Judge Eric Profancik leans to the left on the political spectrum, though you'd never be able to deduce that from this review.
The presidential election of 2004 will long be remembered for the demise of civil political discourse. No longer can most Democrats and Republicans talk without things getting heated. No longer can people sanely and rationally discuss important issues without becoming petty and personal. No longer is religion the topic to be avoided in day-to-day conversation. As John F. Kerry and George W. Bush fight tooth and nail to earn the popular/electoral votes needed to be president, millions of people have drawn imaginary lines in the sand. They stand ready to fight for their candidate, and they actually want to fight.
Neither side is innocent when it comes to slinging mud. As Republicans launch endless attacks against John Kerry, Democrats fight back with a matching assault against George Bush. But the problem is that the majority of these attacks don't tell the whole truth. There's always some spin and missing information in the ad. In today's society, with the advent of twenty-four hour news channels and the Internet, one would think Americans would be super-informed on the issues and that these vicious attack ads wouldn't be as effective as they used to be.
That would be incorrect.
Today, more than ever, people believe the attack ads. They fail to do the research to understand the full truth of the matter. But this is an issue that didn't start in 2004, and it can best be exemplified by what happened to President Bill Clinton—a beloved two-term president who was under constant attack by the Republicans. Though the Internet was gaining strength and news channels were in abundance, most people still failed to learn the whole truth of the matter surrounding President Clinton.
Facts of the Case
Based on the book "The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton" by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, The Hunting of the President outlines the decade-long crusade by Republicans and conservatives to discredit and eventually impeach President Clinton. This film, narrated by Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), follows the many battles President Clinton faced from his election in 1992 through his egress in early 2001.
From almost day one, some were strongly displeased with the defeat of George H.W. Bush. Twelve years of Republican presidents weren't enough, and Clinton made enemies from the start. The film traces the evolution of the attacks on Clinton, from his dealings with Whitewater to the Lewinsky scandal. A subtle tapestry is revealed, as key conservative players are shown guiding the attacks against the president. In the end, the film wants you to believe that there was a concerted, coordinated effort by those involved to execute a right-wing coup d'etat.
Before 2001, I considered myself an independent, voting both for Democrats, Bill Clinton, and Republicans, George H.W. Bush. But then we had the fiasco in 2000, and one thing led to another and I declared myself a staunch liberal. In the booming '90s, I was a fan of President Clinton. I believe he was a hardworking man who deeply loved this country and worked for the best interests of everyone. No one is safe from playing to his or her base, but Clinton tried to make things better for everyone in the country.
Lately, I've read many political books about the current administration. These books are all fire and brimstone about the "injustices" in politics. After all these books, I was surprised by the relative calm of this movie. It never works up to a good lather; instead, it slowly and steadily outlines how one person led to another, how one event flowed to the next, how everything interconnected, and how everyone involved relentlessly toiled to get the president out of office. In the end, I wasn't mad at what had happened to Clinton, but I was decidedly upset that there were those out there who would stoop to such theatrics.
It's hard to summarize this film, for it slowly builds its case. It makes you pay attention to all the details so you can see the bigger picture. I'd have to write a book to detail the case, so instead I'll just summarize the centerpieces of the whole effort—again, that would be Whitewater and Lewinsky.
From the beginning, the Whitewater land deal was used as a tool to show how the Clintons broke the law. They were accused of a multitude of illegal actions, and, despite the assertions of the Clintons, these accusations led to the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the financial affairs of Whitewater. Now, don't jump the gun, because we're not to Ken Starr yet. No, the first independent counsel was Robert Fiske, a highly respected Republican judge, who was appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno in January 1994 at the request of President Clinton. In June 1994, just six months later, Fiske issued a preliminary report that the Clintons did nothing illegal regarding Whitewater. Let's repeat that: Fiske found nothing illegal.
But the Republicans were not satisfied by this preliminary report, and Fiske was removed as independent counsel and replaced by the now infamous Ken Starr. It should be noted that while Fiske was known inside the beltway as a fair and impartial individual, Starr was known for his strong conservative leanings. In fact, it is purported that Starr had a personal grudge against Clinton because Starr lost his job as Solicitor General when George H.W. Bush was defeated.
Now it was up to Ken Starr to continue the investigation into Whitewater, which was nearly completed as noted by Fiske's preliminary report. But that didn't turn out to be the case, as Starr would take the next five years to investigate Bill Clinton. It would be until September 9, 1998, before Starr would submit his final report to the House of Representatives.
