This article first appeared on Reaction.
Hillary, Sky Documentaries
There’s nothing quite like a multi-part documentary series on leading American politicians. Just a few weeks ago I wrote about the Amazon Prime series on Bill Clinton and George W Bush, they provided fresh and entertaining insight into two two-term presidents– not always easy in political documentaries.
This month the excellent new Sky Documentaries Channel treated us to a four-part series on Hillary Clinton. I’ll admit that I never thought it would be possible for me to be encouraged to actually like Clinton or see her as anything other than a flawed, machine politician. I would have voted for her in 2016, given the alternative, but even so she has always struck me as someone with an icy personality, slightly devoid of human empathy. This series shatters those assumptions.
Each episode is 90 minutes long and the narrative flips between an overview of Hillary’s life and an insight into her experiences in the 2016 primary and presidential campaigns. A camera crew follows her to each and every campaign event and captures her in quiet moments behind the scenes. There are set-piece interview sessions where she is both reflective and amusing. She certainly seems to have realised what some of her failures as a campaigner were, and how her ‘baggage’ haunted her attempts to persuade the American people she wasn’t quite the heartless witch of their imaginations.
While watching each episode the one thought that was constant was how different the world would have been had she won the presidency. She certainly wouldn’t have been perfect, but she could hardly have been a less competent one than the current incumbent.
Although the series isn’t wholly uncritical of decisions that were made in the campaign and exposes some of the flaws in her choice of campaign personnel, it’s clear that the documentary-makers were wholly sympathetic to her and her goals. In some ways, you would be right to criticise that there wasn’t enough ‘distance’ between them and their subject but given this was in part a fly-on-the-wall documentary, there was always bound to be a bit of Stockholm Syndrome taking place.
If you’re a Trump supporter, you’ll hate this series and think it typical of the liberal mainstream media. If you’re a Hillary supporter, you’ll finish it wondering how it could have all gone so wrong. And if you’re neither, but just a bit of a political geek who likes political docu-dramas, you’ll love it. I promise.
Politics Live, BBC2
Politics Live was one of the early casualties of lockdown, but it was brought back at the end of June once a week on a Wednesday. Because of social distancing there are only one or two guests in the studio with presenter Jo Coburn at any one time. Given the hugger mugger nature of the BBC’s operation at 4 Millbank and the size of the studio (it’s a lot smaller than it looks on TV) it’s a surprise there are any live studio guests at all. Other guests join by Skype or Zoom, which sometimes makes for an awkward discussion, but it’s better than no discussion at all.
This week the BBC decided that when normality returns it will go down from five shows a week to four, and that Andrew Neil won’t be presenting his normal Thursday show. Indeed, his weekly interview show has also been axed, leading to speculation that his relationship with the BBC is about to be completely terminated. This would be an absolute travesty. How can a public service broadcaster appear to be so relaxed at losing their star political interviewer? He’s simply the best in the business.
It had been long rumoured that the BBC was looking to axe Politics Live lock stock and barrel. It’s been given a reprieve, but for how long is anyone’s guess. Questions surely have to be asked about this latest round of cuts in the budget and head count of the BBC News and current affairs departments. The BBC trumpets that it is spending £100 million on diversity, yet then decided that this has to be paid for through further draconian cuts to the very department which ought to be at the centre of what the BBC does, if it has any pretences any longer to be a proper public service broadcaster. The question is, does it?