How to politicize a documentary on the White House

Politics should have been left out of a documentary on the history and inner workings of that sacred building.

PBS recently broadcast a two-hour documentary, The White House: Inside Story.

The politically neutral and interesting parts come first.

The production company that made the documentary showed George Washington’s drawings of the original Executive Mansion.  They put up the painting of the mansion going up in flames in 1814, after the British torched it toward the end of the War of 1812.  Then they unveiled film clips of Truman gutting it and restructuring the insides with steel beams, but leaving the shell because of its connection to President Washington, from 1948-1952.

The documentary showed first families struggling to learn to act right in the historic building.  Lincoln’s rambunctious boys sneaked small animals into the place; Alice, the wild child of Theodore Roosevelt, used to bother guests and tourists, claiming that Teddy beat them every day.  Gerald Ford’s teenage daughter threw a prom there.  Jimmy Carter’s girl Amy had photos of her and her friends rollerskating; the Bush twins said they felt enclosed in a gilded cage.

They interviewed LBJ’s daughter Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, Gerald Ford’s daughter Susan Ford Bales, and the Bush twins.  Rosalyn Carter, Barbara Bush, and Laura Bush made pleasant appearances.  Fair enough.  It was good to see them again.  And the White House staff, both current and retired, commented on working there.  Interesting.

The documentary even showed George W. Bush introducing his official portrait unveiled in the last few days of his presidency.  Next to it was the large picture of George Washington.  W. made a joke about how there are two George W.’s, like bookends.  Dolly Madison rescued the painting of the first president before the British torched the mansion, so W. asked Michelle in his speech to rescue his painting if something went wrong (laughter).  The editors of the documentary did not include any shot of the Obamas sitting on the front row.  Maybe they scowled because at that time, Mr. Obama, a messianic figure, was going to clean up George’s “messes,” like the Iraq War.

But then the political agenda took over.  It was actually laced throughout the two hours. The documentary became either the Obama show or the promotion of the left-wing agenda.

Obama read letters from regular citizens.  One letter was written by a man discussing his unmarried domestic life partner, implying he needs the right to get married.  The other letter was about someone who didn’t have health care, implying that Obamacare fixed the problem.  The missives had nothing to do with how terrible Obamacare is or how the Supreme Court should never have decided what marriage is by one vote for the rest of the nation. No letter explained federalism, which says states should decide these issues, not a centralized bureaucracy of our betters in D.C.

Then Mrs. Obama’s agenda of healthy food in schools was thrown on the screen.  She was exercising with the kids.  I have nothing against a healthy diet in schools or exercising, because we indeed have too many obese children.  It was her cause, a good one to boot.  But what about Laura Bush’s causes, like learning to read?  They showed one photo of Mrs. Reagan’s Just Say No to Drugs campaign.

In fact, the Reagans were shut out except a few photos and clips here and there.  We didn’t hear their voices.  PBS didn’t film him reading any letters written to him or talking about how cutting the federal budget and lowering tax rates improve the economy or how many jobs he created.

Then the documentary showed protests outside the White House – not that they have anything to do with the residence.  They showed some photos of various protests, but it was difficult to figure what they were against.  Then the producers focused not on a pro-life rally, but on the Vietnam War, going back and forth from LBJ looking anxious to the chant, “Hey, Hey, LBJ!  How many kids did you kill today?”

Politics should have been left out of a documentary on the history and inner workings of the White House.

The kicker?  The company name that produced the documentary is Partisan Pictures.

Related

Our Partial Victory in Vietnam

Reagan’s Balanced and Reasonable Politics.

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