Oddly, in December 1995, just 18 months after Fiske's report and nearly three years before Starr's, the Pillsbury Report was released. This document, based on sworn statements from the Clintons, interviews from 45 other witnesses, and over 200,000 documents (all of which were there for Starr to review), concluded that the Clintons had told the truth about Whitewater.
With the Pillsbury report in mind, it's obvious Starr would have some trouble charging the Clintons with breaking the law. He, too, came to the same conclusions…but didn't stop there. Bound and determined, Starr's investigation led to the personal life of the president, and articles of impeachment were brought against the president because of an impropriety in his personal life. Nothing illegal, just immoral.
Talk about misguided intentions, wasted money, and misuse of the taxpayer's funds.
As James Carville perfectly surmised, "Many of us have done stupid things in our life. None of us have had $80 million spent to find it out."
But the right was happy. The conservatives finally got their wish, and the attack upon President Clinton was complete. This is what the film works to teach you. You understand these major movements only by learning the facts underneath. You're shown Everett Ham, ARIA, the Federalist Society, Dick Cheney, elves, Ann Coulter, and a host of other people who put pressure in all the right places to impeach a president. Hunting teaches you that with enough power and influence, any law can be bent and any person can be attacked.
As for the disc itself, you get a 1.78:1 anamorphic print that fluctuates in quality. Depending on the source material, you sometimes get a crystal clear picture and sometimes a soft, fuzzy picture. It's obvious that different cameras were used in different interviews, making the quality unstable. There are no significant problems, aside from some quick shimmering on some captions, and you get decent colors, blacks, details, and saturation. It's only a documentary, so don't expect too much. For the audio, your only choice is a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that will give you not the slightest problem. You'll hear every word, loudly and clearly.
There are two bonus items included on the disc: President Clinton speaking after the film's premiere and the theatrical trailer. The featurette of the president runs about 43 minutes, and it is simply the president speaking to the audience. Mr. Clinton has always been a charming and effective speaker, and you get more of that here. He conveys related stories about his time in office, but I found him holding back—he does mention his upcoming book, "My Life," several times—and thus not completely engrossing.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
You may be inclined to say that I'm spinning the facts, but this is the truth. The mandate of the independent counsel was to investigate Whitewater. Fiske did this and was about to announce the Clintons innocent, and conservatives had him replaced by Starr. Starr then redirected the efforts of the investigation, desperate to find something against the president. Millions of dollars and years later, all Starr can accuse the president of doing wrong is having an affair. That was enough for conservatives to mount articles of impeachment, for which Clinton was acquitted.
You may also be inclined to mount the standard conservative argument of "what should have been"—that the articles were for the wrong charge. That is irrelevant when compared to "what actually was." Those are the charges that were put forth, and those were the charges that didn't stick.
Those are the facts, which you can freely investigate on your own. In fact, I strongly encourage everyone to research the facts about all of our politicians.
In the end, The Hunting of the President clearly and calmly outlines the ten-year attack against Bill Clinton. It outlines the people with personal vendettas against him, people who thrived on petty revenge and hypocrisy. President Clinton never stood a chance, for all the cards were stacked against him from the conservative media to the conservative Congress. They got their articles, but they didn't get their impeachment. Many of these individuals have gone on to attain great power since Clinton left office. They're using that power to transform America into the conservative Mecca they've always dreamed of. There is nothing wrong with being conservative, nor is there anything wrong with being liberal. However, each side must recognize the other, be willing to acknowledge the differences, and be ready to live together. One side cannot force their mantra upon the other; each side must be respectful and willing to compromise. But that has not happened since 2001. Our president, a man who did not win the popular vote, squeaking out an Electoral College victory in an honest 50/50 popular vote, has since acted as if he received a mandate from all Americans to transform the country to the right. During Clinton's terms, he respected both sides of the debate. He worked for everyone, and that is something that has been hated from day one.
The Hunting of the President will fuel the fire of the left and be derided by the right. Either way, I do not recommend this disc for purchase. I don't believe it's the best-crafted documentary out there, and I would believe the book to be a more insightful and detailed account of the crusade against Bill Clinton. So use your money to buy the book, sit back in your most comfortable chair, and see if you know what really happened to the president.
The Hunting of the President is hereby acquitted of all charges.
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