The Hunting of the President (2004) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for language and sexual themes
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Morgan Freeman (voice narrator), Susan McDougal, Paul Begala, James Carville, David Brock, Howard Kurtz, Sidney Blumenthal, Jerry Falwell
Director: Nickolas Perry, Harry Thomason
Screenplay: Nickolas Perry, Harry Thomason
The Hunting of the President is a documentary that ostensibly seeks to assert that much of the controversy surrounding former President Bill Clinton was really drummed up by a network of right-wing zealots (or as Hilary called them, the "vast right-wing conspiracy") cooperating to bring the popular leader down even before he got into power. Utilizing source material from Joe Conason and Gene Lyons' book of the same name, filmmakers Nickolas Perry and Harry Thomason interview Clinton aides and various journalists who covered the events to weave a web of conspiracy that Clinton was merely a victim of those who hated him, which led to a great deal of distraction that limited his ability to govern fully, as he had to fend off allegations and make court appearances, most of which, the documentary alleges, were spun up out of nothing, while the media splashed it across the headlines trying to make names for themselves.
Starting off with the impeachment hearings of 1999, the documentary goes back to the beginnings of Clinton's surge to prominence shortly before the 1992 election, where Bill Clinton was to make the leap from governor to presidential candidate. The movie alleges, fearing that Clinton would be a Democratic juggernaut, those that despised him for what he stood for began to comb the Arkansas streets for anything and everything they could use to smear him. The story hungry media immediately seized on one of the sexier allegations, later dubbed "Troopergate", where some Arkansas State Troopers claimed to have brought women to see then Governor Clinton in order that he might engage in sexual activities with them. From then on, the insatiable media never relented from tossing up headlines about the man, many stories which lacked good sourcing or corroborating evidence to support. Meanwhile, any willing to come forward against Clinton were immediately backed by staunch right-wing activists, who weren't as concerned with the truth as they were in trying to get President Clinton out of office.
It all cuts down to this: The more you love Bill Clinton, the more you'll enjoy this very one-sided documentary, written and produced by Friends of Bill. On the other side of the coin, if you detest everything about the man, chances are you aren't going to believe a word of it, if you even bother watching it at all. Taking a more objective approach, I'm not going to bother reviewing this documentary based on its factuality, or even that it is propaganda, as most documentaries do have a concerted point of view. As a reviewer, I can only measure how interesting it is, as well as how well-made, and along those lines The Hunting of the President hits more than it misses.
There definitely is enough smoke to make people suspect there is a fire underneath, but the ultimate impact is not as strong as it could have been had a more impartial approach been undertaken. People that are friends of Bill Clinton are painted in the most positive light possible, while those who oppose him in the most unflattering. Long periods of time are spent exploring the most egregious of the sins committed by "independent" counsel, Ken Starr, and his unscrupulous squeeze on Jim and Susan McDougal, while the sins committed by the president, such as the Monica Lewinski affair and his blatant attempts to cover it up, are whisked by with minimal commentary. Sadly, the result of all this is that those who don't already believe chapter and verse will probably feel too manipulated to sway in their opinions, as it is blatantly obvious that we're only getting one side of the story for the totality.
Still, it's not really much different in that respect to the critically acclaimed documentaries by Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine), so precedent has already been set in the minds of many viewers to not expect impartiality. The Hunting of the President is definitely an interesting enough watch, and does cause one to take a step back and examine how partisan politics can create mountains out of molehills, using the media like complete tools to do their dirty work. This documentary may not change any opinions about one of the most controversial figures to inhabit the White House, but it does make a compelling case against those who opposed him.
© 2004 Vince Leo