Former First Lady of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton poses backstage before her conversation with Kara Swisher at the 92nd Street Y on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
I didn’t want to watch the new Hillary Clinton docu-series. Appropriately titled “Hillary,” I knew the four-part series would be a slog through biased storytelling that would leave out major chunks of the story in order to make Clinton look like something she was unable to come off as during her 2016 run: human.
The timing of the release also bothered me. Why is a documentary releasing about Clinton now? Years after her loss and with the 2020 elections right around the corner, it was a weird time to release a humanizing look into Clinton’s life and 2016 presidential run — a narrative the docu-series flip flops between — and I struggled to understand the reason.
I never thought it was a promotion of her because she planned to run for office again in 2020. I think it’s a bit too late for all that. It struck me later that this documentary was meant for a different timeline. One where Clinton won.
The docu-series is chock-full of behind-the-scenes footage of Clinton and her staff during the 2016 campaign. You get a look behind the scenes on big moments, such as her debates with now-President Donald Trump and the awkward interactions between her and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders before their debates. You get to see interactions between her and her staff, her staff interacting with one another, etc., etc.
It’s footage that really shines a positive, friendly light on the Clinton team. If they weren’t smiling then they were hard at work. They are seen reveling in Clinton’s victories and in moments where things didn’t go so well, you can see them brimming with optimism. To anyone who isn’t fully aware of what the Clinton team was capable of or had done, this would come off as the group of people you’d just love to be around. The kind of people you want in office.
This documentary was originally filmed to help Clinton with her reelection campaign. Instead, it had to become something different because her jolly band of good friends and hard workers lost to Trump. You would think up until the very end that she had actually won, in fact. Still, you get the impression that Clinton was giving you a reason to want to vote for her should she come back. Without a campaign to run, however, it feels more like she’s just trying to fill people with regret that they didn’t, and perhaps that’s the goal. To give people buyer’s remorse and have them step away from the Trump machine.
The 2016 election is just half the documentary. The other half is spent going over Clinton’s life, from her time as a child, all the way up to her time as Secretary of State. It works hard to pass Clinton off as a person who has always had her foot on the gas since she was young. A hard worker in a time when working hard as a woman meant you had to work twice as hard. They cover about as much about her life as they leave out, as well.
For instance, they go into Clinton’s time working on the Nixon scandal but fail to mention that she was so horrible and unethical that Jerry Zeifman, chief counsel of the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate inquiry, had nothing good to say about her and noted that if he had the ability to fire her, he would.
“She was a liar,” said Zeifmann. “She was an unethical, dishonest lawyer. She conspired to violate the Constitution, the rules of the House, the rules of the committee and the rules of confidentiality.”
That said, Zeifmann did not recommend Clinton to anyone else after the fact.
The docu-series also fails to mention that Clinton failed to pass the D.C. bar exam at that time and never retook it. She later went on to pass the bar exam in Arkansas and kept all of that a secret until 2003.
Keeping secrets is a common thread throughout the docu-series as anyone who knows anything about Clinton will tell you.
The documentary doesn’t really go too far into detail for that reason, and instead focuses on Clinton’s struggles as a woman trying to make it in a man’s world and succeeding every step of the way. It’s empowering, so to speak, but more so meant to make Clinton look like a role model for every woman in America.
As a person watching this and knowing what Clinton is about, you’d find the docu-series fascinating. Here is a look at a woman in the way she wants to be looked at, not as she is.
But even if you’re not up on who Clinton actually is, watching the docu-series revealed something interesting about how people view her, unlike how Clinton wants them to view her. My fiance is typically apolitical and was more enthusiastic about watching the docu-series than I. As my fiance told me while watching it, she never got the impression that Clinton was being honest or putting forth who she really was as a person.
In fact, the only time my fiance got a whiff of honesty was when the camera was focused on Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Perhaps it’s Bill’s ability to seem genuine and personable as a talent, or perhaps he’s actually being honest, but during the docu-series’ coverage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Bill actually seemed remorseful about what he did. The key moment is when he spoke about what happened in his head while he was doing it.
I’m paraphrasing, but he said that when you make mistakes like the one he made with Lewinsky, you’re never thinking about the long-term effects or how your family may take the news. He admitted to having many fears and anxieties, and that Lewinsky gave them a rest for a few moments. It was a vulnerable moment in the documentary, and it seemed to be the only one.
You won’t get a lot of that from Clinton herself, who spends much of the time either aggrandizing herself or wondering why people are so mean to her. She presents herself as the level-headed mind in the room wherever she goes, only admitting that she broke down after meeting with voters after her 2016 election loss.
All in all, you can miss the series yourself. The docu-series does its level best to mislead you about its subject, making it less a documentary and more of a propaganda piece.