‘By the People’: Ed Norton and Hollywood’s Mindless Obama Praise

Amy Rice and Alicia Sams’ documentary, “By the People,” provides a lens into Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.  A guided tour of sorts, the film delves into the Obama’s biggest milestones, while ignoring glaring contradictions and blemishes.  Perhaps two words can best describe it: snooze fest.  Teamed with the films vapidity and its lack of new, unexplored material, there are some intriguing conflicts of interest surrounding its production.

By the People” is a praise initiative that doesn’t offer much beyond what politicos and Obama enthusiasts already know: Obama was a regular Joe who, through a series of (unfortunate for the American people) events, captured the presidency.

While Hollywood’s insane obsession with anything and anyone left of center is never a surprise, one should ardently question why HBO, after purchasing the film for seven figures, has chosen to ignore other intriguing political stories.  Why not balance the film with another special or documentary that explores the McCain-Palin campaign?  One could argue, as I’m sure HBO would, that the focus of the film is on to the winning candidate.  Fine.  Argue away, but anyone with a pulse knows we’d be hard pressed to see a similar accolade to a Republican victor.  Furthermore, Sarah Palin’s initial book sales prove that she’s a brand worth exploring.  So, why not go for it?

And then there’s the timing of the film’s release.  The network chose to air the documentary at a time when majorities oppose various elements of the president’s agenda and smack dab in the middle of some highly-contested state and local races.  Add the film’s timing to some of the more bizarre, behind-the-scenes connections and you can begin to triangulate relationships and allegiances.

First, let’s consider the film’s producer – famed actor Edward Norton.  While one should never be surprised by a Hollywood celebrity’s urge to support leftist inclinations, in this case there’s a twist.  To bring the film to fruition, Norton worked with Ari Emanuel, the brother of Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.  Last November, Gawker reported the following:

“… at one point it looked like some of film’s distribution proceeds might be headed back in the general direction of the Obama camp. As of eight months ago, Endeavor Agency’s Ari Emanuel was the agent for the film. Emanuel, of course, is the brother of Rahm Emanuel, just named Obama’s chief of staffHe was also an Obama fundraiser…”

So, Edward Norton shopped the documentary with Ari Emanuel, a man with a vested interest in Barack Obama’s campaign – and, a guy with key access to top government officials.  Unbelievable.  Perhaps most hilarious is Variety’s coverage from early 2008: “Norton said the motivation behind the film was not to glorify its subject.” Anyone out there actually believe that?  According to Rice, “When we shot the final scenes in the Oval Office, [Obama] he asked us, ‘What do you guys need?’  It was incredibly special. I got choked up.”

Is Rice sense-retardant?  She was creating a documentary that was more than favorable to the Obama camp.  Of course he was more than willing to assist!

As a professor, one of the main listening skills I work to instill in my students is the ability to determine what a speaker isn’t telling an audience.  Often times, some of the most intriguing information is embedded in omitted material.

At the beginning of the film, in footage circa 2006, Barack Obama is asked if he plans to run for the presidency.  In response, Obama says he is unsure and explains that he plans to look into how he would best serve the country.  Considering the foreknowledge that he might run, it was odd that the filmmakers chose to lead with this.  In fact, it was two years earlier, in 2004, when Obama said that he would not run in 2008, citing his inexperience.  Call it poor research on the filmmakers’ part or purposeful exclusion, but the words “Obama” and “American presidency” were uttered well before the 2006 midterm elections.

Here is Obama’s 2004 response to the question, “So, why have you ruled that out – running nationally?”:

“I am a believer in…knowing what you’re doing…when you apply for a job…”

“If I were to seriously consider running on a national ticket…I would essentially have to start now…before having served a day in the Senate. Now there might be some people who would have no problem doing that, but ah…I’m not one of them.”

We all know how good Obama is at keeping promises.

Now, let’s talk about the film’s contents.  Of particular interest and concern is the control Obama has over America’s young generation.  In the film, David Axlerod explained that one of Obama’s main motivations for running stemmed from his urge to show children that “anything is possible.”  In political terms that means, “We’ve found our voting bloc!”

When speaking about the Iowa caucus, Axlerod said, “These kids are going to win it for us…they thinkthey’re changing the world…we need more of that.”  Robert Gibbs awkwardly intervened, saying, “The good news is, I think they are.”  The latter statement was an attempt to bridge the divide between Axlerod’s campaign analytics and the need for more audience-friendly interaction.  In the end, it’s evident that Obama and Co. were intent on exploiting young Americans, a tactic that worked wonderfully in their favor.

Race was another theme that appeared periodically throughout the film.  Interviews with citizens positioned Obama as the most unlikely of all candidates to win, with respondents stating that the nation wasn’t ready for an African-American president.  Ironically, liberals are the main culprits who railed on and on about how ill-prepared the nation was for this advancement.  As a conservative, I was more than ready, pending the individual capturing the top spot had the qualifications to perform the job.  Barack Obama did not have those needed elements.  Needless to say, the filmmakers didn’t speak with many people who thought it was, indeed, possible for a black man to win the presidency.

The entire film centered around the “emotional” impact Obama has had on America’s young generation.  As a 26-year-old young guy, I’m not feeling it.  Throughout the film, campaign workers cried fervently, chanted Obama praises and gave their all for “change they could believe in.”  While this is their right, the film itself was less than objective.  And I’m fine with that as well, but it would be an extraordinarily overdue kudos to democracy to see HBO (Honoring Barack Obama) air a similarly fair-minded film that centers on Palin’s historic run or McCain’s heroic life story.

Watching Hollywood and the Democratic elite pat each other on the back is getting old.  HBO and other media companies should consider being more fair minded and delving into the other side on a more frequent basis.  In the case of “By the People,” though, the media and entertainment cronyism will take your breath away.  No wonder Obama picks fights with the media who disagree with him.  He’s become accustomed to lapdog media and liberal Hollywood.  Let’s hope these institutions challenge him a bit more here on in.