"...A crucial theme in this week's five-part Nightline series and next week's complementary two-hour Frontline episode is that American politics and policy in the '90s were not dominated by the president as much as they were shaped by the complex and confounding relationship between Bill and Hillary Clinton.
There is Bill as philanderer enmeshed in scandal and Hillary as the loyal wife keeping him afloat. Bill as the flexible, intuitive pol and Hillary as the unyielding true believer. Bill seeking relevance by pressing for such small-bore measures as the V-chip and Hillary seeking dramatic overhaul of the health-care system. Even now, as Bill scrambles to cement a legacy in the last days of his presidential career, Hillary comes to the Senate as an ascendant political power.
As Frontline correspondent Chris Bury puts it: 'Some White House insiders likened their relationship to a seesaw: when he was down, she was up.' It might not have been quite that simple. And these documentaries don't stoop to treat the marriage like some cheesy soap opera. But there's little about 'The Clinton Years' that isn't a byproduct of the couple's complicated chemistry...."
" ...Unlike many retrospectives that are approaching the Clinton years through the lens of specific issues such as welfare and the environment, the ABC/PBS collaboration looks at how the internal politics and the politician's decision-making style and even his marriage affected his campaign and two terms. Because insiders were forced to react to them, the broadcast ends up with a heavy emphasis on the constant personal attacks that plagued the Clinton White House.
After conducting the first few interviews, [Tom] Bettag [executive producer of Nightline] says the program made the 'big bold decision to only do it with people who were in the White House,' from disgraced advisor Dick Morris to current Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.
It was the 'ambivalence' in their recollections that captured Nightline's attention, Bettag says. 'On the face of it, you'd think we'd get pandering and all these spin-meisters,' but instead, in addition to admiration for Clinton, "at the same time we got a sense of betrayal, the bittersweek tone of the insiders. I think that's much more interesting than if we interviewed Newt Gingrich on what he thinks of Bill Clinton.'
As such, the show has a clear point of view. As correspondent Chris Bury sums up in the opening of the Frontline documentary, Clinton 'never really did answer the question that has come to define his presidency: how could a modern American politician cheat death so often?...'"
"...It is interesting and rich stuff, very good television. Bill and Hillary, Gennifer Flowers, Vince Foster, Newt Gingrich, Monica Lewinsky, Henry Hyde and all the shameless old gang flash again across the screen. The old pictures, often compelling, are used differently in the two versions, and so are interviews with 20 of the men and women who spent time in the Clinton orbit.
Not surprisingly, both documentaries are dominated by the most overexposed of Clinton's coat holders. George Stephanopoulos, David R. Gergen, James Carville, Dick Morris and Paul Begala all demonstrate why they practically have their own channels these days.
Nonmedia professionals, including Robert E. Rubin, the former treasury secretary, and Samuel R. Berger, the national security advisor, have more complicated and substantive stories but not quite the same telling skills. The one person who does policy and anecdotes equally well is the president's old friend and disillusioned secretary of labor, Robert B. Reich.
The Nightline version, narrated of course by Ted Koppel, seems a bit more complex. The Frontline version, narrated by Chris Bury of ABC News, is more judgmental. Right at the top, at least in the rough cut, Mr. Bury compares Mr. Clinton to Elvis Presley, talks of 'a wild and crazy ride' and then asserts that the defining question of the presidency was, 'how could a modern American politician cheat death so often?'
But in the end both Nightline and Frontline focus on the same story line: Hillary Rodham Clinton -- or the tortured relationship between husband and wife -- inevitably destroyed the Clinton presidency...."
"...'The Clinton Years' has unearthed some fascinating documentary shards. Reporters obtained great access and candid interviews with former aides, and producers unearthed riveting photos and video footage.
But in the end, 'The Clinton Years' presents a curiously cramped view of the preeminent politician of our day.
That Clinton drives his opponents to paroxysms of rage, that Clinton discards friends without a look back, that Clinton triangulates so often as to make one despair at knowing his core is indisputable. One cannot account for his presidency without wrestling with the enigma of the man and his morphs.
'Uniquely, you might say slickly, he turned the tables on the press," says Nightline correspondent Chris Bury.
Yes, you might say that. And you might also wonder...where's the rest of the story? For one, what of those many Republicans who spent a decade baying after Clinton's misdeeds, real and imagined?
... One needn't embrace the first lady's conception of a vast right-wing conspiracy to acknowledge that the Clintons attracted some powerful and persistent antagonists.
...Which is not to argue that 'The Clinton Years' is without merit. The chaos of the president's first years in office, the role played in his resurrection by Dick Morris, the many missteps taken by the first lady, are nicely illuminated.
And there's the fascination of listening to former aides dissect their former boss. Clinton treated aides as ballast, to be cut loose when he was in need of greater political loft. Now they have repaid him in kind, and twice over...."
