Movie Reviews

The Hunting of the President – Setting up the Dividing Line

Written by Joe Conason, Gene Lyons, Nickolas Perry, and Harry Thomason
Directed by Nickolas Perry and Harry Thomason

The first time I viewed the film The Hunting of the President (based on the book by the same name written by Gene Lyons and Joe Conason) was during the 2004 Presidential campaign. As I watched the frenzied reception for former President Bill Clinton at a John Kerry rally over the weekend made it clear that the affection the American public felt for this President hasn’t ebbed at all. Indeed, in 1996 the public weighed in on what they thought of him and “re-hired” him rather than “fired” him when given the opportunity.

That didn’t stop Clinton’s detractors. The Hunting of the President tells the story of those detractors, who were determined to somehow, someway bring down the President. It does so in a way that lays out the facts of the situation and demonstrates that the flimsiest of evidence was blown out of proportion, possibly at the expense of national security issues.

Narrated by Morgan Freeman and told through a series of interviews and clips from news footage, this has more of a feel to it of a documentary I’d watch on the History Channel rather than a feature-length film.

The Hunting of the President traces the roots of the deep-seated hatred some had for the 42nd President back to his political fortunes in Arkansas. His popularity put many off and led to the formation of groups determined to paint him in the worst possible light. One figure at the center of much of the controversy built his hatred on a perceived slight of not getting a government job he somehow thought he was entitled to. From then on, anything anyone wanted him to say about Clinton that was negative he was game for.

Many of the scandals which plagues Clinton’s Presidency are addressed in The Hunting of the President. However, most of the time seems devoted to the two most prominent: Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky. There’s no denial by those interviewed in the film of Clinton’s culpability on the second issue. However, I felt just as mystified as before as to why it was a big deal as to who the President is having sex with. After all, no one is investigating why Jeff Gannon/Joe Guckert was mysteriously signed in the White House (but not out) at strange times during his brief tenure as a White House correspondent following his career as a male prostitute… Not that I really care who anyone in the White House is sleeping with, but I am sure if the same amount of money and tenacity were thrown at that situation as was Bill Clinton and his “women” it would prove quite interesting. The Hunting of the President does make the case that all of us make mistakes and poor choices but we aren’t investigated the way Bill Clinton was on his.

But I digress. The Hunting of the President brings up many facts I wasn’t even aware of in the media frenzy which seemed to follow Clinton. I didn’t even know of the connection between Gennifer Flowers and those at Larry Case’s sound studio who were among the first to want to tear down the President. The case is the man who blamed Clinton for having him fired from his state job for doing his personal business on state time. I’d always felt that Clinton probably did have an affair with Flowers, but I really didn’t care. After this, I’m definitely not so sure of that any longer.

The state troopers who alleged Clinton are discredited here showing the path which David Brock largely recounted in his book Blinded by the Right. Brock recounts a lot of what went on by those targeting Clinton as he was in the center of that feeding frenzy at the time, something which he’s done an about-face on since. Whether or not he’s to be believed might be debatable to some, but his accounts of what was going on with those determined to bring down the President are worth listening to. Only the most close-minded can’t help but think about what if even only some of what he’s talking about is true.

Facts are brought up such as the background of Kenneth Starr and his involvement with Jesse Helms. The records of the lawyers who worked with Starr are brought up here to show what legal thugs they were prior to their involvement with the case. These little-known pieces of information show how the media in this country quit being investigative reporters and have become people who just parrot what is given to them at any point in time.

What’s really good in The Hunting of the President are the interviews with those close to the situation – people like David Brock and CNN Legal Advisor Jeffrey Toobin who provide an excellent narrative of what was going on behind the scenes. Betsy Wright (Clinton’s Chief of Staff in Little Rock), Robert Bennett (Clinton’s Attorney), Susan McDougal, and many others give testimony about what was going on with President Clinton as well as their roles and feelings at the time it was all going on. These are the people who were involved, not people on the outside making assumptions and accusations because it drove up their ratings on television or radio.

What’s not so good is the pacing of the film. I can remember getting distracted the first time I viewed it, and the second time I viewed it recently it was worse. Unlike many of the Michael Moore films which do provide some humor and/or entertainment in between presenting their case, there’s no real entertainment here. It’s difficult to pay attention to the first time around and pretty impossible on a repeat viewing. I enjoy viewing Ken Burns’ documentaries but they are way ahead of The Hunting of the President in being interesting and viewable.

Want facts you’ve not known before about Clinton’s presidency? They are here. Just have a strong cup of coffee before viewing.

Bonus features:

– President Clinton speaking after the premiere showing in San Francisco.

Link of Interest: