Journeys with George
Justin Taylor
May/June 2004

Journeys with George at The Hippodrome Cinema Monday, June 7 5:00, 7:00, 9:00 p.m. film presentation facilitated by the Civic Media Center

If you go into Journeys with George expecting to see W take yet another well-earned editorial bashing, expect to be disappointed. If you go into Journeys with George expecting to see the proof-positive that portrayals of the 43rd (p)resident as a cartoonishly wide-eyed invalid are not so much satire as objective journalism, expect to be disappointed. If you go into Journeys with George expecting to finally see him in all his repugnant aristocracy, merrily deriding the lower classes and joking about high crimes he's gotten away with, expect to be disappointed.

Journeys with George, which is showing June 7 at the Hippodrome, doesn't do any of those things. The self-described "home movie" is film-maker Alexandra Pelosi's (daughter of congresswoman Nancy Pelosi) seventy-six minute retrospective on the roughly eighteen months she spent covering the Bush campaign for NBC. From the early days of the candidacy when it looked like Bush might lose the nomination to John McCain, to the election-day-and-subsequent crisis and the controversy of the election, Pelosi covers it all.

A deeply personal story, the film seems to go out of its way to eschew what one might presume to be the central issue--politics. Pelosi introduces us to the various other media members she travels with, mentioning in little asides which ones she has befriended or wants to date; she spends a lot of her time with Bush making small talk. We get to see her on-the-campaign-trail birthday party, a visit to the doctor, and a whole lot of then-candidate Bush munching on Cheetohs and responding to questions like "if you were a tree what kind would you be?" ("I'm a Bush," he said.)

I'm sharing all this out of some sense of fair play, that perhaps you the viewer might not be disoriented--as I was--when you sit down to watch the movie and it turns out not to be what you thought. With that said, however, I have little but kind things to say about Pelosi and the movie that she made.

In an election year where there "issues" were mostly silly abstractions (not to say there weren't real issues--WTO, environment, single-payer health care, etc.; just that all of these were more or less ignored by the candidates in favor of the standard political Nutrasweet), Pelosi figured out early on there wasn't much point in conveying the minutia of each speech or press conference. Pelosi dedicated a longer portion of her film to interviewing fellow journalists about how boring it is to hear the same stump speech six times a day for five months on end than she spent showing footage from the actual speech. This was a smart move on her part. A quick montage of Bush issuing the same remark while wearing different colored neck-ties gave us a happily emblematic suggestion of the nature and content of whatever blather Karl Rove had cooked up for him. Matter of fact, among the press corps it seemed like the hot story was never what Bush actually said, but instead whether he had flubbed a line while trying to say it.

This film, in large part, is about the relationship between the media and the politicians. Glibly acknowledging their ostensibly diametrically opposed positions (and surely even these days the press remains a constant potential crisis to any politician), the politician and his staff nonetheless develop a camaraderie with the riders on the press bus (and later, the press plane). Bush takes the press corps to his ranch in Crawford, TX for a cook-out. He dispenses relationship advice to Pelosi, attempting to help set her up with the reporter from Newsweek. For Halloween the press corps dresses up in a group costume, joking on a Bush faux pas.

On her birthday, Pelosi muses about life. After realizing what was commonly wrong with every man she's ever dated, she hits an even larger nail on the head. "At first, I didn't even think about how all these birthday parties could affect my objectivity as a journalist. But by the time the Bush campaign had brought me my fourth birthday cake, and no one from my network had called, I did start to wonder: who am I working for?"

For me, this comment is the focal point of the film. It is interesting to see Bush sucking down bologna-and-cheese sandwiches, rolling an orange down the aisle of the press bus, Karl Rove trying to balance a little ball on his head or running through the snow. And there is some dirt uncovered--for example, Pelosi found out that the "home-made" red-white-and-blue pro-Bush signs that peppered most of his campaign-trail audiences were not hand-crafted and carried in by loyalists; they were manufactured by the Bush team and handed out at the events. Designed to look like the heartfelt work of simple American folks, the signs featured "4" for "for," and some referred to him as "Dubya."

But the real story is in the press corps, and how the friendships forged there--both internally and with the candidate--have more of an effect on the news produced than seemingly anything else, except of course pressure from whatever company is paying the journalist. The journalists Pelosi interviews call running with the press corps being "in the bubble," and complain that they never get to do anything other than take notes on stump speeches and interview hand-picked slicks the campaign managers are trying to pass off as the common American citizen.

When they got drunk or cynical enough, and they frequently did both, most were quite candid about how silly and insignificant the work that they were doing was.

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