An Inconvenient Truth for the Obama Campaign Video

At The Washington Post this morning, fact checker Glenn Kessler asks whether the Obama campaign film, “The Road We’ve Traveled,” makes a wrong turn in recounting the story of how the President’s mother struggled to obtain health coverage during her cancer treatment. A thousand words later, Kessler reaches his verdict – “three Pinocchios” for including the story, which a biographer had previously debunked.

It is hardly newsworthy that a campaign film would take liberties with the truth and even less so because this movie comes from director Davis Guggenheim of “An Inconvenient Truth” fame. In any documentary, the producers wield tremendous power because they can choose the moments worth documenting and weave them into any narrative they please.

What distinguishes “The Road We’ve Traveled” from other recent works is the audacity with which it changes history, and not in the good way. Far from hiding these revisions, the movie carelessly flaunts them with images and sound bites undermining its heroic narrative of a young president rising to meet his moment.

In the opening minute, the documentary takes us back to the beginning of the road we’ve traveled, i.e., 2008. Guggenheim splices footage of Obama’s election night speech in Chicago with panicked television reports of the financial markets in New York while narrator Tom Hanks asks, “What do we remember in November of 2008?” Well, not those television reports because, as their datelines clearly show, they came from October 2008.

Why does this matter? By November, Congress had already passed the bailout, and the nation’s largest banks had already accepted capital injections. Obama did not have to “shoulder” the worst moments of the financial crisis because his predecessor, President George W. Bush, already had.

At the three-minute mark, the documentary finally gets to Obama’s first day in office. “And when he faced his country, who looked to him for answers, he would not dwell in blame,” Hanks says. Except, of course, for the very next scene in the movie, where Obama does just that in his inaugural address.  

“Our time of standing pat – of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed,” Obama says standing not far from his predecessor. If you are wondering who presided over this “time of standing pat,” see the dozens of subsequent Obama speeches where he answers the question without ambiguity.

Toward the documentary’s 15th minute, we learn that Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have transformed more than just America. “They changed the way the world sees us,” Hanks says. A picture of Obama sitting with the Dalai Lama follows even though Obama became the first president in nearly a generation to refuse to see the Tibetan spiritual leader in 2009.

These are just a few examples of the documentary’s delightful ironies. Anyone with the patience to watch the full 17 minutes will find many more. Even with the best of editors, the Obama reelection narrative would have many holes, but who would have guessed a movie called “The Road We’ve Traveled” would bridge them so poorly. Perhaps having Hollywood on your side isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

  1. David Williamson

    Once again, thanks for watching this so that I don’t have to!

    Did it by any chance show the scene when the Dalai Lama left the White House by the trash door? (in 2010) No, I didn’t think so.

  2. DocJay

    Welcome sir.  If Obama’s administration and the media control the narrative then this election is not even worth paying attention to.  

  3. Cunctator

    I was excited to watch “Waiting for Superman” a few months ago.  At the end of the movie, I said to myself “Is that the best he can do?”.  He should have been able to knock the schooling/teachers/union issues out of the park, but the film seemed as if it lacked a real underpinning unifying narrative.  No surprise to see another oeuvre from the same maker “disappoint”.

  4. Jonathan Horn
    C

    It goes without saying that I found Waiting for Superman to be far superior than The Road We’ve Traveled.  But as you so correctly point out, it was also the much easier case to make. 

    Erik Larsen: I was excited to watch “Waiting for Superman” a few months ago.  At the end of the movie, I said to myself “Is that the best he can do?”.  He should have been able to knock the schooling/teachers/union issues out of the park, but the film seemed as if it lacked a real underpinning unifying narrative.  No surprise to see another oeuvre from the same maker “disappoint”. · 34 minutes ago

  5. Diane Ellis
    C

    This film is dreadfully boring. What is its purpose? Who is the intended audience?

  6. Jerry Broaddus

    Ace of Spades pointed out the other day that Guggenheim was a bit inconsistent when he said he could find nothing negative about Obama except his plentiful positives.

    Now, you keep hearing that Davis Guggenheim is a “famous” documentarian. I kept hearing that too, and nodding my head, even though I had no idea who the hell he was. But if people say he’s famous, he’s famous.

