Tuesday night, PBS’s Frontline premiered The Choice 2016, which purported to be a documentary examining the lives and careers of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It was not, in fact, an honest documentary. It was a savage hit piece, using a patina of documentary sobriety to hide its core dishonesty.
To appreciate just how awful it was, you have to know a bit about Frontline. It’s a long-running show that always focuses on very serious subjects. Whether at home or abroad, it’s viewpoint is hard Left, although it will never acknowledge that it has a bias. Indeed, to prove that it is unbiased, it is, as I said, very, very serious. It always has grim music and the regular narrator, Will Lyman, has the deep, slow, serious, mostly uninflected voice of an aspiring funeral home director. How can something be biased if it’s both serious and sober?
Nor am I exaggerating the effect its serious, sober quality has on receptive (i.e., Progressive) audiences. CNN was impressed by the fact that “Frontline soberly profiles Clinton, Trump in ‘The Choice’“:
Frontline is once again demonstrating how indispensable it is with “The Choice 2016,” a two-hour documentary that methodically chronicles the lives of presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
So many words have been devoted to the candidates that one could easily conclude there’s nothing much left to say. But “The Choice” adopted a parallel structure — oscillating between the two biographies — that proves illuminating as it cuts back and forth to highlight their paths from adolescence to, for one, the White House.
This sober endeavor stands in stark contrast to the coverage these candidates frequently receive in other broadcast venues. That’s especially true in primetime, during which network news magazines continue to tilt toward true crime and tawdry tales of missing persons and spouses killing each other.
In that regard, Frontline represents a dispassionate forum, but not a boring one — in productions such as this, neatly distilling complex issues down to their essence.
I have no doubt that CNN’s encomiums derive in large part because the show is a hagiography of Hillary Clinton and a hit piece against Donald Trump.
Well, I’ve watched the whole damn show and there’s nothing sober and balanced about it (although I did find it boring). The parallel structure is used to emphasize relentlessly Hillary’s good qualities and Donald’s bad ones. If you want to watch it yourself, be my guest. Otherwise, if you read on, you’ll see that I’ve summarized the whole show. Reading my summary will save two hours of your life and allow you to spend them in more enjoyable ways.
The show opens with “Trump the Birther” back in 2011 and implies (and CNN, above, agrees) that his entire presidential candidacy is payback for the fact that, at the April 2011 Correspondents’ Dinner, Obama humiliated Trump. Some people — like me — thought it was unseemly for a president to attack a private citizen, no matter how irritating that citizen is, but Obama could be lying the gutter with a half empty bottle of Ripple in his hand, and the media would still coo about his class and cool.
The show makes no mention, of course, of the fact that it took Obama three years to release his birth certificate from the time people asked that he prove that he met the constitutional requirements for the presidency nor does it touch upon the fact that it was Hillary’s campaign that originated the birther story.
Believe it or not, after such a low beginning, The Choice 2016 actually manages to go further downhill after that. The pattern is relentless: Interview people who hate Trump; interview people who love Hillary. Paint Trump as an angry psychopath who will win at all costs; paint Hillary as the brilliant girl with the burning desire to change the world for the better (although no mention is made of her actual politics or policies).
The artificial psychodrama begins with the fathers. Both Hillary and Donald are alleged to have had cold, demanding fathers. Trump emerged evil and without a conscience; Hillary emerged as a very private individual burning to change the world for the better. (Are you seeing a theme here?)
Trump attended a harsh military school, where he thrived, so the show makes sure to tell us that the students learned about women from reading Playboy. It’s not possible that Trump could have learned about leadership there or proven he was intelligent and driven (except in the driven way of a sociopath). By contrast, at much the same age, Hillary’s church group went to see Martin Luther King speak in Chicago, an event so moving that Hillary, the private individual, more than ever had a burning desire to change the world for the better.
Trump attended Wharton’s business management school. Frontline has nothing to say about his academic accomplishments. Hillary, though, was a star at Wellesley and Yale. Robert Reich, who worships Hillary, assures us that at Yale she knew all the answers, he knew some of the answers, and their classmate Clarence Thomas never spoke. Hillary’s friends from Wellesley (manifestly 60s-style feminists) also assure us that she was really, really brilliant.
