Brummett on Clinton TV Special

American Experience | Clinton | Chapter 1 | PBS

John Brummett discusses the Clinton special that comes on tv tonight on PBS. I enjoyed the film a lot but I did notice some things that I did not know. Betsy Wright nixed his run for the presidency in 1988. I never knew that.

I remember seeing Clinton at the movie theater (on Merrill St in Little Rock) with his family the weekend after he made the announcement that he would not run for president in 1988. I remember thinking that he really meant it when he said he was going to concentrate on family time. However, we later learned from a friend of mine in Benton that he had a mistress out there.

I never believed my friend but later I noticed in the newspapers in 1992 that when Flowers came home from Dallas to visit her parents that she always went to Benton. Evidently he planned in 1988 to spend more time with Flowers than he was letting on.

Our Boy Bill

Near-great or disastrous failure?

By John Brummett

This article was published February 19, 2012 at 3:30 a.m

LITTLE ROCK — Even in the early 1980s-that is 30 years ago, for heaven’s sake-someone joked at a charity roast-and-toast in Little Rock that there was nothing left to say about Bill Clinton that had not been said already.

So perhaps you will recoil at the prospect of spending four hours over two nights beholding a televised documentary on his life.

That’s especially the case considering that I am here to tell you that the four hours do not offer anything new. There is certainly nothing as spicy in this film as that woeful public dialogue in which we engaged in 1998 over oral sex.

Nonetheless, I hereby tout for your viewing interest and even edification, if not exactly pleasure, the latest installment of American Experience, the stellar signature documentary series on PBS. It will air from 8 to 10 p.m. Monday and from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to explore the subject of-yes-the life and governorship and presidencyof Our Boy Bill Clinton.

I should tell you that the Washington Post, reviewing an advance screening, calls the program “honest but sometimes tediously predictable.”


American Experience | Passing the Budget Bill | PBS

It may be that the 1990s are not yet so long ago that we can consider Clinton and his presidency throughany meaningful historical lens. After all, neither Bill nor his wife Hillary has yet left the public square. As the old saying goes: How can I miss you if you will not go away?

The Post wonders why the program comes now. PBS points out in a news release that Monday is “Presidents’ Day.” Otherwise, I cannot rightly say.

But what I can tell you is that I’ve seen the program, thanks to an online download of Part 1 and the gift of a DVD of Part 2 from the Arkansas Education Television Network.

And I can tell you that what I liked most was the very thing the Post noted critically. It is that the film is honest and tediously predictable.

It does not sensationalize. It does not seek contrived or overcooked new revelation for a popular hook.

It does not freshly interview Bill or Hillary, since the film is about them, not by them. But nor does it freshly interview many avowed enemies.

Mainly it interviews friends, aides and journalists, more than 50 of whom make talking-head appearances only in snippets and only to advance the narrative.

The film told me not a single thing I did not know already. But what it did was let a compelling personal story, a great American story, refresh itself by pretty much telling itself.

Ponder for a second where Clinton came from and where he ventured. Ponder all the personal dramas that beset him along the way, morepersonal dramas by far than those experienced by any other politician of our time.

No, on second thought: Don’t ponder that yet. Tune in and let this documentary remind and guide you, which is the film’s presumed purpose and value.

In its most tedious honesty, the program does not dare seek a conclusion as to whether Clinton is good or bad. He is-famously, starkly, uncommonly, incurably-both.

Clinton connects with people genuinely and deeply. Then he lies to their faces.

He is the man who drops to a knee to hug a seated and crying woman in New Hampshire who has just toldhim at a campaign event that she can’t afford her $200-a-month prescription medicine bill.

Then he is the man who phones the profoundly creepy Dick Morris to talk about polling Americans on whether he should tell the truth about what he did with that woman,Miss Lewinsky.

If the question is whether Clinton was a near-great president or a disastrously failed one, then the answer is . . . Which year? Which moment?

Surely history will record that he left the White House with the country a richer and better place. But that assumes history will not linger on his leaving the White House having just pardoned some super-rich con whose wife had anted up for the presidential library.

Arkansas viewers may enjoy most Part 1 covering the Arkansas years.

For one thing, the ’80s are longer ago than the ’90s. For another, several Arkansas scenes are shown and several Arkansas people are presented briefly to advance the narrative. You have Bobby Roberts, Betsey Wright, Paul Fray, Carolyn Staley, Marla Crider, Joe Purvis and three of us who were with the old Arkansas Gazette in those days.

If you cannot bring yourself to watch, maybe you could record these hours for viewing later when historic context might make more sense to you.

Even if the time seems wrong, and even if the honest telling is tedious, the tale is a good one and the film is worthy.

John Brummett is a regular columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at Read his blog at

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