The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, June 16, 2004  

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Earlier today I watched a preview copy of “The Hunting of the President”, a new film based on the best-selling book of the same name by Joe Conason by Gene Lyons, recounting the 10-year campaign by a motley assortment of right-wing politicians, lawyers, and activists, disgruntled Arkansas cranks and losers, deranged groupies, and other freaks, all ably assisted by a gullible and lazy media, to destroy the presidency and reputation of former President Bill Clinton.

Directed by Harry Thomason and Nickolas Perry, and narrated by Morgan Freeman, the film is gripping and chilling, and technically excellent, easily taking its rightful place within the best tradition of the genre. The film displays the familiar scoundrels in all their moral nakedness: Kenneth Starr, Richard Mellon Scaife, Ted Olson, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, Larry Case, Larry Nichols, Jerry Falwell, and Cliff Jackson. The despicableness of the lead characters is presented seamlessly with the lesser known but similarly ethically and intellectually bereft participants: Parker Doszier, David Hale, Everett Ham, Susan Carpenter McMillan, Larry Patterson, and Roger Perry. The since-redeemed David Brock appears to offer valuable insights into his former comrades, while I for one couldn’t help but chuckle at the holier-than-my-peers sermonizing of Howard Kurtz.

Viewers are spared the sight and thoughts of Lucianne Goldberg, though I believe we hear her gin-laced voice rasping one line early in the film. And, mercifully, the only appearance of Ann Coulter is a brief still photograph presented during an account of Paula Jones’s devious “Elves,” of which the desiccated Coulter was one. It says much about what became known as “Whitewater” that the role of every cretin who sought to spew his or her bile and make a bundle of bucks off the backs of their betters cannot be worked into even a 90-minute documentary.

Nonetheless, but not at all to its discredit, “The Hunting of the President” failed to arouse my passions. Perhaps that’s because my capacity for anger has grown exponentially since November 2000. Or maybe it’s because I know the story well and the purpose of the film is not to present new findings but to review one of the sorriest periods in American history, a grave constitutional crisis that has yet to be appreciated as such.

Let those similarly placed not think the film unworthy of their time and attention. This is a timely and much-needed warning of the unrestrained power of a well-funded right-wing campaign conducted with complete disregard for the law. And for anyone who ever thought “Whitewater” was too complicated or too overwhelming to grasp in its details -- both the facts and the lies -- “The Hunting of the President” presents the purported controversy in a concise manner that imparts the facts and exposes the lies to reveal the scheme for what it always was: an extra-electoral plot to steal the government from its rightful owners, the American people.

Earlier this year “The Hunting of the President” was screened at the Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Utah; the SWSX Film Festival, Austin, Texas; the USA Film Festival, Dallas; and the Tribeca Film Past Festival, New York. Already having garnered critical acclaim, the film will open June 18 in New York and Little Rock, Ark. Additional screenings are scheduled between June 24 and August 13 in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Hollywood, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, with more locations to be added.

(Note: A trailer (preview) of the film can be viewed here.)

[Post-publication addendum (June 23): Conason’s latest book, Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth, is now available in paperback.]

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