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Journeys with George

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First, go vote today.

Then watch Journeys with George on HBO to laugh and find out some of the reasons why so few people will vote today and in 2004.

The documentary by Alexandra Pelosi debuts tonight at 9:30 pm on HBO (it will repeat a number of times throughout the month for the true political junkies who will be watching the election returns and will eventually be out on DVD). It was one of the hottest tickets on the festival cicuit earlier this year (and was the subject of a lot of press even before it first was shown at SXSW).

A couple of screenings were sold out during the SF International Film Festival, so I had to journey to the UC Berkeley School of Journalism to see it. I had gone to an HBO sponsored reception earlier in the week and seen Pelosi (along with her mother, Democratic House whip Nancy and others from San Francisco’s political and social elite) holding the $1100 Sony camcorder she used during the campaign. But since I hadn’t seen the film, I really didn’t have anything to talk about with her.

The film is very funny and even someone who hates Bush’s politics has to admit he is charming. He seems like he might even make a decent owner of a baseball team.

But it is really about the media and how bad the coverage of elections is. And at the Q&A after the screening Pelosi talked about how it was media criticism and she didn’t think she would ever work in tv again, partly because nobody would hire her. She tried to make some of the same points on Charlie Rose on Friday (she brought her camcorder along), but Charlie liked hearing himself talk about the great relationship she had with Bush too much. So when she told him that she planned to work in television again (and had gotten offers from everyone), he didn’t give her a chance to explain why.

She shows how insulated the reporters are as they are led from one staged event to another and how little information the voters get. Pelosi worked as a producer for NBC and most of the questions she asked were phoned in by her bosses. And when she actually asked Bush a critical question about the death penalty, he just repeated the same pat answer he always gave.

Pelosi said she tried to convince NBC to use some of the footage in segments on the Today show, but “they underestimated the technology and they underestimated me.” They talked about doing something on MSNBC after the campaign ended, but then Florida happened. And although Pelosi thought it would be the best time for a more intimate look at Bush, MSNBC was more interested in “experts” speculating and anchors repeating the same info over and over.

So she quit NBC and spent a year in her apartment editing the movie. When news of it broke in the spring, she negotiated a deal with them that gave her the rights to the footage as long as she went on Today and Dateline to discuss it (rather than say Good Morning America and 20/20).

She writes a bit about making the movie and the reporter Bush dubbed Newsweek Man writes about his reaction to it. A NY Times profile pointed out that one of the most revealing scenes is when she is filling out her ballot for the California primary and when she asks Bush to convince her to vote for him, he jokes around rather than answer her questions. She votes for Bill Bradley (her mom endorsed Gore).

Pelosi is planning on doing a documentary on the Democratic presidential campaign in 2004. It is perhaps a bit too much to hope that the media will learn a bit from ‘Journeys’ and make their 2004 coverage funnier, more engaging for voters and more focused on the issues that will impact their lives.

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