"ABC's Nightline and PBS's Frontline, two of TV news' finest, have joined in an unusual resource-sharing arrangement to sum up our eight years on the Bill Clinton roller coaster and make sure TV viewers don't miss the fact that the ride is coming to an end. ...
More than chronicles of backstage political life, the specials are, in a sense, reminiscent of the final Seinfeld episode. Just as that farewell program took pains to point out that the central characters were less than admirable human beings, these documentaries, just by retelling the old Clinton stories, have the effect of confronting viewers with exactly how evasive and, yes, slick, this president has been, especially considering his still-high public approval ratings.
The oh-that-Bill tolerance many people feel toward him is a less comfortable posture after watching either or both versions of 'The Clinton Years.'
You see Clinton, all over again, lying to everyone about Gennifer Flowers, sneaking Dick Morris into the policymaking inner circle, taking no action, for a time, without pre-testing its popularity in a poll, lying to everyone about Monica Lewinsky.
And you see him, to an astonishing degree, getting away with it all. Indeed, his ability to go to the brink without falling over is the central theme of the slightly more analytical piece Nightline correspondent Chris Bury has done for Frontline.
Ted Koppel's Nightline effort is more episodic, leaving the analysis to the interview subjects and being sure to include, of course, historical footage of Koppel interviewing Clinton...."
"... as 'spectacular' as ABC's access was, and for all the candor of departing Clinton staffers and Cabinet officers, the series -- in both parts -- is likely to leave political junkies and the merely astute with a certain sense of void. Something is clearly missing here.
What it is, of course, is the other half of the Clinton story. All but completely absent from this retrospective are the Clintons' highly vocal, highly active and grievously overreaching enemies. Watching this series is a little like watching a history of the War in the Pacific with only passing mention of the Japanese.
There are no interviews with Newt Gingrich, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Majority Leader Dick Armey, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, much less any reference to the role of the Clintons' nearly rabid Arkansas antagonists or well-heeled, free-spending ideological adversaries like Richard Scaife. More to the point, there's not even a line of questioning pursuing the effect such virulent, highly personalized antipathy had on Clinton strategies, decision-making and legislation...."
"In the kind of joint production that looks to be the future of in-depth reporting on television, ABC News' Nightline and PBS' Frontline team up for a fascinating look back at the Clinton administration, 'The Clinton Years,' starting tonight on ABC....
The power for both productions in provided by a great ABC News video archive coupled with recent interviews by Bury with 20 or so senior staffers and cabinet members in the Clinton administration. These include James Carville, political strategist; Dee Dee Myers, press secretary; Dick Morris, chief political strategist; Paul Begala, senior White House advisor; Robert Reich, secretary of labor; Leon Panetta, White House chief of staff; George Stephanopolous, senior White House advisor; Madeleine Albright, secretary of state; and Donna Shalala, secretary of health and human services....
'This is not the first draft of history,' Koppel says in an ABCNews.com Web site interview. 'It's too soon for that. Consider "The Clinton Years," instead, a second draft of video journalism.'
By that standard, both versions of 'The Clinton Years' are important and worthwhile productions that will be especially appealing in an emotional sense for those who are going to miss having a Democrat in the White House. But remember, this is not history."
"...I'm sure it was a lot of work sifting through eight years of video clips and then stringing them together in time to get it all on TV before Bill Clinton leaves the White House Jan. 20. But I didn't learn a blessed thing or gain one iota of new insight into the Clinton presidency as a result of all that labor.
For reasons not all apparent from the final product, Nightline and Frontline joined forces and pooled resources to create two versions of essentially the same thing, each with their own over-long pompous rehash of every oft-told story in the Clinton canon -- from Gennifer Flowers to Monica Lewinsky.
... the war stories come across as self-serving, not to mention stale, since it seemed as if I'd heard most of these tales before. Indeed, the tellers have become such fixtures on the TV-interview circuit that they've inevitably visited the same scenes of past glory dozens of times already.
Nightline and Frontline are usually two of the most praiseworthy news programs around. That's why it's so surprising that the result of their first-ever collaboration is the creation of two overly hyped clip jobs."
"Tonight through Friday, ABC's Nightline presents a riveting review of eight incredible years in the White House West Wing....
On Jan. 16, PBS' Frontline covers the same pothole-strewn road - even more compellingly - in its two-hour piece. So if you miss one of this week's Nightlines, catch up with next week's Frontline. It's a bit more fleshed out.
The portrait these programs paint is of a man who seemed to have the qualities to be great, but wasn't; a man of canny and consummate political skill done in by problems of his own making and the flaws in his character.
That picture is painted, mind you, by key players of his White House team. That's just one thing that makes 'The Clinton Years' such a remarkable video history.
Never before have a president's closest aides spoken on-camera with such candor..."