July 1, 2004
THE Book that First Exposed the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, The Hunting of the President, is Now a Documentary. BuzzFlash Interviews Film Co-Screenplay Writer and Co-Director, Harry Thomason
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
BuzzFlash has a confession to make.
When it comes to books about the vast right-wing conspiracy, The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, is THE book to read. Exhaustively researched, it leaves no doubt that a wide-ranging group of extremist Republicans worked as a loosely knit group to undermine democracy by working to dislodge a duly-elected president from the White House. The members of this conspiracy included GOP lawyers, financiers, judges, elected officials, journalists and other supporters.
They were tenacious, underhanded, dishonest, and unrelentingly ruthless. They hijacked our legal system and used it to subvert the basic foundations of our national government. They were Stalinesque in their belief that they WERE entitled to run the government and that no tactic was too crude or illegal for them to use to achieve their goal. In their wake, lives were ruined, a country turned into turmoil, millions of dollars wasted -- and the ground work for the theft of the 2000 election was set in place.
Most Democratic leaders, except for Bill Clinton, endured this period in nearly stunned silence, as they did the theft of the election 2000. The anti-American evilness of what the people who created Ken Starr were up to was beyond the comprehension of most "liberals." They simply couldn't acknowledge that such despotism and immorality lurked amongst us.
But lurk they did, and we've paid the price for not fighting fire with fire. But to understand how we got where we are today, you need to return to Arkansas many years ago.
You need to start with The Hunting of the President, a BuzzFlash premium which provides a roadmap to the evil fanatics among us. And make no mistake about it, people who believe that they are entitled to run the American government, that our nation's leadership cannot be left to the voting prerogatives of American citizens, that God has chosen them to govern America, that any means necessary is justified in order to seize power -- yes, these people are evil.
Which leads us to this BuzzFlash interview with Harry Thomason, co-author and co-director of a just released documentary based on the book, appropriately entitled "The Hunting of the President: The Ten Year Campaign To Destroy Bill Clinton," the documentary. For more information on the film and showings go to www.THEHUNTINGOFTHEPRESIDENT.com.
Thomason is, of course, a longtime friend of Clinton's, which makes him a friend of ours.
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BuzzFlash: How do you do a documentary on a book that so brilliantly exposed a vast right-wing conspiracy to bring down a popular and democratically elected president, when so many of the players are members of the very same conspiracy?
Harry Thomason: Well, the problem with doing any documentary based on a book is that there’s no way that in 90 minutes you can cover all the material in the book. And so what we tried to do was just take enough material from the book to make a story where, if you had been on some desert island for the past two years, you could understand what happened and why it happened. A lot of wonderful material got left out, and we hope to include some of it on the DVD. But we could never cover everything in the book that Joe Conason and Gene Lyons so brilliantly covered.
BuzzFlash: The Republicans involved in the impeachment entrapment combined trumped-up charges, media leaks, and hijacking the judiciary to frame Clinton. As the original book that you based the documentary on detailed, this was a rather complex undertaking. Is it correct to say that you tried to create a mosaic with examples and instances to give someone the idea of what actually happened?
Harry Thomason: Right. We just had to give somebody a taste of what happened, and how they sort of did it. Now most of the other material in the book that was used against the Clintons to try to basically run him out of office all followed the same pattern. We just showed the pattern. There were a lot more interesting characters that we would like to have shown in the movie, but we just couldn’t do so for time’s sake. Your idea of a mosaic is exactly correct, but we think when you look at his mosaic you actually get a picture now.
BuzzFlash: What were the handful of details that jumped out at you as the most compelling or the most interesting, or maybe the most incredulous to believe?
Harry Thomason: Of course the hardest story to believe in our movie -- which was not as well documented in the book because I don’t think they had as long an interview with her -- was the way Susan McDougal was treated by both the judiciary system and as directed by the independent counsel’s office. It was amazing. Most people, when they see the movie now, they say: This couldn’t have really happened. Nobody in America could be treated the way she was treated. But facts are facts, and she was treated just as reported in the book and in the movie –in a very harsh light.
BuzzFlash: Give readers a taste of what happened to her, because it really was something that you would expect to happen in a totalitarian country -- the intimidation and the threats, and the full arm of the state being brought down on her.
