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PSC 305: Presidency and Congress

Students' Notes on Documentary Videos

Compiled by Dr. Jeremy Lewis, revised 5 Jan. 2016

PBS, "The Real Life of Ron Reagan"
CBS, "Watergate: Secret Story"
PBS, "The Long March of Newt Gingrich."
PBS, "Rise and Fall of Newt Gingrich"
PBS, "Debating Our Destiny." (moved to debating notes page)
Freedom Forum, Sander Vanocur, "Television and the Presidency."
PBS Frontline, "The Clinton Years."
PBS, "The War Room" (moved to PSC 311 videos page)
ABC, One Minute to Midnight: The Cuban Missile Crisis
PBS, Nixon in China



PBS, "The Real Life of Ron Reagan"
Themes of documentary
By Jeremy Lewis
Reagan shows the value of an entertainment career as preparation for politics in the media age.
Conservative Californians found in Reagan an excellent front man whose campaign abilities transcended his limited governing experience.
He was the first president to be a product of campaign handlers and image makers, though he also had a clear ideology and a strong managerial style of orderly delegation.
He also shows the weaknesses, in understanding public policy and doing his homework, of someone with limited experience in elective office.
His lack of interest in foreign policy would lead him into trouble from 1984-86 when international difficulties needed a more attentive president.
Reagan's Early Life: 1930s and 1940s
By Jeremy Lewis
Reagan in early life faced insecurity from frequent moves, poverty in the Great Depression, and from an alcoholic father.
As a young man he saved [at least 77] lives in the local swimming place on the river.
In Eureka college he played in dramas and learned neoclassical economics.
His warm voice brought him early success in a Des Moines radio station as a sports announcer.
When Hollywood boomed he found success as a leading "B" movie actor, playing amiable yet strong characters.
He was a director's dream, easy to work with -- a quality much loved by his political handlers.
He made one more serious film, "King's Row"; in wartime he made propaganda or morale-raising movies in which he played military heroes.
His first marriage to a serious actress Jane Wyman, fell apart -- he would transcend this difficulty be become the first divorced president.
As president of the Screen Actor's Guild he developed political skills during a period of tension between McCarthyites and liberals over fears of communism.  (He was also accused of creating backroom deals with a studio.)
"B" movies declined in the 1950s, television rose in popularity and Reagan's film career waned.
The 1950s, 1960s, Governorship, 1970s, and early presidency.
By Dan McGraw, 2002
-Reagan remarried to Nancy who was more willing to be in a supportive role
-1954 he became host of GE television show
-his voice and personality was used to appeal to the public
-Reagan was sent on a tour ment to keep the regional VPs off the show but turned it into more of a political campaign
-he was liked for his ability to read the audience and he was thought to be the ideal male at the time
-he was fired from the GE show and hosted a series of conservative propaganda movies against "big government"
-1966 announced he was running for gov. of CA
-he was rediculed for being a spokesman and actor
-his campaign manager had to teach him the basic workings of the government
-was elected gov. of CA
-while in office he was kept up to date by one page memos from his staff...he would read the one page and act as though he had
been following the situation all along
-he preached tax cuts and cuts to education but actually raised both
-he announced he was running for the nomination for the presidency but was beaten by Nixon
-1976 was his first real run ....Ford won the nomination
-1980 at 69 yrs old he tried again
-Reagan's team stole Carter's notes before their debate and knew every word Carter was going to say and how to rebut
-he won the presidency and became the 40th president of the United States
-once again he focused on tax cuts but left the logistics to someone else
-he was shot on his left side shortly after giving a speach
-his remarkable recovery made it hard to redicule him
-82-83 depression set in and his approval rating was a low 35%
-reagan started to focus on military spending
-he proposed the idea of "Star Wars" an anti-missile defense system
-Reagan was not at all involved in forgein affairs
-he left most of the military decesions to his staff
-he enjoyed the benefits of an economic surge after the short depression
-84 was re-elected though lacked key men from his last four years
-the keys losses made his second four years much less successful
... continued ...
Ron Reagan: -foreign policy
Carly Nichols
the president wanted the contra's support
contra's were illegal at the time
Reagan gave the contra's millions of US dollars  and arms
Reagan wanted to keep communism out of Central America
The public challenged his honesty and the president denied that the US traded arms in return for hostages
Oliver North and Poindexter took the fall for Reagan and were convicted of illegal allocation of funds
-Reagan rebounded by signing a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Gorbechev
Reagan did not think of himself as a politician but as an ex-actor





video, CBS, "WATERGATE: The Secret Story"
2002 notes, edited by Lewis
What flaws brought down the otherwise capable presidency of Richard Nixon?
Burglary itself: Origins of Plumbers' unit: Purposes in campaign tricks: the cover up... Investigation Obstruction the hearings -- and the courts ... Executive Privilege claim: Who is deep throat? Outcomes?



