By: Chris Nammour
George W. Bush might have been the star of Alexandra Pelosi’s widely-publicized documentary about the 2000 election, “Journeys With George,” aired by HBO on Tuesday, but two Texas political reporters earned best supporting nods.
Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News and R.G. Ratcliffe of the Houston Chronicle are featured prominently in the film, often providing comic relief or penetrating insight.
“I’m amazed at how many people have actually seen it,” Slater said. “I’ve gotten telephone calls from people I haven’t seen in years, old college buddies, e-mails from strangers.
“Someone called me a pompous jerk and non-objective,” said a laughing Slater. “Well I probably am a pompous jerk, but I am objective.”
The film brought back mixed memories for Slater. “When I watched the beginning for the first time my heart started beating because it was so accurate. I recalled those months waking up in a strange hotel room at 4 or 5 in the morning and making a plane at 5:45 for Florida or Michigan or California.”
But he added that the documentary didn’t capture the whole story. “I don’t think the media looked very good in the movie,” Slater said. “What the movie didn’t show was that we asked hard questions too. We wrote hard stories on George Bush, on the budget in Texas, on the death penalty, how he made money with daddy’s friends. But I don’t think the movie was meant to be about that.”
Ratcliffe agreed that the film was on target in portraying the difficulties of being part of the campaign press corps. “One of the worst places to cover a presidential campaign is being with the candidate,” he quipped.
Neither Ratcliffe nor Slater, who both signed releases permitting their appearance in the documentary, said that being in the film has hurt their ability to report, despite some of the anti-GOP jokes or criticisms they made in the documentary. “I’ve been covering state politics in Texas since 1983 and I think I have a pretty well established reputation on being hard on both Democrats and Republicans,” Ratcliffe said.
Slater, who is working on a book about Bush and political adviser Karl Rove, said the film has helped him gain access to people he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to talk to. “It’s given me a legitimacy in an odd way,” he said. “Congressional offices might return a call when they otherwise wouldn’t have.”
While the film shows the camaraderie that builds among the reporters, producers, and photographers on the campaign trail, it also emphasizes the sacrifice required for covering a presidential race — living out of a suitcase, constantly on the road, and away from friends and family for months in a stressful and competitive environment.
“It was grueling,” Slater said. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I wouldn’t change it for the world but I would not do it again.”
But Ratcliffe doesn’t believe this will dissuade anyone from covering the next campaign. “Whatever people may take from Alexandra’s film, the press will always flock to a presidential race like moths to a fire,” he said. “You have the same problems with people that cover the White House. They spend the first year saying how great it is and the next three trying to get transferred.”
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