Harry Thomason: She was put in a particular cell block for hardened women criminals. She was made to wear a red dress in one particular cell block, which the people on murderers' row wore. Therefore all the other people thought she was a murderer when they would see her, and so they would scream and shout, and throw things at her, and pull at her hair. Most of the women in that prison were in for murdering their children, so everybody would jump to the conclusion that Susan was a child murderer. It was pretty rough on her in prison, and she had to be extra careful. The worst part was when she would be transported on the prison bus to jail because they would lock her in a cage in the center of the bus. There were male convicts on either side, and they thought she was a child killer, so they would spit on her and masturbate into the cage, and urinate into the cage -- just totally dehumanizing stuff -- that you wonder why in the world a woman serving time for refusing to give concocted answers to a grand jury would have to endure it.
BuzzFlash: Could you explain the genesis of the project and some of the difficulties you had in finding a distributor, and what it took to finally put the film together and release it?
Harry Thomason: First of all, you have to understand that once the book came out, and once I’d read it and everybody had sort of kicked it around, and by the time we were really starting, there was a new president. And so as we would go to each distributor, they’d say: No, everybody’s heard enough about the Clintons. We’ve got a new person and we just want to deal with this.
The same with investors, but we kept on, and we found people that either believe like we did, or had money to spare, and we finally put together the money to do the film. Every distributor turned us down except a small distributor, Regent Films, who had had some success with a film called "Gods and Monsters" and similar fare. They said they’ll get this film out, and they’ll get it in theaters and get it released. They were the only ones that were interested, and so we made a deal with them. And as the years wore on, there were other people interested who had said before they weren’t interested, but we stuck with Regent because Regent stuck with us.
It’s like documentaries used to be. I mean, we don’t have the kind of clout that Michael Moore’s got, and we’re not going out with 500 prints. We opened in Little Rock and New York in mid-June, and then the next week we opened in Washington, D.C., and then we just sort of open one city a week for quite awhile.
BuzzFlash: The mainstream media predictably accused you of being biased because you know Bill Clinton. Frankly, to us, it’s laughable. I mean, who did they expect to make the film? Ken Starr? Henry Hyde? What is your response to the critique that your film lacks objectivity?
Harry Thomason: For the people who think we made a propaganda piece and had no objectivity, I urge them to go to the film -- even the most hardened Republicans. They should go out and see it and then have the conversation. Not before they’ve seen it. We always knew that we would be accused -- “They’re friends of Bill Clinton. His wife did 'The Man From Hope.' They’ve been close to him.”
But that’s also the reason we did the film. If we hadn’t have done it, we realized nobody would do it. So what we tried to do is that we let plenty of people in the film express their opinions, but we put no opinion of our own. Everything that the narrator says, and everything in the structure of the film that holds it together, we believe we pretty much successfully kept any opinion out of it so that it’s just fact. Therefore, if someone wants to come after us, they have to say, “That reporter was lying and that didn’t really happen.”But they can’t say he slanted that or took that out of context, because we didn’t.
We tried to be as straight and as down the middle as we could, and I think we pretty well succeeded. So they will have to argue with us on that, because we took them from Joe and Gene’s book, by and large, and we think the facts are unimpeachable.
BuzzFlash: As far as I know, since the publication of that book, none of the facts has been refuted.
Harry Thomason: Not one single fact, and this is something that people don’t understand. Not one single fact of Joe and Gene’s book was ever challenged. Not one single court action was ever filed. If you read that book, and if you said, “Boy, I’ll bet these guys got a lot of lawsuits after this was over,”well, they didn’t get one because they knew that everything they said was fact-based from more than one source.
BuzzFlash: When you study the characters -–the enemies of democracy, if you will -- people like Richard Mellon Scaife, Judge David Sentelle, Jesse Helms, Ken Starr, all who had various roles in this -–in some ways, you have to give them their due. They knew how to feed the beast by using the appearance of judicial process to feed the perception that scandals existed when there weren’t really any at all.
After stringing out a multi-million-dollar media sham of an investigation, they framed Clinton on a sex charge. What is your view in how they were able to use the judicial process to fan the flames against Clinton? That really was the vehicle by which leaks could be handed out to the press and the story would be kept going. It wouldn’t die because of the investigations that followed.