CBS, WATERGATE, first half
by Brandy Smith, 2004.  Raw notes.

Watergate Video, second half
By Ryan Rice, 2004


PBS Frontline, Peter Boyer, "The Long March of New Gingrich," (1996).
PBS.org, transcript (video itself is no longer available from PBS.org)
How do parties play their roles in winning control of Congress and leading on policy?
What are the roles of the Speaker, majority leader, minority leader and whips?
What does the example of Gingrich tell us about the limits of leadership in the House?
Early life: Young man: Early career: Peak of career:


PBS, Rise and Fall of Newt Gingrich video (no longer available from PBS)
notes by Jeremy Lewis, Spring 2008
1996 Budget bill caused the confrontation with President Clinton.
Gingrich's style involved long hours of meetings, energetic leadership.
Independent counsel Kenneth Starr called for investigation and impeachment. Press still only interested in Lewinsky scandal.  Dems: censure president rather than impeach.  Clinton apologized and admitted sinned.  G: still pressing perjury angle. [budget plan -- confrontation despite Rubs loss in 1995] 1996 Campaign: handling of impeachment and budget expected to pay off in election.


PBS, Fall of Newt Gingrich video
notes by Liz Arnett 4-22-04

     The theme of the movie is the frustration that Newt Gingrich has during the Clinton scandal with Monica Lewinsky. The movie re-iterates how powerful Newt Gingrich was during 1994, when Gingrich masterminded the first Republican take over in Congress. In 1996 Gingrich was blamed for a bill that would not be passed by Congress but the president at that time, Bill Clinton, wanted it to be passed. In response to this, the Government shut down.
     September 9 was the date that news media focused in on President Bill Clinton. This marks when the news, along with the rest of the world, about the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky affair. This put a lot of pressure on Gingrich because everyone wanted to know how the Congress and Senate would vote about Clinton’s punishment. Instead of being hasty, Gingrich assess the public and political consequences before making any decisions. Many of the Republican Congressmen came back from being at home and make the claim that everyone they heard or talked to all said the same thing, get Clinton out of there. The problem with this is whether or not these people saying these things are supporters of their Congressmen or if it is a fair representation of the American people.
     The vote in the House of Representatives on whether to release all information on the Clinton scandal was 350-360. The public was very upset when they saw the tapes of Bill Clinton’s testimony, and became very angry with the Republican Party because they felt that this was a political scam. Also they felt that this was too intrusive on the President. This led to the thickening of the division between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Luckily Gingrich still got his bill on drugs passed anyway, 365-10.
     Democrats decide that they would rather censure Bill Clinton instead of impeaching him. Gingrich felt that there was enough to impeach him but not convict him. House of Representatives brings all articles of impeachment and Senate listen to all evidence and both vote, Senate votes like a jury. The decision was made to impeach the President, and Gingrich tries to separate himself from all that is going on. Gingrich is now focused on the upcoming elections.
     He begins to travel the country because he wants the majority of seats to be Republican. Unfortunately, the thing that would hurt the Republicans is the fact that no one has passed a bill on the issue of the budget. So now they are trying to get everything together to pass their budget plan so that the government won’t shut down. Some Republicans were upset because they felt that Clinton had too much say so in the bill. The House of Representatives pass the spending bill anyway.
     In order to help his campaign, he went to visit an elementary school to soften his public image, and it did. {According to Dr. Lewis, two years after you have been in office is when you are very vulnerable to not being re-elected. But after that point, you are pretty safe.} Newt goes around to certain districts and helps other congressmen in their campaign for re-election. {He <Newt Gingrich> draws contrasts between Republican Party and Democrat Party to rally the Party base.} The problem that Gingrich runs into in the end is that this election year is being completely ignored due to the Clinton scandal. Gingrich says that it is almost like the election isn’t even happening.




