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George W. Bush, Movie Star

From the March 4, 2002 issue: A private screening of Alexandra Pelosi's forthcoming documentary.

11:00 PM, Feb 22, 2002 • By MATT LABASH
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NEW YORK
It's Valentine's Day, and though I'm a married man, I'm standing on the sixth-floor landing of a Greenwich Village apartment building with a box of Russell Stover candy that's intended for a woman I've never met. I'm on a journalistic suck-up safari, and my quarry has warned me that I'd better not come empty-handed on such a hallowed day. (I almost brought a fruit basket, but it seemed so Connie Chung.)

My reportorial blind date is with former "Dateline" producer Alexandra Pelosi, the 31-year-old daughter of California Democratic congresswoman and minority whip Nancy Pelosi. Alexandra may be on the verge of cinematic stardom. After following George W. Bush on the campaign trail for a year and a half, she quit her NBC job, formed her own company (Purple Monkey Productions), and culled hundreds of hours of candid trail footage, shot on her auto-focus Sony camcorder, much of it containing the future president of the United States monkeying around with reporters.

Her documentary is set to debut March 8 at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. But it's already caused quite a stir. Relying on Pelosi friends who've seen it, Time magazine described scenes of Bush reverting to Deke-house form on the press plane: predicting that Pelosi's crush on another reporter would "result in a relationship that goes beyond hand-holding," bumping his way down the aisle while wearing a sleep mask, hoisting his non-alcoholic beer and pushing his way into a boozy press throng while declaring, "These are my people. It takes an animal to know an animal."

White House sources, understandably concerned that the president will look less than presidential, have begun sniping at Pelosi. They told both Time and the Washington Post that they were under the impression these sessions were off the record, a claim that taxes credulity since Bush is repeatedly filmed referring to her "documentary." He even went to the trouble of giving it a title--"Journeys With George"--which Pelosi ultimately used.

While Pelosi has shown portions of her film to several reporter friends, I am to be the first to preview the final version in its entirety. Though she has so far rebuffed screening overtures by everyone from USA Today to the "Tonight Show" (first television dibs go to her old colleagues at "Dateline" and the "Today Show"), she mysteriously allows me to talk my way in, though not without making my life miserable first.

After numerous hours of set-up work on the phone in which the deal is nearly done, she turns difficult. "I don't want you to have it yet," she says. She makes me repeatedly assure her that I'm not out to do a hit piece. She tells me that at least a dozen of her friends have nixed me, suspecting a writer from a conservative political magazine could be up to no good with the daughter of one of Congress's most liberal Democrats. ("The Weekly Standard?" exclaimed her sister. "Get out of it!") When her advisers inform her that I once performed a knee-cap job on Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a personal friend of hers, she insists I call the story up on Nexis and read her all 3,500 words. "That's the meanest thing I've ever had read to me," she says.

It all seems a fairly clever ploy on her part: play a manic babe-in-the-woods (even though we're in the same profession), put the reporter on defense until you crush his will to play offense, ensure that he is so beholden to you for granting him access that he writes a nice story. As I knock on Pelosi's door, my integrity (such as it is) already compromised, she continues the hazing.

"HOLD ON," says the raspy voice from behind the door, "I've got to turn my camera on." As a precondition for viewing her documentary, I've agreed, in a fit of postmodernism, to be filmed myself after a brief getting-to-know-you session, from which she will decide if I seem like the trustworthy type. No journalism is supposed to be committed during this trial period, but as her door opens, camera whirring, I reflexively reach for my microrecorder in a Mexican standoff. "Whip it out," she commands. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."

Unhappy that I, the hunter, have become the hunted, I ask her if she used that line on George Bush. ("Stop filming me, you're like a head cold," Bush barks at one point in the film.) She didn't, but easily could have. For Pelosi is a force of nature, a large presence, a disco inferno. In her bathroom hangs a giant, mirrored disco ball, hardly an oddity considering the rest of her apartment decor: the Reform School Girls movie postcard on her refrigerator, the purple velvet couch ("It's aubergine," she corrects), the campaign-rally photo of her in a University of Texas cheerleader outfit and rubber Bush mask, the Soviet-era propaganda artwork that lines the walls.