Charles Ferguson’s Hillary biopic, which he was producing for CNN, is now canceled. The producer explains that someone inside CNN leaked word of the doc to Hillary’s camp, and they immediately formed up a palace guard around her.
The day after the contract was signed, I received a message from Nick Merrill, Hillary Clinton’s press secretary. He already knew about the film, and clearly had a source within CNN. He interrogated me; at first I answered, but eventually I stopped. When I requested an off-the-record, private conversation with Mrs. Clinton, Merrill replied that she was busy writing her book, and not speaking to the media.
Next came Phillipe Reines, Hillary Clinton’s media fixer, who contacted various people at CNN, interrogated them, and expressed concern about alleged conflicts of interest generated because my film was a for-profit endeavor (as nearly all documentaries and news organizations are). When I contacted him, he declined to speak with me. He then repeated his allegations to Politico, which published them.
So he and CNN decided to publicly confirm the film, only to have the Republican National Committee wage war against it. CNN earned the nickname “Clinton News Network” during the Clinton administration. The news network really had no business even appearing to produce an infomercial for a presidential candidate ahead of her run.
Then Media Matters’ David Brock made a slick move in Hillary’s defense, by claiming to agree with the RNC:
Next came David Brock, who published an open letter on his highly partisan Democratic website Media Matters, in which he endorsed the Republican National Committee’s position, repeating Reines’ conflict of interest allegations and suggesting that my documentary would revive old, discredited Clinton scandal stories. Coming from Mr. Brock, this was rather amusing. David Brock began life as an ultraconservative “investigative journalist,” quotation marks very much intended, spreading scandal with little regard for truth. He first attracted attention with The Real Anita Hill, his nasty (and factually wrong) hatchet job on the woman who, during Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings, said that Thomas had sexually harassed her. Years later, he apologized and switched to the Democrats.
Brock’s interest was the same as Hillary’s own staff — palace guard defense.
Ferguson discussed the film with Bill Clinton this past summer. The former president re-wrote history before the man who would produce a documentary about his wife.
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.
Wow, I thought, this guy is a really good actor. And I also saw one reason why Hillary Clinton might not be thrilled about my movie.
Bill Clinton certainly hasn’t grown up from his Slick Willy past. He remains, as fellow Democrat Bob Kerrey once said, an “unusually good liar.” The main difference between Clinton and his vice president, Al Gore, was always in their skill at telling whoppers.
At any rate, with no one but the Slick One willing to talk, there was no film to make. CNN doesn’t get to make this in-kind contribution to the Hillary campaign. It will surely find other ways to help her out, though.