After college, Trump became a real estate megalomaniac and a protegé of Roy Cohn from whom he learned to be utterly dishonest and without conscience. He hired women to fill hugely important jobs (the first female project manager for a large project, for example, when he built Trump Tower), but did so only because he was a sexist pig. The reasoning is apparently that Trump felt that women would work harder than men to prove themselves, therefore he was an abusive sexist pig boss.
Apropos Cohn, Frontline is at pains to assure us that Roger Stone, the political consultant who is one of the few people in the show to speak well of Trump, was also a Cohn protegé. Therefore, discount every nice thing he says about Trump during his short sound bytes.
Oh, and the federal government sued Trump’s businesses for discriminating against blacks. And even though he settled without acknowledging any wrongdoing, he was guilty, guilty, guilty!! Trust Frontline on this. It’s a very sober show. It’s just cheap of me to note that Frontline does not mention that (embarrassingly for all America) this was common practice at the time or the fact that the federal government was going after lots of landlords at the time.
While Trump was using women, Hillary worked for the Watergate committee. Her great shame was that, when the committee wrapped up, she failed the DC bar. She did manage, however, to pass the Arkansas bar, which she saw as a sign to follow Bill to the boonies (and Frontline makes it clear that Arkansas was a pathetic, sexist wasteland complete with Holy Roller religion).
Frontline did forget to note a couple of things in its tight little narrative about Hillary’s move from Watergate to Arkansas. First, they don’t mention that the DC bar is and was widely considered to be the easiest bar exam in the country. She must have taken it on a really bad day.
Second, and much more importantly, Hillary didn’t vanish from the Watergate committee just because it wrapped up. She was fired.
Jerry Zeifman, a Democrat, served as chief counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate hearings. He was also Hillary’s boss. According to him (and much as the Left has tried to discredit this story, they haven’t been able to), he fired Hillary for rank dishonesty and refused even to give her a letter of recommendation, something that is a much more likely reason for high-tailing it off to Arkansas than merely having failed to pass the bar:
At the time of Watergate I had overall supervisory authority over the House Judiciary Committee’s Impeachment Inquiry staff that included Hillary Rodham—who was later to become First Lady in the Clinton White House.
During that period I kept a private diary of the behind the scenes congressional activities. My original tape recordings of the diary and other materials related to the Nixon impeachment provided the basis for my prior book, Without Honor, and are now available for inspection in the George Washington University Library.
After President Nixon’s resignation, a young lawyer, who shared an office with Hillary, confided in me that he was dismayed by her erroneous legal opinions and efforts to deny Nixon representation by counsel—as well as an unwillingness to investigate Nixon. In my diary of August 12, 1974 I noted the following:
John Labovitz apologized to me for the fact that months ago he and Hillary had lied to me [to conceal rules changes and dilatory tactics]. Labovitz said, ‘That came from Yale.’ I said, ‘You mean Burke Marshall’ [Senator Ted Kennedy’s chief political strategist, with whom Hillary regularly consulted in violation of House rules.] Labovitz said, ‘Yes.’ His apology was significant to me, not because it was a revelation but because of his contrition.
At that time Hillary Rodham was 27 years old. She had obtained a position on our committee staff through the political patronage of her former Yale law school professor Burke Marshall and Senator Ted Kennedy. Eventually, because of a number of her unethical practices I decided that I could not recommend her for any subsequent position of public or private trust.
After hiring Hillary, Doar assigned her to confer with me regarding rules of procedure for the impeachment inquiry. At my first meeting with her I told her that Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter Rodino, House Speaker Carl Albert, Majority Leader Tip O’Neill, Parliamentarian Lou Deschler and I had previously all agreed that we should rely only on the then existing House Rules, and not advocate any changes. I also quoted Tip O’Neill’s statement that: “To try to change the rules now would be politically divisive. It would be like trying to change the traditional rules of baseball before a World Series.”
Hillary assured me that she had not drafted, and would not advocate, any such rules changes. However, as documented in my personal diary, I soon learned that she had lied. She had already drafted changes, and continued to advocate them. In one written legal memorandum, she advocated denying President Nixon representation by counsel. In so doing she simply ignored the fact that in the committee’s then-most-recent prior impeachment proceeding, the committee had afforded the right to counsel to Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.