Sander Vanocur, "Television and the Presidency." (Freedom Forum and Vanderbilt University, 1994)
A thoughtful look at how our nation's leaders have used, or been used by, TV.

How did president Reagan become a hero?
When did president Reagan make the transition from actor to politician?
Are there consistent patterns of presidential behavior with the media?
Are some presidents able to use the media, while others are used by the media?
What are the characteristics of State of the Union speeches, and who are the target audiences?
The pre-TV presidents:
FDR learned to use radio to great effect (fireside chats).
Truman considered TV but felt it lacked an audience at the time.
Ike was uneasy on TV, but managed to convey reassurance without saying anything substantive.
(Ike's campaign spots not shown)
The Successes:
Kennedy first successful TV president.  At ease with himself, confident and charming in stonewalling reporters' questions.
First president to use live televised press conferences, although TV not yet a dominant medium
recognition of means to bypass Congress and speak directly to the people, but wary of safeguarding relations with Congress
live TV equipment was still bulky and inconvenient
Reagan the first president since Kennedy to be persuasively at ease with himself on TV.
Live reporting from WH was convenient by then
the man matched the medium
For a decade, RWR had been spokesman for GE all-electric homes, highly experienced on TV
self-deprecatory humor valuable on TV
Successes are comfortable with themselves on TV, use humor
JFK "life is unfair" speech
RWR Normandy memorial speech
The TV Failures:
JFK family very interesting and entertaining for TV, but Carter family dull on TV
RMN: "I am not a crook" speech
LBJ and RMN under great pressure from reporters.  TV showed graphically the flaws in each man.  TV coverage of VN and Chicago riots felled LBJ, televised Watergate hearings felled Nixon.
LBJ installed TV studio in WH, staffed around the clock -- unfortunately, LBJ interrupted late night Bonanza for announcement of sending troops to Dominican Republic, 1965.
LBJ so persuasive in private but so unsettling on TV -- people recoiled from his TV character
Tet, Vietnamese new year offensive by Vietcong, and riots at home, 1968 Chicago Democratic convention -- widely shown on TV.
LBJ "will not seek and will not accept the nomination" speech wrenching on TV
RMN understood systematic use of TV with a daily event before noon deadline for TV
VP Spiro Agnew campaigned against press
but Nixon staff learned never to blame the press
TV was way behind print on the Watergate story, and they were well behind the Washington Post.  Wire services were not picking up the story.
McGovern complained about campaign dirty tricks, but not covered much except for a late effort by Walter Cronkite on CBS.
Watergate hearings shown on TV extensively, with daily testimony
Ford was a graceful athlete, but appeared bumbling and was shown golfing while VN fell.
Chevy Chase caricatured Ford falling all over SNL TV set
Carter comfortable in answering questions but awkward in set pieces (fireside chats).
Era of constant videotape, faster editing
Carter damaged by attack rabbit story and more seriously by hostage crisis in Iran
The Present and Future:
Clinton?
had a poor introduction to TV giving the convention nomination speech for Dukakis, too long.
Reintroduced in 1992:
Unconventional in using TV, eg Larry King alk show, playing Sax on Arsenio talk show, and answering questions about underwear on MTV.
But he avoided using White House press corps, thereby failing to reach the 30M viewers on nightly news, worsened his relations with press.
Nature of the medium:
Shines intense light on subject's character strength or flaws.
Three commanding networks now mutated in age of constant CNN coverage where everything abroad is covered from perspective of White House beat.
Global reach and instant reactions
CNN gives equal weight to all incidents, puts pressure on President to intervene abroad and to respond urgently, rhetorically to visual coverage of atrocities,
eg Bosnia where in a live hookup Christiane Amanpour of CNN demanded that Clinton intervene.
Ornstein: TV works for congress occasionally vis-a-vis presidency -- but normally shows just a few speakers in an empty chamber, inability to speak in a nutshell
national daily clip on nightly news placed focus strongly on presidency
1950s: Senate and House leaders held weekly press conferences, carried on TV -- but never since then
TV needs stars and president fills the bill
centralization of stories on WH requires reporters to be generalists -- no more experts out covering the departments
Salinger: foreign policy deeply affected by TV coverage of foreign places
Dee Dee Myers: Berlin wire (later wall) under JFK took 3 days for film to reach US -- today's instant coverage could have meant war.
Clinton ambushed on Bosnia by Christiane Amanpour on live TV via satellite -- he responded firmly
Presidents caught by the press on odd stories, not showing leadership:
Nessen: presidents feel need to respond instantly
Jody Powell: Carter and the "attack bunny" story.
Gerry Ford caught on vacation at palm Springs when pressed by Press about Vietnam.  Wisely decided on on action.
Ron Nessen: 1975 Fall of Saigon, boat people stories, during Ford's golf vacation at Palm Springs.
Kennedy also pressed on action.
Imagine Cuban Missile crisis in instant TV era -- difficult to wait for second, moderate letter from Soviets
Clinton pressed on Somalia: Crisis atmosphere from Mogadishu incident, troops dragged through streets
Clinton and Beverly Hills haircut on AF1.
Fitzwater: Tiananmen Square 1989, Bush had to measure his response daily to speed of events, intensity of images
Gwen Ifill: FDR spoke on submarine attack on camera -- but press did not show his disability.
Reagan "shining city on a hill" rhetoric. manipulation of TV
Ed Fouhy: TV is the agora of modern times -- but internet may replace it.
Russell Baker: complaining about TV is like complaining about the air we breathe
Gwen Ifill: Presidency expected to show leadership even when not really feasible.




