National Press Club

Documentary offers insider’s view of Clinton presidency

January 18, 2012 | By Megan Cotten

Michael Isikoff of NBC News, who covered the Monica Lewinski scandal for Newsweek, joins documentary filmmaker Barak Goodman (left)  and fellow journalists David Maraniss of the Washington Post and Michael Samels of PBS (right) to discuss Goodman's biopic, "Clinton" on Jan. 12.

Michael Isikoff of NBC News, who covered the Monica Lewinski scandal for Newsweek, joins documentary filmmaker Barak Goodman (left) and fellow journalists David Maraniss of the Washington Post and Michael Samels of PBS (right) to discuss Goodman's biopic, "Clinton" on Jan. 12.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

A sneak preview of "Clinton," a new four-hour, 2-part in-depth look at the Clinton presidency at the National Press Club on Jan. 12 provided an insider’s look at the Clinton administration and the reporters who covered it.

The film details budget battles with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Clinton’s extra-marital affair with Monica Lewinsky and the dogged investigation by Kenneth Starr that would eventually lead to Clinton's impeachment.

The 30-minute sneak preview of the "American Experience" presentation, which will air nationally on PBS on February 20-21, portrayed Clinton’s Comeback Kid persona, detailing his ability to learn from his mistakes and move forward despite facing bitter partisanship and personal scandal.

Panelists who spoke following the preview included Mark Samels, executive producer of the film, Barak Goodman, the filmmaker, Washington Post reporter David Maraniss and Michael Isikoff, national investigative correspondent for NBC News.

Samels explained the complexities of trying to tell one story through the dozens of interviews he conducted with the people closest to Clinton.

He said he was granted access to more people due to the Clinton’s support of the film, though Bill and Hillary Clinton were not interviewed.

Isikoff, who covered the Clinton White House, explained his connections to Linda Tripp that supplemented the film.

He said Tripp tipped him off to the Lewinsky affair, but he chose not to report it until it became part of an official investigation by Starr.

“Then I knew it was a story that would tear Washington apart,” he said.

Maraniss said there was great debate among staff of the Washington Post about if and how to cover the Lewinsky scandal.

“Some people thought it wasn’t right [to cover],” he said. “Though, ultimately, obviously, we decided to run the story.”

Audience questions ranged from how the 24-hour news cycle intensifies political missteps to the missed opportunities of Clinton’s term due to the Lewinsky scandal to the parallels between Clinton’s and President Barack Obama’s conflicts with the Republican Party over the federal budget.