Magazine article Insight on the News

The Prez Needs a Press Agent

Magazine article Insight on the News

The Prez Needs a Press Agent

Article excerpt

Peyton Place has nothing on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue -- a den of murder ... and worse.

The president of the United States always gets his share of bad press, but this is ridiculous. Recent movies and books have characterized the chief executive as a murderer, rapist, cuckold, philanderer and wife beater. "We're not really talking about the Michael Douglas type," says Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, referring to the squeaky-clean hero of The American President.

Take Sandra Brown's Exclusive, for instance. The plot revolves around first lady Vanessa Merritt, who becomes a martyr after her child dies of sudden infant death syndrome. When a reporter discovers the child was murdered, President David Malcomb Merritt (a womanizing cad) tries to silence his wife with the aid of the White House physician.

Former White House aide-turned-author Douglas MacKinnon has the president abusing his wife, the first lady sleeping with his press secretary and the vice president threatening to blackmail everybody in his book, First Victim. In David Baldacci's novel Absolute Power, a woman is murdered by the Secret Service after the inebriated leader of the free world slaps her around.

Absolute Power has been turned into a movie, joining a slew of cinematic slights against the office of the presidency. Wesley Snipes plays a D.C. homicide detective and Diane Lane is a Secret Service agent in Murder at 1600, in which Oval Office intercourse leads to foul play. James Garner and Jack Lemmon play ex-presidents who uncover a bad secret about the sitting chief exec in My Fellow Americans. Charlie Sheen is a George Stephanopoulos-like aide chased by a White House hit man in The Shadow Conspiracy.

"I think this is just the typical faddishness of Hollywood -- the blackbird theory," says Hess. "One flies on the telephone wire and they all fly on the telephone wire. There will be one or two successful movies and some real clinkers, but I don't think Hollywood is more fascinated with the presidency than they are in the extraterrestrial or the lonesome-cowboy movies in their days."

MacKinnon thinks the subject is ripe because "people in general are fed up with politicians. Obviously, the No. I politician in the country is the president, so why not make him a little twisted or evil? It's more fun."

While it's easy to point to President Clinton's troubled White House as the source behind the trend, the presidency long has been a favorite target of writers and playwrights. Lyndon Baines Johnson was spoofed in the theatrical satire MacBird, and Richard Nixon had to endure the TV miniseries Washington Behind Closed Doors, which starred Jason Robards as the sinister Richard Monckton. …

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