Some of you may recall the crap Hillary Clinton got for her comments in an interview about a “vast right wing conspiracy” arrayed against her husband, then-President Bill Clinton. “What a whack-job,” many of you muttered before flipping channels to catch “Arsenio.” Honestly, who could take seriously anyone who conjured up such paranoid fantasies in a public forum?
As it turns out, the First Lady might not have been that far off.
Based on the book by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, “The Hunting of the President” tracks the long-running campaign to smear President Clinton. Directors Harry Thomason and Nickolas Perry preside over a series of interviews with former Clinton officials, Arkansas reporters, and a variety of individuals attached in some way or another to the Whitewater and highway trooper investigations. The result is an eye-opening and occasionally chilling look at the lengths to which some will go to destroy someone they perceive as a threat to their way of life.
According to former Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal, the President was stigmatized from the start. We hear from an Australian reporter who had contact with a member of an organization called the Alliance for the Rehabilitation of America, who used area private investigators to scrounge up interviews with women claiming to have had sex with Clinton when he was governor. From the accusations about Clinton’s liaisons with Paula Jones (and others) by two disgruntled Arkansas state troopers on up to the full-time effort to dig up dirt on the Clintons (the Arkansas Project), funded by billionaire Richard Scaife, “The Hunting of the President” traces these various efforts made by groups like A.R.I.A. and individuals like Jerry Falwell throughout Clinton’s presidency and attempts to uncover their fringe ideological agendas.
How successful is it? As successful as you want it to be, I guess. If you’re firmly in the anti-Clinton camp, this movie isn’t going to change your mind. Although one does have to wonder at the sheer amount of time and money sunk into Whitewater (after initial Independent Counsel Robert Fiske determined there had been no wrongdoing) with no results. If you’re pro-Clinton, all this movie will do is shore up the foundation of your conviction that Kenneth Starr and the conservative personal interests supporting him were on a mission to destroy Clinton and his legacy. Thomason and Perry trot out some pretty big guns to back up their claims, including Blumenthal, Paul Begala, Howard Kurtz, and – possibly the most effective witness for their side – David Brock, former reporter for The American Spectator and author of the book “Blinded by the Right,” which details his experiences working on the Scaife-funded drive to discredit Clinton. The message is clear, and powerfully told. Extra credit should be given for managing to get Susan McDougal to tell the story of her ordeal and imprisonment in her own terms.
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