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  • Click here to read what other visitors had to say about The Choice '96.

    Here is what the press and tv critics said about the program............


    From USA Today

    Writer: Matt Roush

    "An artfully crafted, unexpectedly sensitive and often sobering comparative profile of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole.

    This is the third time FRONTLINE has presented such an election-year bonus, and each improves upon the last. Even when the material is familiar, producer/director Helen Whitney shapes and arranges it with such skill and purpose, it provides a fresh take on our understanding (if not appreciation) of these exhaustively examined public lives.

    After a sly prologue with White House photographers and cartoonists, The Choice settles into a methodical side-by-side exploration of the influences and accomplishments and defeats that shaped two of the most politically expedient personalities ever to compete for high office.

    In an absorbing and entertaining if sometimes indulgent first segment, titled Landscape , Whitney assembles regional writers from the Midwest and the South to glean insight on character from the candidates' geographical roots.

    For Dole, the harsh and often cruel Kansas plains seem to have instilled a natural reticence, a feeling that 'what's of value is not speaking, but doing.' For Clinton, the lush and sensual Arkansas terrain with its all-consuming kudzu vines serves as a metaphor for a man known for excessive appetites and unashamed passions. 'A thinking Bubba,' says former Saturday Evening Post editor Bill Emerson, while journalist Marshall Frady describes Clinton as Jimmy Carter and Billy Carter morphed into the same being.'

    Similarly pungent and critical observations are made as the program moves on to areas including their war records (or lack thereof), their religions (Dole the stoic Methodist, Clinton the voluble Baptist, counting on a 'God of second chances') and their complex relationships with mentor......

    As this two-hour exercise shifts into the political arena, we're left with a sense that despite their different styles and generational temperament, they're brothers under the skin, consensus-building pragmatists who'll reinvent themselves as needed- Dole's 15% tax cut, Clinton signing the welfare reform bill- to claim the ideological center and win.

    Even if you've soured on the process and these participants, The Choice is a fascinating and essential addition to any voter's video reference shelf."

    From The New York Times

    Writer: Walter Goodman

    "Although some weeding out of contributors who have little to offer but personal opinions or flights of speculation wouldn't have hurt the program, close observers like Richard Ben Cramer, a Dole watcher, and David Maraniss, a Clinton biographer, are illuminating, and effective use is made of newsreels through the years.

    ".....It's a revealing two hours. Viewers may come away with the dismaying and perhaps unintended conclusion that however different candidates' backgrounds, styles and beliefs may be, when it comes to running for President expediency wins out."

    From New York Daily News

    Writer: Eric Mink

    "The Choice '96 dissects President Bill Clinton and Sen. Bob Dole with an astuteness-not to mention an artistry-almost never seen on television or even, truth be told, in daily or weekly print journalism."

    "...The Choice '96 goes on to compare the candidates' special gifts- Saturday Night Live comedian/impersonator Darrell Hammond offers a brilliant analysis of Clinton's communication technique-and their response to political adversity.

    The program concludes with an effort to identify something in both men's public lives that might be called a core belief. For Dole, it's battling government deficits; for Clinton, it's health care. If neither seems particularly satisfying, it may be because Clinton and Dole share a kind of bedrock pragmatism that makes them less inclined to embrace fervent beliefs and more likely to seek middle ground.

    No middle ground for The Choice '96, though. Compelling in content and style and original in approach, this program is in a class by itself."

    From The Dallas Morning News

    Writer: Ed Bark

    "Tuesday brings a gem in the form of The Choice '96. Every minute of its two hours glistens and glimmers with informed insight.......whether you're a Republican, a Democrat or fed up, this is the sort of enthralling public affairs reporting that every democracy deserves. Choose The Choice for whatever reason. But don't lose this chance to view the election from all the angles that count.

    Airing as part of the exemplary Frontline series, this is PBS' third quadrennial look at the two principal finalists for the presidency. From the opening bell, it improves on its first-rate predecessors by stating a simple premise: presidential candidates above all are illusionists out to "trick us." Now you see them- no, you really don't."

    ".....The documentary's two principal consultants are Richard Ben Cramer, author ofWhat It Takes., and David Maraniss, whose Clinton biography, First In His Class, is so far the definitive dissection of its subject. Hosts of other writers, editors, and intimates also are interviewed. The President and Mr. Dole occasionally speak for themselves, but only via previous interviews. Theirs is not to answer why. Theirs is to let others see them for what they are, were and want to be.

    'I think what's really fundamental to them both is their agendalessness,' he [Cramer] says, 'They are not about any ideology. They're about the conviction that when the deal goes down , it's they who should be in the center of the table.... And this makes for some terrible shocks to their supporters because the supporters are about some issue, whereas Dole and Clinton are about themselves.

    One doesn't have to agree with any of these assertions to savor The Choice as an altogether unique look at an outwardly humdrum presidential campaign. Here's a program that cares and dares and fares all the better for it. It is easily television's most ambitious, literate and instructive look at the 'endless piece of the theater' ending in Election Day.

    Bravo, Frontline , and likewise, PBS. Many thanks for sending us a classic."

