and along came this Arkansas governor who wrecked the Reagan/Bush hegemony in progress. Rush Limbaugh even declared early in Clinton’s first term that the country had been taken hostage by the man. Yes, El Rushbo, a majority of Americans voted to have themselves taken hostage. Whatever, dude.
The Head Dittohead isn’t mentioned in this film (I drew that example from a film clip I saw when I caught the end of a Biography special about Limbaugh), but he was just a peripheral player anyway, the one helping drive his listenership into a frothing rage over a lot of nothing. The real players were Ken Starr, who replaced a moderate Republican independent counsel who ended his investigation into Whitewater and exonerated Clinton too quickly for some, and his cronies, the people who played up Paula Jones’ dubious allegations and kicked open the door when it cracked open an inch as Monica Lewinsky’s existence became known.
When the Whitewater investigation went nowhere, Starr turned up the heat on the Paula Jones case, claiming it was relevant since he had to pursue everyone who had any contact with Clinton during that time period, and realized that he could potentially trap the President in a perjury charge if he brought up Lewinsky. After all, everyone knew that Bill “I didn’t inhale” Clinton was known for denials full of tortured logic; if he uttered one under oath and Starr could prove he lied, then, well, clearly some people believed that would fall under the “high crimes and misdemeanors” criteria required for impeachment.
As you might expect, “The Hunting of the President” focuses mainly on sympathetic players, such people as Democratic strategist Paul Begala, repentant conservative David Brock, Clinton consultant James Carville, Whitewater investor Susan McDougal, and others. Unsurprisingly, Jones, Starr, and many of the players on the other side declined to appear in the film, although Jerry Falwell does make a brief appearance to try and distance himself from his smear film “The Clinton Chronicles,” which tried and failed to tie Bill and Hillary to a string of deaths, drug smuggling and other underworld activities.
As I said at the beginning, though, this documentary doesn’t exhaustively cover everything that was leveled against Clinton, including the FBI files that were supposedly requested for nefarious purposes and the notorious “travelgate” incident. However, it does touch on Vince Foster’s suicide, which Starr and others tried to hint was maybe not really a self-inflicted death, although no one was ever able to provide any credible evidence of such. And it does focus on the major through-line that takes us from the end of Clinton’s governorship in Arkansas to his presidency and the impeachment proceedings that wasted all of our time. Narrator Morgan Freeman does a nice job with his dialogue, which is designed to bridge pieces of archival footage and interviews.
Unfortunately, the film does suffer a bit from the film clips (most of which I assume were pulled from the public domain) that directors Harry Thomason and Nickolas Perry pull in to punctuate their points. For example, the mention of the FBI’s involvement in Starr’s investigations brings up a black-and-white clip of a hardboiled detective watching his target from a shadowy alley. We get the point without such tricks, and sometimes they distract from what the directors’ interview subjects are saying.
This DVD release also includes the trailer and 40 minutes of footage from the film’s premiere, which Bill Clinton attended and spoke at afterward. His talk, like most of his public speaking appearances, is eloquent and succinctly gets to the heart of why he was treated the way he was and why Kerry is now bearing the brunt of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks: the Republicans who have aligned themselves with right-wing millionaire Richard Scaife are determined to stop at nothing to ensure that their party remains in the White House. In fact, when you look at how George W. Bush’s team treated John McCain in 2000 (something Clinton doesn’t touch on), you can see that it’s really not just about retaining the Presidency; it’s about keeping that Reagan/Bush hegemony alive and well. Without an heir to Reagan’s legacy, clearly it’s fallen upon George W. (and his brother Jeb, who I’m sure will run in 2008) to continue residency of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., as far as these people are concerned.
Beyond the trailer and bonus footage, however, this DVD release offers nothing else, which is a shame considering that it’s based on a book which contains reams of additional information. I would have liked to have seen text files, either embedded in the software or included as DVD-ROM materials, with information on the major players on both sides of the attacks on Clinton as well as timelines and other data, such as relevant magazine and newspaper articles. A commentary, especially one by the book’s authors, would have been nice as well.
Overall, I’d say this is worthy of rental, and I’m sure the diehards out there will want to add this to their collections so they can lend it out to friends or arrange screenings with the fence-sitters in their lives.