I had also informed Hillary that the Douglas impeachment files were available for public inspection in the committee offices. She later removed the Douglas files without my permission and carried them to the offices of the impeachment inquiry staff—where they were no longer accessible to the public.
Hillary had also made other ethically flawed procedural recommendations, arguing that the Judiciary Committee should: not hold any hearings with—or take depositions of—any live witnesses; not conduct any original investigation of Watergate, bribery, tax evasion, or any other possible impeachable offense of President Nixon; and should rely solely on documentary evidence compiled by other committees and by the Justice Department’s special Watergate prosecutor.
Only a few far-left Democrats supported Hillary’s recommendations. A majority of the committee agreed to allow President Nixon to be represented by counsel and to hold hearings with live witnesses. Hillary then advocated that the official rules of the House be amended to deny members of the committee the right to question witnesses. This recommendation was voted down by the full House. The committee also rejected her proposal that we leave the drafting of the articles of impeachment to her and her fellow impeachment-inquiry staffers.
That’s Hillary in all her glory: hard Left, an unethical lawyer, and a dishonest human being. And yet somehow this “sober” PBS documentary didn’t think any of that information about Hillary’s Watergate career was relevant. Instead, the show’s writers and producers put in just enough of her Watergate history to burnish her credentials as an individual yearning to change the world for the better, rather than the hard Left, corrupt party operative she already was in 1973.
Hillary’s Arkansas years get short shrift too. There’s no mention of Whitewater and the cover-up to remove her name from the Rose Law Firm’s work on that scandal nor do we hear about cattle futures. Instead, one day Bill is elected governor and the next day he’s running for the White House, with stalwart Hillary at his side.
The White House run, however, does force Frontline to mention Jennifer Flowers, who went public about her 12-year affair with Bill. Throughout 1992, Bill absolutely denied the affair. Frontline applauds Hillary for standing by his side as he destroyed Flowers’ reputation with his false denials.
Hillary’s support, of course, came about because Hillary had a burning desire to make the world a better place. It’s only some residual journalistic integrity that has Frontline acknowledging that Bill admitted under oath in 1998 that he, not Flowers, was the liar.
Meanwhile, Donald was a playboy dating and then married to Ivana — but only because she made him look good when they walked into a room together. (Really. That’s what the show said.) Donald was also trying to make a name for himself outside of real estate circles. When the Central Park Jogger rape story broke and five young black men were arrested and eventually convicted, Donald, along with much of Manhattan’s population was outraged. He essentially repeated the old American mantra that “hanging is too good for these guys.”
Although there is no evidence whatsoever that Donald was referring to accused defendants’ race, rather than their conduct, Frontline finds someone to assure us that Donald’s outrage was race-driven. To drive the nail into Donald’s coffin, Frontline makes sure we know that, when the five men were released from prison years later following the real criminal’s confession, “Trump never apologized.” Interestingly, Frontline’s writers and producers didn’t seem to think it would have been fitting for Bill and Hillary to apologize to Flowers or to all the other women Bill had sex with (consensually or not) and that Bill and Hillary later maligned and harassed.
With Hillary in the White House, it’s impossible for Frontline to ignore all of Hillary’s disastrous decisions and actions. It discusses the secrecy surrounding Hillary’s health care task force, but implies that the reason her proposals were rejected was because her secrecy threatened DC’s power brokers, rather than because it was a socialist plan. Even worse, according to Frontline, Americans (obviously bitter gun and Bible clingers) were offended that the First Lady was taking a political role. The narrator also mentions in passing rumors of marital fights, travel office problems, cattle futures, and Whitewater, but doesn’t follow up on the fact that these stories were true.
In Frontline-land, Hillary is an embattled victim, rather than a corrupt operator. When she decided to take to the road to sell her plan, she was surprised that people hated her ideas. Worse, people hated Hillary. One of Hillary’s friends says that Hillary realized, to her shock and dismay, that some people just don’t like her. Clearly, the problem is with the people, not with Hillary. But Hillary powered on. People hated her, she decided, only because she was an educated, accomplished woman with a burning desire to make the world a better place. No wonder the health care plan died….
