Oscar-winning filmmaker Charles Ferguson says he was threatened regarding his now-abandoned documentary on Clintons
Ferguson and CNN dropped their project of documenting the Clintons after they faced stringent opposition from all sides
The Academy Award-winning Charles Ferguson admittedly has quite the curious background for someone who is now a revered documentary filmmaker in the industry. Originally educated as a political scientist, the 63-year-old has a BA in Mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from MIT.
Ferguson also previously consulted for the White House, the Office of U.S Trade Representative, the Department of Defense, and several U.S and European technology firms, even founding and selling his own software company for $133 million. His impressive CV also boasts of him as the author of four books, as well as articles relating to aspects of information technology and its relationship to economic, political, and social issues.
So, why documentaries then? Ferguson had already maintained a vested interest in film for over 20 years and that interest would culminate in the formation of Representational Pictures in the mid-2000s. And, so began work on his first documentary, 'No End in Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq,' a feature-length project that focuses on the two-year period following America's invasion of the country in March 2003.
'No End in Sight' would premiere to critical acclaim in 2007 and put Ferguson on the map as one of Hollywood's up and coming filmmakers. It wouldn't be long before his talents were recognized either. Three years later, 'Inside Job,' his second documentary, would prove to be even more successful. A critical dissection of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 that brought the U.S economy to its knees, 'Inside Job' went on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature as well as a plethora of other honors at various other award ceremonies.
Ferguson had seemingly found his niche. His ability to critically examine such politically-charged issues were second to none, and he most certainly had the artistic insight to present such multi-layered subject matters in simple, easily-digestible chunks. After 'Inside Job,' Ferguson worked on projects such as 'Time to Choose,' a documentary on worldwide climate change, and 'Invisible Hands,' an exposé on child labor and child trafficking within the supply chains of the world's biggest corporations.
None presented any significant challenges as far as production was concerned, but when the 63-year-old was commissioned for a documentary on the Clintons by CNN, he found himself facing opposition the likes of which he'd never come across before. During his interview with Meaww, I asked him if that documentary's cancelation was what led him to explore Watergate and the Nixon administration instead, and surprisingly, the filmmaker insisted that wasn't the case.
"It's not why I decided to head towards 'Watergate,' I just wanted to head towards 'Watergate,' he said. "But it certainly is true that I was commissioned by CNN to make a documentary about Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton and the Clintons and all of her staff opposed it and refused to assist me in any way and refused to speak with me even off the record."
Ferguson did not mince his words when it came to the canceled documentary. Usually soft-spoken, polite, and unerringly calm, the topic must have been a sore spot, for he did not hold back, laying his frustrations bare. "In some cases, [they] even tried to threaten me," he revealed. "And the Republicans did the same thing. In fact, even more extreme."
"The then-Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus called a press conference and said that if the documentary went forward, then the Republican Party would boycott CNN for all of the presidential debates and the rest of the presidential campaign," he continued. "CNN and I were then told informally and privately that the Clintons would the same thing."
But that wasn't all. "And now, that actually didn't bother me that much, and that's not what persuaded me not to make the film," he said. "What persuaded me to not make the film was, and this was really astonishing, was the degree to which no one would talk to me. I approached, I would say, a well over a 100 people and I got a grand total of two people who were willing to be interviewed on the record."
I wondered aloud whether this resistance he came across was because Hillary Clinton was gunning for the Democratic ticket for the 2016 presidential elections, and Ferguson agreed. "Yeah sure, of course," he admitted. "Also, because everybody was afraid of her and many of these people were desirous of having a role in the administration if she won. It was clear to them that if they cooperated with this film that it wouldn't happen."
The 63-year-old also divulged that he had been on the receiving end of a number of attacks from David Brock, a political consultant, author, and commentator who also happens to be the founder of media watchdog group Media Matters.
Now described as "one of the most influential operatives of the Democratic Party," Ferguson says Brock once used to be "a conservative Republican attack dog." He said, "He wrote, for example, an extremely nasty, vicious book about Anita Hill when she was trying to get confirmed for the supreme court and afterward. And then, he was about to be outed for being a closeted gay and when that happened, he flipped and he has since become an attack dog for the Clintons. And soon as I started trying to make this film, he started to put out all sorts of stuff about how nasty I was and how nasty the documentary was etc. etc. etc."
CNN ended up scrapping the documentary in September 2013 and Ferguson had little choice but to move on to greener pastures. The Oscar winner ended up signing a deal with A&E to document the infamous Watergate scandal that resulted in President Richard Nixon resigning from his post in 1974, and the feature, titled 'Watergate: Or, How We Learned to Stop an out of Control President,' is now out on the network. And while it may not be about the Clintons, there are most certainly some eerie parallels with the current Trump administration.