PBS Frontline, "The Clinton Years."
notes by Jeremy Lewis, April 2006
How successful was president Clinton in adapting to political circumstances?
Did president Clinton demonstrate permanent values -- or political agility?
Clinton campaign survives scandalous accusations in January 1992, to become surprise winner of election.
Staff initially didn't understand how vulnerable Clinton would become to "bimbo eruptions".
Upon taking office, incoming campaign team shocked by Washington reactions.
Gays in military forced as issue by press, required delicate compromise with Defenses dept.
Zoe Baird nomination, first female Attorney General, not properly vetted.
Press office walled off from White house staff, causing much dissent from media.
Chaotic style of Bill Clinton, used to free wheeling seminars.
Panetta argued young staff needed to be reduced in order to streamline, structure meetings.
Shock of discovering Republicans had left budget in dire shape, hence Clinton would have to break campaign promises to keep down federal spending.
Shift back to Right in spring 1993.
Clinton hired conservative economic advisers such as Robert Rubin, and refocussed on reducing deficit.
Powerful Greenspan was given seat at State of Union /Budget message to highlight his importance.
Obliged to sacrifice the investment agenda.
Gergen advised Clinton he had lurched to left in campaign, misunderstood Washington.
Gergen then took over Stephanopoulos' duties, who became presidential adviser.
Liberal staff from campaign very disappointed by policy and staff changes.
Summer: suicide of Vince Foster, Hillary's law partner from Arkansas.
Budget stalled in congressional gridlock, prompting TV address which moved public.  Arm-twisting for votes on floor.  Sen. Kerrey cast essential vote, then VP Gore broke tie to pass budget through Senate.
Health care task force under First Lady, return for Hillary's support, and fulfillment for "Vote for one, get two" slogan from campaign.  Novel use of First Lady.  West wing offices "Hillaryland" for First Lady's staff.
Whitewater investigated by Washington Post, involving Hillary.  WHS declines to hand over Whitewater papers.
Co-presidency on Whitewater and health care issues.
1993-94 year of scandals and investigations
Troopergate: accusations that Gov. Clinton had used troopers to procure females.  War room approach again: parse the story, deny details, check the sources.  President made mistake of calling troopers after story broke, as he had with Gennifer Flowers.
Hillary baked cookies and rallied staff in opposition.   Sealed her position on health care as Bill was in dog house over scandals.
Paula Jones scandal.
Special prosecutor called for in Whitewater scandal, prompted by stonewalling by withholding records, particularly from East wing.  Hillary fiercely controlled staff response (had lost father and Vince Foster same year, resented criminal accusations against her).
Congressional republicans launched investsigations, domestic agenda blocked.
Sen. Maj. Ldr. Mitchell announced health care reform was dead.
1994 midterm elections: Republicans attacked Clinton and took back control of house after 40 years.  Repudiation of Clinton.
Speaker Newt Gingrich reaches power, Clinton lost confidence.
Press Sec. Myers, Begala and Carville sacked: staff shuffle.
Mystery of adviser leading Clinton to center (Dick Morris, Republican consultant).
Clinton wrote own State of Union '05, surprising staff with typing (Morris's work)
Centre-right direction of policy, leaving liberal staff angered.
"Triangulation", based on polling data and Dick Morris's advice.
Hillary takes traditional role, showing off white house renovations.
Clinton has to defend his status, "relevance," despite Contract with America.
Oklahoma city bombing, deadly terrorist attack, 168 lost.
Clinton: "evil cowards" speech, unifier, stand against forces of fear, preaching.
Balance federal budget, shocked staff.  Devastated Dems. but aimed at Clinton's re-election.  Clinton seen as willing to sacrifice Dems for own sake.