The people’s completely inexplicable hatred for Hillary led to the 1994 election blowout that saw the House and Senate go Republican. With her back to the wall, Hillary turned to Dick Morris.
Dick Morris, of course, is now a conservative analyst, so Frontline makes haste to assure us that he’s evil. (Really. The show does that.) In other words, don’t listen to anything Morris says about Hillary when interviewed by Frontline, because he’s the devil incarnate.
One of Morris’s evil ideas back in the mid-1990s was the triangulation that saved the presidency: He told Bill to be more conservative in his policies. He also recommended that Hillary stop acting as an unelected co-president (sexist, Dick!). Hillary, always the good little woman standing by her man, agreed and she became a rigid, embittered cookie maker. “With her help, Bill Clinton was reelected” — i.e., when people no longer had to see her, Bill did better.
Trump was also falling apart, but not because he was a victim the way Hillary always is. Instead, Trump’s marriage was breaking up and he’d gotten involved with Marla Maples. The message is clear: Hillary stands by her man, but Donald won’t stand by his woman.
Worse, Ivana told Liz Smith during the divorce (and we always believe what wives say to gossip columnists during celebrity divorces) that Trump stated that he can’t be attracted to a woman who has had children. No mention, of course, of Bill’s long career as a satyr who literally attacks unwilling women. Thanks to Roy Cohn’s training, though, Trump loved the fact that his marriage war was being played out in public. To him, all publicity was good publicity.
While this was going on, Trump took on the Taj Mahal casino. This was a disaster because the expenses were so huge, Trump wouldn’t be able to cover them. When people criticized him, he didn’t take their advice. Instead, he attacked them personally. You see the difference here: When people criticize Hillary, the poor bewildered victim stands by her man; when people criticize Trump, he wrongly and horribly defends himself. No mention, of course, of Hillary’s tirades against Jews and bimbos.
It seems worthwhile mentioning just one more time at this point in the narrative that while the show interviews Hillary’s friends it only interviews Trump’s enemies. Also, at this point in the “documentary,” I’m actually thinking I’d rather have a fighter than a victim as my president, but maybe that’s just me.
Frontline acknowledges that the recession was hurting Trump (i.e., it wasn’t just bad decisions on his part). Many of the businesses in which he invested were failing. Bad Trump, however, started blaming, firing, and yelling at people. (The show makes no mention of such things in connection with Hillary despite her known abuse of White House staff, Travelgate, etc.)
The banks then did what banks do — they tried to get their money back. The talking heads on Frontline contend that during this time Trump didn’t understand what was going on. Despite being a Wharton grad with a long business career, we’re assured he had no idea how to read a spreadsheet.
Frontline also makes it sound as if the banks were dealing with an extraordinary situation when they had to decide whether to force Trump into bankruptcy or work with him. In fact, that’s an incredibly common situation. When a business goes downhill for whatever reason, the money people have to figure out whether to go with the sure-ish thing of 10 – 75 cents on the dollar in bankruptcy or whether to play along for a while in the hopes of a turnaround and a complete recovery on their investment. That’s just business as usual, especially after recessions.
It’s a testament to Trump that the banks decided not to force bankruptcy. According to the show, it’s because Trump’s name was worth something. Trump, says Frontline’s says one of the talking heads, was a stooge who wasn’t allowed to run the business but was simply a promoter. Trump “was too big to fail,” says the narrator, disdain dripping from his sober voice.
Is the true? I don’t know. I just know that I don’t trust the source.
And then came that fatal January in 1998: Bill woke Hillary to warn her not to worry about the fact there were false news reports that he’d had an affair with a former White House intern. Hillary later insisted that Bill lied to her as he did to everyone else and that she naively, lovingly believed him. It was the blue dress that forced the truth on Hillary.
On the Today Show, she bravely stood by her man, repeating her lies — because she was a private individual with a burning desire to make the world a better place. Hillary was and is a fighter: It’s all the fault of the vast right-wing conspiracy. (While Trump is mean, Hillary knows how to deal with scandal.)