    Well, he did do a very big documentary, one that I’ve seen. One, in fact, I’ve promoted on this blog a half dozen times.

    He wrote, narrated, and “starred” in Waiting for Superman, the documentary that devastates the Teachers Unions and current system of government schools for dooming children to poor educations and poorer lives, and takes as its heroes the charter school and private school people trying to fight the corrupt system.

    The president that this champion of charter schools says has not a single flaw canceled the low-cost DC Opportunity program, a program to place poor kids in charter and private schools, as a sop to the teachers union.

    By my count he’s now directed one documentary and two crockumentaries.

  7. Jonathan Horn
    C

    The video is supposed to energize Obama supporters.  The New York Times described it as a straight-to-the-Internet campaign video, which I think captures its essence surprisingly well.  I am sorry you had to see it.  I was hoping my post could spare others the trip to YouTube. 

    Diane Ellis, Ed.: This film is dreadfully boring. What is its purpose? Who is the intended audience? · 13 minutes ago

  8. Diane Ellis
    C
    Jonathan Horn, Guest Contributor: The video is supposed to energize Obama supporters.  The New York Times described it as a straight-to-the-Internet campaign video, which I think captures its essence surprisingly well.  I am sorry you had to see it.  I was hoping my post could spare others the trip to YouTube.  · 15 minutes ago

    Diane Ellis, Ed.: This film is dreadfully boring. What is its purpose? Who is the intended audience? · 13 minutes ago

    I only watched four minutes. It was too awful to continue on.

    It’s an odd duck indeed that feels energized by this film.

  9. Cunctator

    Did I hear correctly that “he would not dwell in blame” at 3:00?  Or “he would not dwell and blame”?  Isn’t that pretty much all he does, blame his predecessor?

  10. Nick Stuart

    The intended audience is not likely to do very much critical thinking about anything like facts, logic, or coherence.

  11. EJHill

    Jonathan – We should do a re-edit. Document the lies and re-issue.

  12. Jonathan Horn
    C

    EJHill, that would be a movie worth seeing.  My only concern is that all the added captions would have to be printed in a microscopic font to fit the screen.  Guggenheim has already provided some of the material needed.  In many places, the sound bites that he selects contradict the narrative that Tom Hanks reads. 

    EJHill: Jonathan – We should do a re-edit. Document the lies and re-issue. · 20 minutes ago

  13. EJHill
    Jonathan Horn, Guest Contributor: EJHill, that would be a movie worth seeing.

    JH – I are a video professional. Been at it for 30 years. I’m serious.

  14. Bill McGurn
    C

    Terrific post, Jonathan. Remember how Reagan was always accused of substituting Hollywood for reality?

  15. James Of England
    EJHill

    Jonathan Horn, Guest Contributor: EJHill, that would be a movie worth seeing.

    JH – I area video professional. Been at it for 30 years. I’m serious. · 1 hour ago

    If there’s anything I could do to help with this, I’d be very keen to offer any support that I can.

  16. EJHill

    Here’s how this gets done:

    Note the lies by time. Provide contradicting, well-sourced evidence. I can handle the technical/creative end.

  17. flownover

    Erik Larsen ( cant quote- ipad quirk)So you think Waiting for Superman was a red herring ?

  18. Last Outpost on the Right

    It’s really too bad. Tom Hanks is one of the finest actors of our generation (who else has gone from Big to Castaway to Philadelphia to Toy Story to Apollo 13?). To see him lend his considerable talent to help a liar tell even bigger lies is a profound disappointment.

  19. Chris Campion

    Why is a sitting president having a “documentary” made about him that aggrandizes his accomplishments (um, yeah) in every way?  Campaign or no campaign?

    Imagine George Bush doing this?  They would tear him apart, and want to make movies about his being assassinated.  Oh.  Wait.  Never mind.

  20. John Marzan
    David Williamson: Once again, thanks for watching this so that I don’t have to!

    I have no plans to watch that docu too, but i did find that HBO’s Game Change and The Kennedys tv series were better than I expected.

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