First and foremost, the film is a mostly unfiltered look of what goes on behind the scenes of covering a Presidential candidate. Pelosi was one of the few assigned to Bush to stay with the press caravan throughout the entire campaign, highlighted ever so well during an amusing sequence shortly after Bush’s “Super Tuesday” win when the once full press plane becomes a ghost town overnight, so she was able to capture every facet of the candidate. From Bush’s original aloofness with the press, his crushing defeat to Senator McCain in New Hampshire and the quite literal stealing of McCain’s “Straight Talk” playbook to his massive March resurgence and all the way to the Supreme Court decision making him the 43rd President of the United States, Pelosi and her camera were there to observe and record the insanity and inanity of the entire electoral process. Not afraid to push buttons, Pelosi often finds herself on the wrong side of Bush’s chief strategist Karl Rove and director of communications Karen Hughes, asking supporters at an Iowa Bush rally why they would be out in the snow at 3:30 in the morning to support their candidate, or why there are “hand painted” signs of support at another rally hours before any supporters will arrive. Pelosi will even find herself on the wrong side of Bush on numerous occasions, especially when she asks him during one press conference how sleeps at night with the record number of executions he had approved as Governor.
This is not to say the campaign trail is all bad. The reporters and even the candidate enjoy much merriment between and during campaign stops. Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News often moos when the reporters are herded up like cattle, while R.G. Ratcliffe of the Houston Chronicle notes during the same early morning sub-freezing Iowa campaign mentioned above that the only reason the press were out was in case Bush slipped on the ice and fell down. “Because we’re vicious predators.” Indeed.
Where “Journeys” comes most alive is when everyone is relaxed. Pelosi often finds herself talking to Bush about a majority of topics, from why he loves Cheetos or baloney sandwiches to her crush on fellow junketeer Trent Gegax of Newsweek. At one point, Bush turns Pelosi’s camera on her, questioning her about a walk he noticed she had recently taken with Gegax. “It’s none of my business what your private life is like,” Bush states, “But let me ask you this question. Was that just a social encounter with the Newsweek manr” When she responds they were discussing one of Bush’s tax plans, he pursues. “And you felt you had to hold his hand in order to amplify the discussionr”
More often than not, though, it is the candidate that bails Ms. Pelosi out of an uncomfortable situation. During one row with Rove, while another is holding Pelosi’s camera, when she asks the strategist why he is lying about a particular topic, Rove refrains with “I’m not a journalist. I’m not a liar.” She turns to the camera and states that she does not like these guys, unaware that the candidate has just appeared right behind her. With a smile and a laugh, Bush defuses the situation with mock incredulity. “You don’t like mer You call this objective journalismr” Later in the campaign, just after the third and final Gore/Bush debates, Pelosi held a now infamous alcohol fueled straw vote between the reporters of who they expected to win the election, which came out strongly in Gore’s favor. Word of the vote was leaked to the New York Post’s Page Six columnists, and Pelosi became a pariah to her fellow press corps members, who feared a backlash from the Bush camp. Yet her solace came from the candidate himself, who pulled Pelosi aside to remind her these people were not her friends. (Pelosi notes in her voiceover that this was the moment she knew, while she did like being a journalist, that she did not have the stomach for the cannibalism. As soon as the campaign ended, she turned in her resignation to NBC and now runs her own production company.)
March 2003 is the best and worst time for this documentary to become part of the public perception of the President, for the same reason. It shows George W. Bush to be, above all, human. It’s not exactly the image the military industrial complex needs at this moment in world history, but also showing the man to be a lot smarter than many give him credit for.
I give “Journeys With George” an A- for effort and a A+ for execution. A must see for all sides of the political spectrum.
Director: Alexandra Pelosi
Featuring: George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Trent Gegax, Karen Hughes, John McCain, Alexandra Pelosi, R.G. Ratcliffe, Karl Rove, Wayne Slater, Richard Wolffe
Distributor: HBO Films
Running Time: 78 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sound Format: Mono