    From The Boston Globe

    Writer: Frederic M. Biddle

    "Early on, the Frontline camera's eye strains a bit: I'm glad Bob Dole's sister, Norma Jean Steele, has informed me that their mother waxed the insides of the family's wastebaskets. Yet this sort of detail also reaches a bit, as if to compensate viewers for having to sit through such oft-told tales as Dole's war injury, or Clinton's defeat and subsequent reelection as Arkansas governor.

    But these are necessary sins in a comprehensive political profile, and The Choice is a good one. The more recent the chapter, the better its analysis by hindsight.

    Consider Washington Post political writer David Maraniss' observation that "the central theme of Clinton's life is a repetitive cycle of loss and recovery.... He's someone who you think of as being the ultimate golden boy, triumphant, someone who at such an early age became president, and yet to understand him and to understand his ability to constantly come back you have to understand that cycle being defined by loss.'

    Corkers like that make even the story of Clinton's loss and reelection in Arkansas seem fresh and relevant. Smile through the occasional distractions of The Choice '96, and keep in mind its main points come Election Day. Although it doesn't address issues, you couldn't ask TV to produce a better, more concise voter's guide."

    From Cleveland Plain Dealer

    Writer: Tom Feran

    "Instead of focusing on political positions The Choice tries for a more personal understanding of Clinton and Dole through the people , pieces, places, and events that helped shape them.

    Forget about politics being boring, or about sound bites, spin and illusions. The Choice is incisive, substantial and thoroughly engrossing. Built from more that 500 research interviews, it will hold some suprises even for political junkies."

    From The Chicago Tribune

    Writer: Steve Johnson

    "... Debates and ads give you the candidates as they would appear to be. They are salesmanship. Profiles give you what they have been. It is the difference between words and deeds. PBS' FRONTLINE more than equal to the task, with a two-hour exploration of the lives of the Men Who Would Be President (and Are On a Major-Party Ticket) that covers much familiar ground but puts it all together into a coherent, knowing whole. Enlisting Bill Clinton biographer David Maraniss and Bob Dole profiler Richard Ben Cramer as consultants, producer Helen Whitney has crafted a meticulous study in the shaping of modern politicians, concluding that Clinton would not be President now if his defeat as Arkansas governor had not taught him how to cast himself as a moderate, and that Dole still bears profound scars of his childhood poverty and wartime experience. An intriguing section at the end casts the two men as brothers, with much more in common than is immediately apparent."

    From Houston Chronicle

    Writer: Ann Hodges

    "If there is such a thing as presidential psychoanalysis by TV, PBS' Frontline does it. The Choice '96 the best chance yet, and probably the best you're going to get on TV, to see what makes Bill Clinton and Bob Dole run.

    The people interviews for this are not just TV's same old talking head know-it-alls, thank goodness. And this program digs far deeper than the usual biographical point-and-counterpoint. It's beautifully done, and what it says so eloquently is underscored by a rich vein of films, still photos and family album pages.

    It begins in the very different places these two came from, Kansas and Arkansas. 'Poets tell us the land is the map of the soul,' as the narrator explains. 'Our first landscapes are written into us, and as years pass, convey the essential lines of our character.'

    From those roots it moves to other areas of influence-war, mentors, political victories and defeats, even religious beliefs. And in the end, the political personas emerge- surprisingly in almost the same way they did in Sunday night's first debate."

    From Atlanta Constitution

    Writer: Drew Jubera

    "...The Choice '96 frames candidates Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in ways that feel far more developed than the public personas they've constructed for themselves. The personal is the political here: the opposing landscapes they grew up on, the God they worship, their defeats, their gifts."

    "...It's fascinating the way reading a horoscope is fascinating: Everything fits. But like a horoscope, it sometimes fits too well. All Southerners become lusty loudmouths; all Midwesterners stoic tight-lips. Then Dole is shown crying no less than three times, while the women in Clinton's life are strangely invisible.

    Yet it's this biographical sign reading that gets closest to these men's souls. By the end, they're defined as much by what they've lost as what they've gained, and we're moved in ways that no debate or campaign speech can move us."

    From Seattle Times

    Writer: John Voorhees

    "The Choice looks at President Clinton and former Sen. Bob Dole - but before you groan and grumble about how this election campaign seems to have gone on for four years, be advised that The Choice '96 manages to bring some fresh slants and insights to two overly familiar subjects.

    The goal of producer Helen Whitney, who co-wrote the script with Jane Barnes, in consultation with Richard Ben Cramer (for Dole) and David Maraniss (for Clinton), was to examine the factors that shaped these two men. To that end, the program examines their roots and backgrounds, what influences were at work during their growing-up period. It looks at their families, mentors and beliefs. While both men are political animals, politics, in the form of campaign speeches and promises, are definitely downplayed.

    The program also offers a wide and refreshing range of commentators. There are a few well-known names--Gail Sheehy, John Ehrlichman, Haynes Johnson, Bob Woodward and Sen. Alan Simpson and Mark Hatfield. Most of those who offer information, thoughts and assessment about President Clinton and Dole may be unfamiliar but they offer interesting insights into the two men.

    In the long run, The Choice '96 is probably of greater use to voters than the debates."

    And click here to send us your own thoughts and comments about "The Choice '96"............

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