So, the truth finally came out — and, of course, Bill and Hillary never apologized to any of the women who Bill used and both of them abused. Hillary was “a brilliant person who was played for a fool.” Hillary hated and was angry at Bill but she stood by her man because she always been a very private individual with a burning desire to make the world a better place. I would feel sorry for Hillary’s public humiliation too but for the fact that she covered for Bill’s affairs for decades and savaged innocent women — something the show ignores entirely.
Meanwhile, Trump was “gambling” on Wall Street when he took the casinos public, very successfully. Trump, however, instantly abused the money for his own benefit. He paid himself huge salaries even as the stocks sank and the company filed for bankruptcy three times. Again, I’m skeptical about this Democrat story-line because, as a lawyer, I understand how Chapter 11 bankruptcy can be used to restructure businesses that are mired in losing contracts. That I distrust the Democrat story-line, though, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It simply means that, without my having studied the issue, I’m neutral on whether Trump was a fraud or a savvy businessman.
The show makes it clear that Trump, in his personal narrative, scored because he scammed and everyone else was a patsy who deserved when happened to him or her. Trump’s lesson was that his name was the biggest asset and he should sell it. This is apparently a bad thing, although I think it’s a brilliant way to leverage an asset, whatever that asset is. Certainly, Trump was completely honest about what he was doing. And even the show concedes he was an incredible salesman, leveraging his success and celebrity for ever greater personal wealth.
According to Frontline, Trump, a buffoon, was only taken seriously thanks to The Apprentice, which lied about his having a track record. The message to Trump was that he could fake being a politician too. Americans were suckered in by the perfectly crafted Trump. (Unlike the “authentic” Hillary, I assume, who reintroduces herself to the public on a regular basis.) Sycophants on the show fed Trump’s ego by saying they would vote for him if he ran for president.
And back to Hillary and the Lewinsky scandal. St. Hillary rose above it all, forgiving and defending her husband, just like the private individual she is, the one with the burning desire to make the world a better place.
As Bill apologized to America the day the Senate acquitted him, Hillary was planning her Senate run, speaking her in own voice on her own behalf, because she has a burning desire to make the world a better place. Hillary was historic: the first senator who was also a First Lady. She’s always been a feminist star.
Hillary’s takeaway lesson from the health care project was to play well with others. She therefore talked to other people in the Senate so that she could make the world a better place. She was already eying the presidency but, as a wonk, she wasn’t an attention whore like Trump. She wants to be in the back rooms, slaving away to make the world a better place.
In 2008, once again fate screwed Hillary Clinton. She was supposed to win but for that darn Obama. (No mention, of course, of Hillary starting the birther story.) During the campaign, she was the pragmatist. Her youthful Wellesley enthusiasm was burned away. But the damn fool public wanted “change,” not Hillary, so Hillary has to pledge fealty to Obama.
While Hillary is slaving away, Donald was asking “why shouldn’t Obama show his birth certificate?” He said he believed it existed and asked (as many Americans did), “Why not show it?” This is pure Roy Cohn sleaze according to Frontline. No mention, of course, about the fact that Obama for years shilled his writing by claiming Kenyan birth. No mention, either, about the fact that Obama refused to release any personal records whatsoever.
The designated Frontline talking head scathingly says that Trump is pandering to the “Archie Bunkers” who can’t tolerate a black president. It doesn’t occur to them that Americans aren’t troubled by Obama’s color; they’re troubled by his own lies about his background, by his un-American attitudes, by his barely concealed dislike for traditional white America, etc. Lt. Col. Allen West would never have been the subject of the suspicion surrounding Obama. But as I said, the show won’t mention this.
And just why is it so unreasonable that a candidate for president, or even a president, be asked to prove one of the few requirements for holding the office?
In any event, it was all for naught. That crazy intelligent Obama undercut Trump by doing exactly what Trump asked: releasing the birth certificate. Oh, except that he didn’t release the birth certificate. He released a layered PDF which, rightly or wrongly, aroused suspicions because a truly scanned historic document wouldn’t have layers. But whatever…. That Obama sure beat crazy Trump. Poor Trump. Now he should just go away.
