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'American Experience' profiles 42nd president in 'Clinton' airing on AETN Feb. 20,21

“Clinton,” the latest installment in the critically acclaimed and successful collection of presidential biographies by “American Experience,” explores the story of an American president who rose from a turbulent childhood in Arkansas to become one of the most successful politicians in modern American history and one of the most complex and conflicted characters ever to stride across the public stage. “Clinton” airs on the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) in two parts Monday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m.

At the conclusion of part two on Feb. 21 at 9 p.m., AETN will air the locally produced follow-up “The Clinton Years: An Arkansas Perspective.” Among those featured in “Clinton” and the AETN follow-up are Arkansans journalists Max Brantley, editor of the Arkansas Times and former reporter for the Arkansas Gazette, and Ernie Dumas, columnists for the Arkansas Times.

From draft dodging to the Dayton Accords, from Monica Lewinsky to a balanced budget, the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton veered between sordid scandal and grand achievement. It recounts a career of accomplishment and scandal, a marriage that would make history and create controversy, and a presidency that would define the crucial and transformative period between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11. It follows Clinton across his two terms as he confronted some of the key forces that would shape the future, including partisan political warfare and domestic and international terrorism, and struggled, with uneven success, to define the role of American power in a post-Cold War world. Most memorably, it explores how Clinton’s conflicted character made history, even as it enraged his enemies and confounded his friends.

Directed by Emmy and Peabody Award-winner Barak Goodman, “Clinton” features unprecedented access to scores of Clinton insiders, including: White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers; White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum; former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta (current Secretary of Defense); former Senator Trent Lott; Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes; as well as interviews with dozens of journalists, members of the Republican opposition, childhood friends, staffers from Clinton’s years as Governor of Arkansas, and biographers.

“William Jefferson Clinton is a lightning rod in American history,” Mark Samels, executive producer of “American Experience,” said. “It’s hard to find anyone who is neutral about the man or his presidency.

“The complex dynamic between his public accomplishments and his personal foibles makes him endlessly fascinating. At ‘American Experience’ we like to explore the people who have shaped the times in which they live, and Bill Clinton, both charismatic and confounding, certainly had a profound effect on the country during his presidency.”

The four-hour program will air in two episodes:

“The Comeback Kid,” Monday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m.
“The Comeback Kid” follows Clinton’s bumpy road to the 1992 presidential victory, a triumph over repeated scandals and setbacks, through the first two years of his presidency. From the political backwaters of Arkansas, Clinton emerges as a political force unlike any seen on the national stage in a generation. He is determined from the start to succeed, first in Arkansas, then at Georgetown, Oxford and finally Yale. There he meets a young woman named Hillary Rodham who shares his intellect and idealism. Together they forge a marriage and political partnership that takes them to the Arkansas governor’s mansion and ultimately the White House, an election Clinton wins despite a campaign repeatedly under siege by allegations ranging from draft dodging to womanizing. The tumultuous first two years of the Clinton presidency see the beginning of the Whitewater scandal, the death of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster, and the defeat of Hillary’s healthcare bill. Although the administration has its domestic successes, troubles brewing in the remote countries of Somalia and Rwanda and the arrival of a new and formidable rival named Newt Gingrich threaten to derail the Clinton presidency before it ever gets off the ground. When Republicans gain control of Congress in the midterm elections, the entire political landscape shifts to the right, leaving Clinton seemingly bereft of power.

“The Survivor,” Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m.
Shattered by the 1994 Republican victory, Clinton begins to sideline his most trusted advisors in favor of an aggressive political consultant named Dick Morris, who uses extensive polling to diagnose the administration’s weaknesses and develop strategies to correct them. The Republican “Contract with America” is riding high and by spring of 1995, Gingrich and his allies select the ground on which to wage their war: a plan to eliminate the federal budget deficit by drastically cutting Medicare and Medicaid. The plan leads to a government shutdown, and slowly the tide begins to turn toward the president, who reclaims the political center with a stream of new initiatives that will curb big government and appeal to middle class families. Clinton wins the 1996 election in a landslide, pulling off one of the greatest turnarounds in political history. He sails buoyantly into his second term: times are good, the economy is booming, and American prestige and power internationally are at an all-time high. Clinton’s dream of repairing the breach with Republicans seems within reach. But, Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky becomes public after she confides in a co-worker named Linda Tripp. The ensuing scandal gives Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr the ammunition he needs to recharge his stalled investigation of the Whitewater affair. Congress initiates impeachment hearings, but the Republican leadership fails to remove Clinton from office. And when Starr’s report is finally released, the ire of the American public is focused more on the independent counsel than the president. Although Clinton survives the ordeal, he fails to reclaim the drive and zeal with which he began his presidency.

“Clinton” will repeat in its entirety Sunday, Feb. 26, beginning at 12:30 p.m.

Clinton is the 16th episode in the “American Experience” presidents series. Previous programs in the series have included “LBJ,” “Nixon,” “FDR,” “Jimmy Carter,” “Reagan” and “George H.W. Bush.”

Television’s most-watched history series, “American Experience” has been hailed as “peerless” (Wall Street Journal), “the most consistently enriching program on television” (Chicago Tribune), and “a beacon of intelligence and purpose” (Houston Chronicle). On air and online, the series brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America’s past and present. Acclaimed by viewers and critics alike, “American Experience” documentaries have been honored with every major broadcast award, including 14 George Foster Peabody Awards, four duPont-Columbia Awards, and 30 Emmy Awards, including, most recently, Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking for “Freedom Riders.” Exclusive corporate funding for “American Experience” is provided by Liberty Mutual. Major funding provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers. “American Experience” is produced for PBS by WGBH Boston.

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