Harry Thomason: They used the judicial process sort of like a poolroom table, where you’re banking something off the wall to get something else. They actually fed most everything to the press, who would then raise such a stir about it that judiciary would get involved. Then they had what they wanted, and their hands were somewhat clean, though not always. But you’re right about one thing -- the right wing has great discipline. We tried to interview 137 people who had talked about Clinton, and that’s just the ones we have records with. Only one of them would talk to us, and that was Jerry Falwell. They used them, and they were able to use the press, in my opinion, because the press has gotten so large, and there are so many more ways to get print.
is your view of the media, specifically The New York Times?
Another thing that happened in the 90s is you saw giant corporations buying up most of the media pieces. And so the bottom of the chain of reporters now puts pressure on the top reporters -- the people who would have been reporters at any time in our history -- to come up with something because they’re being driven by the people on top who own the interests. They’re saying, “X cable channel has that story. We’ve got to get it." And it forces the best reporters to go out on a limb when they shouldn’t. A lot of mistakes were made by the press, and the press should be ashamed of itself because of how it performed during the entire eight years of the Clinton White House.
of the right wing’s strategies was that if a news organization
was holding up a story to check facts or corroborate stories, right-wing
radio and websites like the Drudge Report would make accusations that
these news organizations were covering for the Clinton White House and
were being biased. News organizations were pressured to release stories
where facts could not be verified and substantiated.
Decades ago, reporters weren’t paid much. Then with all the proliferation, reporters -- the best ones -- started getting paid more because they were stars. They all went out to the suburbs. They bought big homes. They bought the second cars. Pretty soon, you get a little scared to print a story because you might lose your $120,000-a-year job.
BuzzFlash: One of the most incredible stories post 9/11 is when we go back and examine the conspiracy --the hunting of President and Hillary Clinton -- is the fact that during the hype of the witch hunt, as it were, Clinton was trying to deal with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. At the time, the right wing accused Clinton of wagging the dog and using military means as a distraction. It’s sort of ironic, in a sense, that Clinton was blamed for that, but now people have the audacity to blame Clinton for the 9/11 attacks. It’s such a memory hole. How is it that the right wing has escaped responsibility for what happened -- having the audacity to drain the government when it was dealing with terrorist threats, much less accuse Clinton of slacking on addressing the issue of terrorism?
Thomason: Well, most of the legitimate press is ashamed of what
they did during the Clinton administration. So everybody would like
to let sleeping dogs lie in that region. But the interesting thing
is that the day the independent counsel’s office chose to release
the video about President Clinton testifying about the Monica Lewinsky
affair -–that day, Clinton was at the United Nations speaking
about terrorism and Osama bin Laden and other terrorist issues in the
country. It never even made the television, as far as I know, other
than they might have announced he was there. But nothing he said in
that speech ever saw the light of day.
Harry Thomason: Well, it didn’t start out that they were going to trap him in a sex lie. But as the eight years ultimately evolved, the extreme right wing saw the possibility that, if they could get him under oath for any infraction of anything, and if they could get him to lie, then they could expand that into the possibility of removing him as president through impeachment. Look there’s no doubt about it -- he helped them, he stepped into the trap. Then, with his family to think about and so forth, he did what they wanted him to do. He was not quite as concise as he should have been under oath, and so that gave them the grounds to bring forth the impeachment proceedings. It was the first time in the history of the presidency that anybody was able to make anything personal into grounds for impeachment.
BuzzFlash: I asked Gene Lyons one time, “What is the lesson that we should all learn from the Clinton impeachment?”And he said that democracy is a fragile thing, and it takes very little to hijack it. What would you say is the over-arching lesson?
Harry Thomason: I could not agree with Gene more that democracy is always hanging by a thin thread. We, as Americans, we’ve had it so long we don’t realize how thin that thread is, and that thread is damaged when you try to remove a sitting president. In third world countries, they would have used guns to try to remove him. Here, they didn’t. They used the media and part of the judiciary system. But if they had gotten him out, the results would have been just the same as if they had removed him with a gun. I’m telling you -- democracy would have been damaged forever. It has sustained some damage, in any case, that it will take it a long time to recover from now.
BuzzFlash: Harry Thomason, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Harry Thomason: Thank you.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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Past BuzzFlash Interviews with figures involved in The Hunting of the President:
Additional BuzzFlash Interviews including Paul Begala and James Carville can be found at: http://www.buzzflash.com/interviews/archives.html