Last night's viewing - Clinton, PBS; My Social Network Stalker: True Stories, Channel 4
"There's a stick-to-itness in this man that's just phenomenal," someone said at the beginning of Clinton, PBS's four-part documentary about the 42nd President of the United States. There wasn't much doubt in the tone of voice that "stick-to-itness" is a virtue, but then what makes Clinton such an intriguing subject for a biographical profile is that it was usually his own vices that made him come unstuck in the first place. And that this was to be the portrait of a flawed man, and not a great one, was explicit from the opening frames of the film, which began with Clinton's moist-eyed apology to America from the White House Rose Garden: "Quite simply, I gave in to my shame," he said.
The anecdotes that immediately followed reinforced the sense of an opportunity squandered. Joe Klein recalled an instance of his genius as a stump campaigner, when Clinton impulsively knelt to comfort a distressed woman in a town hall meeting. And then Dee Dee Myers, his one-time press secretary, said something mordantly undercutting of such moments of empathy. "The only way you can have that moment over and over," she said, "is if you really aren't interested."
The full political disillusion will be explored in later episodes, I suspect, but this opener was concerned with precocious talent and early achievements. And one of the odd things about it was how easily it might have been the first episode of a biography of the first female President of the United States. Hillary wasn't always an electoral asset to Clinton – when he was first running for office in Arkansas they preferred to hide her in a back office because her Chicago liberalism frightened the voters – but the implication here was that she was essential as backbone, belief and brains. When Clinton's ambition was catalysed by hers it became something prodigious. Unfortunately, from the very earliest days, his appetites were large in other respects too. He had so many skeletons in the cupboard that there was barely room for a wire coat-hanger alongside them – a fact that forced him to draw back at the very last minute from his first run at the Presidency. Instead, he had to settle for giving the nomination speech for Michael Dukakis at the national convention, an occasion that went catastrophically wrong for him, with the crowd jeering his dullness. Typically, he went on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson the next night, did some self-deprecating stuff and had turned it to his advantage by the end of the broadcast. If you loved The West Wing – but like a few warts with your idealism – this is for you.
Near the end of My Social Network Stalker: True Stories, Ruth Jeffery's mum said: "She doesn't trust her own instincts now." To which, despite having every sympathy with the horrible ordeal Ruth had been through, one could only murmur, "Thank God for that." Because the unavoidable truth was that Ruth's instincts had let her down grievously. After reconnecting with an old boyfriend from school, she started to become the victim of online harassment, with intimate photographs of her being posted on adult websites and her own social networks being hacked and used to blacken her character. And, despite the fact that her own boyfriend had taken the pictures that were being sent to her friends and relatives, she doggedly resisted the idea that he might be involved.
Incredibly, she let him persuade her to pose for sex videos as well, which then also turned up online. "I never thought anyone would end up seeing them," she said, and this after months of distress at the invasion of her privacy. Her father eventually fingered the culprit, who got four months in jail and a five-year restraining order. I'm not sure Ruth's instincts were right in agreeing to take part in this film either, to be honest. It compounded her exposure unnecessarily and seems as likely to have fed the trolls as shamed them.
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