Even as Trump is being weird, Hillary became Secretary of State. A talking head concedes that she saw it as a stepping stone to another run for the presidency. At this point, something interesting happens on the show: How does a pro-Hillary documentary get around the fact that Hillary had a singularly unsuccessful tenure as Secretary of State? Among other things, she presided over the rise of ISIS, the failure of the Green Revolution in Iran, the fall of Libya, the bloody death of an ambassador and three other Americans, the rise of the Syrian civil war, and the dreadful collapse in the “reset” American relationship with Russia.
Simple: you sacrifice Obama, who’s leaving the White House anyway and, even if it offends Obama, it’s more important to destroy Donald and save Hillary. So it is that Frontline assures us that Hillary was tremendously surprised (and I bet she was) to learn that she was just Obama’s puppet. It was Obama who made all State Department decisions — which means everything bad was Obama’s fault. Poor Hillary. Once again, the good little woman, she stood by her man — in this case, Obama.
Still, some things can’t be fiddled. The show admits that Hillary was the brains behind the decision to take out Qaddafi, who had been a neutral in the Middle East ever since the Iraq War. No wonder, then, that she crudely said of Qaddafi, “We came, we saw, he died.” The Benghazi attack, of course, is glossed over: It happened. ‘Nuff said. Once again, though, poor Hillary was a victim, with the vast right wing conspiracy going after her for political reasons. No mention of the deadly decisions before the attack and the lies afterwards.
Even after leaving the Secretary’s office, the political attacks on Hillary wouldn’t stop. She was now being hounded about a private email system she set up. Typical Hillary, says Frontline — secrecy and denial. And that’s all that Frontline says about the email system. The subtext is that’s all there is to see here. Ignore all the laws she broke and the fact that she exposed all of America’s State Department secrets to foreign countries and every hacker around. You all know she’s secretive, we’ve admitted she’s secretive, so you can just forget this. It’s not important.
Hillary’s now fighting. You just keep going, we’re told. She’s that kind of gal. “She’s done that all her life.”
While Hillary was fulfilling her burning destiny, Trump was latching onto another way to raise his profile. His campaign has been about showmanship. His announcement of his presidency wasn’t in front of a room full of people in a gym (like Hillary). Instead, it was a staged moment in front of people in the lobby of Trump Towers — and we’re assured that he exaggerated the number present during his announcement. I feel I should point out that throughout this campaign, the media has systematically misrepresented the crowds that are appearing for the candidates, with carefully placed camera shots intended to make it appear that Trump’s crowds are small and Hillary’s are large.
Frontline replays Trump’s point about Mexico not sending us their best. I understand this to mean just what Trump said: Mexico has good people and bad people, but the relationship between the two countries has been perverted so that Mexico is benefitting from a system that sees us as a sinkhole for its drug runners, gangbangers, rapists, pedophiles, and other unsavory citizens. It is not a racist indictment of Mexicans. It is an indictment of our broken immigration system and the fact that our Southern neighbor makes rational choices to benefit from that system.
A talking head acknowledges that Trump is authentic. He’s real. Somehow he’s connecting with people. He won the votes of millions of Americans and became the nominee. We’re told that this is the only thing that was left for Donald to do to fulfill his insatiable desire for attention. He’s not running to make the world, or even America, a better place; it’s about ego aggrandizement.
And that, my friends, is the whole documentary. I’ve watched it, so you don’t have to. I hope I’ve made clear that Hillary is a plaster saint in this documentary, which her myriad scandals ignored or mentioned only in passing. Thus, the show makes no mention of the crimes and corruption in which Hillary engaged before, during, and after her time in the White House. In shallow strokes, she is painted as a hard worker, loyal, forgiving — and, of course, something with a burning desire to make the world a better place.
And Donald? He’s a warped man who knows nothing about business, lusts after fame, and is using stupid, racist, credulous Americans to feed his ego.
Aren’t you glad you didn’t watch the documentary? Frankly, having watched it myself, I feel a good 20 IQ points more stupid than before, and that’s despite Frontlines’ serious, sober tone.
If you want to read about the election, or about politics and social issues in general, check out WOW! Magazine, the online collaborative magazine from the Watcher’s Council.