Staff feared Clinton would compromise as before, wanted President to fight for Medicare budget against congressional version. President stood up against Gingrich.
Whitewater billing records emerged for Senate after two years. Reporters hounded Hillary with questions during her book tour.  Unprecedented treatment of First Lady.
Ken Starr, prosecutor, incensed by the withholding of records, ordered her appearance in front of grand jury -- initiating war with White House.
Clinton, "The era of big government is over."  V-chips, school uniforms, non controversial issues.
Morris sex scandal; Clinton loses adviser.
Reelection, 1996 and beginning of second term.
Lewinsky scandal breaks, disgusts staff
Begala and (liberal) campaign team return to White House.
Categorical denial by Clinton "not a sexual relationship" with this young woman -- to PBS Jim Lehrer.
Varied denials by Clinton, parsed by staff as incomplete.
Clinton returns to Morris and polling.
Privately admits to sexual affair (if not specific allegations) and fear of impeachment.
Morris advises public will accept the adultery but not the lying.
Cabinet officers support president.
Jan. 1998 "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss. Lewinsky.  I did not tell anyone to lie." to CBS Sixty Minutes.
Hillary: "Vast right wing conspiracy."
Aug. '98 admission of relationship "not appropriate.  In fact, it was wrong."
Sudan bombings
Strikes against Afghan and Sudan targets, but viewed by many as politically timed distraction.
Starr Report and Clinton campaign of contrition.
Possibility raised of deputation of Dems suggesting resignation (a la Watergate.)
Video released of grand jury testimony, intrusive sexual questions -- actually released sympathy of public.
Impeachment crisis, with trial in Senate, presided over by Chief Justice but without a 2/3 majority of Republicans in Senate for conviction.
Economy growing, but Clinton had used all his political capital just to survive.
Feb. '99 "profoundly sorry for what I said and did to trigger these events."
Post-impeachment return to effective policymaking
Air war in Kosovo using NATO against Serb ethnic cleansing.  78 days of bombing succeeded.
Greenspan: never seen such as strong economy.
President able to poke fun at himself, as house husband.
Hillary announces candidacy for Senator of New York [Moynihan's seat].
Middle east peace negotiations, midnight discussions with Albright, Barak and Arafat.
Disappointment that peace agreement proved elusive.
Clinton upstaged Gore at Dem. Convention, Aug. 2000: "better off today than 8 years ago?"
Gore lost 2000 race despite peace and prosperity, hence Clinton failed to deliver successor.
Special counsel's prosecution continued after the presidency.
Patterns of permanent Clinton campaign, support of partner, remarkable ability to take a punch.
But liability to get into difficulties repeatedly during career.
Legacy of leaving country in much better shape, even though unable to escape his past.
Tale of two presidents: one bright, capable and passionate; other, terrible personal mistake.
Staff disappointed by the outcome: potential for greatness not fulfilled.


ABC, One Minute to Midnight: The Cuban Missile Crisis
How did President Kennedy face up to the Cuban missile crisis?
How did JFK organize his decision making process?
What options were available to the president?
What caused a solution to the crisis to become possible?Film: All the President's Men. (on Watergate scandal, recommended)
PBS, Nixon in China
What instruments of command authority does the president wield?
Can the presidential veto act as a positive instrument for legislating?
What role does the Commander in Chief function play in presidential power?
General discussion:
Can Congress effectively constrain a president in foreign policy?
Does presidential power increase or decrease during divided government?
In what ways did president W. Bush break with the traditions of presidential foreign policy?

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