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Why's Everybody Always Picking on Me?: Bill Clinton endures the slings and arrows of outraged right-wingers in the new documentary 'The Hunting of the President.'

The Proffer

'The Hunting of the President' replays the right-wing crusade to topple Bill Clinton

By Richard von Busack

ENOUGH Clintonmania, I say! Who wants to go back to those miserable days when a 401k had some heft to it, four soldiers a day weren't biting the dust and we weren't playing an endless game of red-light, green-light with the Office of National Security? Don't stampede the time machine, it's fragile. Bill Clinton has taken a few whacks amid the hugfest (none, strangely enough, about the number of trees killed for his supersized tome). Some more of his side of the story turns up in Harry Thomason and Nickolas Perry's documentary The Hunting of the President, based on Joe Conason and Gene Lyon's book. It's a typically diverting entry in the 2004 docu glut, and actually a kind of unofficial prequel for Fahrenheit 9/11.

Essentially, the directors investigate the "vast right-wing conspiracy," in Hillary's immortal phrase, of the various scandals meant to topple Clinton's presidency. What emerges isn't anything quite so organized as a conspiracy. Rather, it's a tag-team feeding frenzy. Miffed Arkies—many of them members of the same species of disappointed office seeker that killed President Garfield—offered imaginative tales of Clinton's earlier infidelities to the tabloids. "Where's there's smoke, there's fire," insisted editors, drawn by the smog emanating from those burning wads of Richard Mellon-Scaife's cash that fueled the American Spectator (and paid the salary of journalist David Brock, who later copped a plea in his book Blinded by the Right).

A partisan investigator named Kenneth Starr was appointed to investigate an ancient real-estate deal, in which a manic-depressive failed banker and his wife were supposedly given a $300,000 government loan. The comic side of all this turns nasty when Susan and Jim McDougal are split apart. Susan is sent to jail for not testifying, or, as she says, not submitting a "proffer," not squealing on information they thought she had about Whitewater. In the clink for two years, Susan wore the red dress that death-row prisoners wear. The other prisoners mistook her for a child killer and harassed her accordingly.

This thoroughly researched account of politics at its most grimy could be called one-sided by default. The reticent and camera-shy Ann Coulter refused to comment on her past as an "elf"—a secret adviser to Paula Jones in her sexual-harassment suit. And Starr is currently too occupied sunning his wealthy buns at Pepperdine University to tell his side of the investigation that cost his nation so much time, treasure and suffering. (In revenge, the directors do the trick of showing Starr in black-and-white at slow speed to make him look more sinister. It's a gimmick often seen on TV's Hard Copy: "the Dracula cam.")

Thomason and Perry record the fury of Betsey Wright, then-Gov. Clinton's chief of staff, at the groupies she had to wade through. Wright's upset includes her feeling of betrayal after Monicagate broke. Maybe these filmmakers didn't hit Clinton's culpability hard enough: the shame of a president's misconduct with a tender intern who made the sad mistake of entrusting Clinton with the sight of her thong underwear. How could she guess he would misinterpret this innocent gesture and lunge like a pheromone-addled Ozark razorback. My friends, how much worse is the name "adulterer" than "warmonger."

The Hunting of the President (Unrated; 89 min.), a documentary by Nikolas Perry and Harry Thomason, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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Web extra to the July 14-20, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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