Hunting of the President, The

The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons was published in 2000. The book formed the basis for a documentary film titled The Hunting of the President first shown on January 23, 2004, at the Sundance Film Festival. The ninety-minute film, narrated by Morgan Freeman, was directed by Nickolas Perry and Harry Thomason.

The book examines the motives behind the investigation into what has been termed the “Whitewater Scandal,” as well as the news organizations and advocacy groups that tried to mire President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton (along with several of their associates) in scandal. Initial book sales were brisk, and the book was extensively reviewed, though its reception was roughly split among those who praised it for unearthing the “right-wing conspiracy” and those who found it a Clinton apologia. Publishers Weekly stated, “Readers may not ultimately agree with the authors that the tactics of the Clinton enemies were worse than any mistake made by the president, but they will nevertheless gain a considerably more balanced and complex picture of the road to impeachment.”

The film The Hunting of the President was based on the book. Its first non-festival viewing took place on June 15, 2004, with more than 1,000 people attending the film’s Arkansas premiere at the Statehouse Convention Center ballroom in Little Rock (Pulaski County), with ticket proceeds going to several Arkansas-based charities. At the Sundance Film Festival, the film was described as an incendiary documentary exploring the myths and truths behind the decade-long campaign against the Clintons from his days as governor of Arkansas (1979–1981 and 1983–1992) up to his 1999 presidential impeachment trial. The documentary uses interviews and previously unreleased materials to uncover what the filmmakers present as a smear campaign against the Clintons. It also spotlights the political power of both personal interests and the news media. The official description states: “The Hunting of the President offers us a gallery of defeated politicians, disappointed office seekers, right-wing pamphleteers, wealthy eccentrics, zany private detectives, religious fanatics and die-hard segregationists, all chiming in discord from the tops of their soapboxes.”

One theory the film puts forward is that the multi-million-dollar Whitewater investigation was in response to the Watergate investigation, which resulted in the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon. A commentator in The Hunting of the President stated that some of Clinton’s accusers would mistakenly say “Watergate” when discussing “Whitewater.”

The film focuses closely on the ordeal of Clinton friend Susan McDougal, who stated that the independent counsel pressured her into implicating the Clintons in something illegal. When she told the independent counsel that the Clintons did nothing wrong, refusing to testify against them, she became one of the few people who served prison time as a result of the Whitewater investigation, which ultimately proved no wrongdoing. McDougal spent almost two years in prison and was released in 1999.

Along with McDougal, Arkansans who appear in The Hunting of the President include Steve Barnes, Max Brantley, Ernie Dumas, Gene Lyons, Claudia Riley, and Betsey Wright. Nationally known figures in the movie include Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, John Camp of CNN, political strategist James Carville, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, Jeffrey Toobin of CNN, and the late Tim Russert, former moderator of Meet the Press. Bill and Hillary Clinton appear only in archival footage.

At the 2015 Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Thomason screened the world premiere of an updated version of the film, titled The Hunting of the President Redux. In the new film, a number of people who appeared in the original project recant or modify their original accusations against the Clintons. After Hillary Clinton’s second campaign for the presidency began, Conason and Lyons released a free e-book in 2015, The Hunting of Hillary, which condenses the material from their original book to focus on Hillary Clinton.

For additional information:
Conason, Joe, and Gene Lyons. The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2000.

The Hunting of the President.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0391225/ (accessed April 21, 2016).

The Hunting of the President. Official film website. http://www.thehuntingofthepresident.com/ (accessed April 21, 2016).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society

Last Updated: 05/02/2016

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