The last word on the two attempts to make Hillary Clinton into broadcast-network entertainment had NBC rethinking its determination to make a Diane Lane-starring miniseries, but CNN on track to make a documentary in time for a 2016 release. Now, however, the producer of the latter project has announced at the Huffington Post that he will drop his plans for the documentary — but not because of CNN, which remains supportive if perhaps not enthusiastic. Charles Ferguson blames both political parties and Media Matters for the hostile environment, but puts most of the blame on the Clintons for making the job impossible:
When [Media Matters’ David] Brock published his letter about my film, I got in touch with several prominent Democrats who knew Hillary Clinton. I told them that this campaign against the film and against CNN was counterproductive. They conveyed this message to Mrs. Clinton personally, along with my request to speak with her. The answer that came back was, basically, over my dead body.
Regardless, it’s not impossible to do a documentary about an uncooperative subject, but it’s not easy, either. It’s even more difficult when the subject has the ability to intimidate nearly everyone with something of interest to say. Ferguson pointedly includes the news media in this category:
But when I approached people for interviews, I discovered that nobody, and I mean nobody, was interested in helping me make this film. Not Democrats, not Republicans — and certainly nobody who works with the Clintons, wants access to the Clintons, or dreams of a position in a Hillary Clinton administration. Not even journalists who want access, which can easily be taken away. I even sensed potential difficulty in licensing archival footage from CBN (Pat Robertson) and from Fox. After approaching well over a hundred people, only two persons who had ever dealt with Mrs. Clinton would agree to an on-camera interview, and I suspected that even they would back out.
Even if the Clintons were interested in cooperating, Ferguson had a Road to Damascus moment after meeting with Bill Clinton:
In June, I attended a dinner for Bill Clinton, which was educational. Clinton spoke passionately about his foundation, about African wildlife, inequality, childhood obesity, and much else with enormous factual command, emotion, and rhetorical power. But he and I also spoke privately. I asked him about the financial crisis. He paused and then became even more soulful, thoughtful, passionate, and articulate. And then he proceeded to tell me the most amazing lies I’ve heard in quite a while.
For example, Mr. Clinton sorrowfully lamented his inability to stop the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which banned all regulation of private (OTC) derivatives trading, and thereby greatly worsened the crisis. Mr. Clinton said that he and Larry Summers had argued with Alan Greenspan, but couldn’t budge him, and then Congress passed the law by a veto-proof supermajority, tying his hands. Well, actually, the reason that the law passed by that overwhelming margin was because of the Clinton Administration’s strong advocacy, including Congressional testimony by Larry Summers and harsh public and private attacks on advocates of regulation by Summers and Robert Rubin.
In other words, they play hardball to present a false narrative and have no trouble in intimidating anyone who contradicts it. That includes the so-called independent media, Ferguson makes sure to inform us, and he writes that his forced withdrawal is no victory for the media.
That sets up an entirely different question. If the media is this intimidated by Hillary Clinton as a former Secretary of State, what would they be like in a Hillary Clinton presidency? And what does this tell us about the media’s performance during the Bill Clinton presidency? Perhaps the media should be warning us of this kind of manipulation rather than being silent about it in hopes for better access during a future period where the Clintons once again have their hands on the lever of power at the highest levels. Ferguson just did so — will other journalists do the same?