once upon a time in arkansas

walter goodman/the new york times
"'Once Upon A Time In Arkansas' presents no new smoking guns about Whitewater. But the air in Little Rock was evidently so fetid that the whole place was smoking all the time. "
"...This hour focuses on the good-old-boy friendships and favors that embroiled the Clintons in a shaky operation in the first place and then caused a falling out among the sometime partners. Mr. Boyer suggests that it was the couple's effort to distance themselves from their old and obliging pal, Jim McDougal, even while trying to squeeze a few thousand dollars more out of him in his time of trouble that sorrowed and angered him enough to implicate them in his embarrassments."
"...So stands the tale known as Whitewater. Viewers may be left with the dismaying sense that the one person in Arkansas for whom politics was very much a full-time, lifetime vocation, never mind the money, was Bill Clinton but that he could not say no to the kindness of friends."

The Oregonian by Pete Schulberg
FRONTLINE, the PBS documentary series, launches its 16th season by nicely and clearly laying out the perspective and--hurray!--the explanation that Whitewater challenged people have longed for."
"...Even the title of the one-hour program--"Once Upon A Time In Arkansas"--conjures up the fairy-tale belief that maybe Whitewater isn't such a mind boggling morass after all.
"...Correspondent Peter Boyer slowly and methodically offers the unfolding story of shady deals, alleged cover-ups and shenanigans involving Arkansas' political leaders in the days when Bill Clinton was making a name for himself and Jim McDougal was making money."
"The one drawback to "Once Upon A Time In Arkansas" is its reliance on photos and camera panning of documents. Clearer graphics--the kind the commercial networks use ad nauseam--could have made the hour even more sprightly.
But fret no more. Whitewater made simple is a welcome accomplishment."

New York Daily News by Eric Mink
"Tonight's FRONTLINE meanwhile, does a remarkable job of clarifying the facts and real issues of the dizzying Whitewater story. At the end of the hour, however, despite the Herculean efforts of producer/director/co-writer Michael Kirk and co-writer/correspondent Peter Boyer, viewers are unlikely to shed the 'so what?' feeling most have had about this story since it first surfaced.
FRONTLINE too brings Whitewater to life, in a dizzying series of graphics that range from footage meant to suggest McDougal's old Jaguar to some old snaps of a bearded Bill Clinton that the president might want to bury even deeper than the details of McDougal's "dirt" deals."

Denver Post by Joanne Ostrow
"The FRONTLINE hour is , in the vernacular, a black hole for the average couch potato. It sucks the energy from the room into an incredibly dense point somewhere over there.
In the FRONTLINE documentary, correspondent Peter Boyer insinuates himself into the story, on camera, in a distracting way, as he traces the history of the close knit circle in Little Rock who were politically ambitious and, apparently, not so well-versed in real estate."
"...When it's all done, however, we're still confused.
First of all, what's Boyer doing in that Jag? Secondly, Bill and Hillary Clinton did not get rich. (Show us the money!) And what are we to make of Jim McDougal, who seems less credible each time we hear from him on screen? (Is he trying to sell a book from the vantage point of his prison cell?) Susan McDougal isn't talking, except to say the whole of Whitewater could have been avoided if Bill Clinton had been a better friend to Jim McDougal."
"...So Boyer has his say, critics who claim PBS has a liberal bias will be momentarily mollified, and FRONTLINE can spend the rest of its season on more global concerns."

Boston Herald by Monica Collins
"There is no startling news here, but the overall impact of the documentary, titled "Once Upon a Time In Arkansas" is quite powerful. The Clintons come out looking bad--Hillary Clinton worse than President Bill.
This FRONTLINE --which opens the 16th season of the distinctive PBS public affairs series--flies in the face of conventional theories about a liberal public TV agenda. Bias has nothing to do with it. This program represents the efforts of good, solid journalistic digging and careful explanation of a complicated issue."
"...Beyond the facts about Whitewater, "Once Upon a Time In Arkansas" presents a brief about Clinton's character. Bill Clinton deserts friends. He is an opportunist. Then again, he is president.
And Hillary Clinton--described here as "so pulled in" by Claudia Riley, an eminent Arkansas--is the power behind the throne. "His destiny was in her hands," says Riley.
Destiny, deception, duplicity--FRONTLINE lays it all out for your inspection. At the end of the film, you will inevitably be disheartened, especially as allegations about White House fund raising swirl around the headlines.
Is there any politician to believe and believe in?"

Boston Globe by Michael Blowen
"The clear-headed essence of this episode is not that it reveals new information but that it helps us understand what has already transpired. Boyer also understands, as many reporters don't, how politics work in Arkansas, where the governor makes less than an employee for the Department of Public Works."
"...What Boyer adds to the oft-told story are the same elements that transformed Louisiana's legendary demagogue, Governor Huey Long, into Robert Penn Warren's Willie Stark in "All the King's Men." The great literary themes of friendship betrayed, ideals dissipated, and greed spoiling it for everybody go straight to the center of the story."

Atlanta Constitution
"After watching the hour-long FRONTLINE viewers may think they understand the mess that's come to be known as Whitewater.
The New Yorker staff writer Peter Boyer is FRONTLINE's storyteller, and he tells a folksy tale, one that turns on boyhood friendships and adult betrayals. "
"...Along the way, Boyer manages to demystify certain aspects of the case that have attracted the most attention. He paints a convincing portrait of White House counsel Foster, for instance, as deeply depressed individual who may have taken his job as Hillary's defender too seriously. His suicide--and those who think Foster was murdered must look elsewhere for clues--'had unexpected consequence,' Boyer says. 'It brought Whitewater back to life.'

Denver Rocky Mountain News by Dusty Saunders
"Numerous surveys show that the eyes of the public glaze over when the subject of Whitewater comes up.
A major reason: The financial wheeling and dealing is too tangled for the average citizen to understand."
FRONTLINE public television's widely praised documentary series, begins its 16th season tonight by attempting--and partially succeeding--to turn that glaze into a sharp focus.
Lead by correspondent Peter Boyer, "Once Upon a Time In Arkansas" takes viewers on a fascinating journey through time--and Arkansas--in an attempt to show how personal and political relationships formed the twisted financial bond of land deals and alleged cover-ups that have come to be known as Whitewater. And it is Whitewater, some say, they eventually will bring disgrace to the presidency of Bill Clinton."
"...FRONTLINE's report is hindered by the style of Boyer's journey. We too often see the front end of a car, supposedly Boyer's, traveling the highways and byways of the state. This is an ineffective attempt to provide a 'you-are-there' feeling to the show the 'Arkansas context."
Also, the hour features several gimmicky, unnecessary re-creations of events.
But the explanations of close personal and political relationships that led to Whitewater are first-rate."
"...As intelligent documentaries should, FRONTLINE answers more questions than it asks.
And for the average viewer, the hour in addition to clearing up past hazy references, provides an informative primer for use as the story unfolds."

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