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Looking more closely at the hopefuls

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Political videos are featured in this week's DVD column.

Presidential Hopeful Biographies

The Biography Channel has released two of its "Biography" shows on DVD just in time for the presidential election. Appropriately, they are the John McCain and Barack Obama entries in the long-running series.

Both 47-minute productions attempt to be unbiased, although I'm sure that partisans of each candidate will find fault with the productions.

McCain's video was apparently produced around 2003 and has a hasty feeling addition at the end that brings viewers up to date with the events of this presidential race.

McCain's program discusses his upbringing in a Navy family, his bad habit as a young adult, his almost flunking out of Annapolis as well as his five years as a POW during the Vietnam War. There are the usual interview subjects and clips of McCain himself from various sources, but the one thing I thought was missing was McCain being questioned about his changes in his life. What motivated him from being a womanizer and a party boy?

Although the show does discuss some of his achievements in the Senate, it doesn't view the flip-flops on philosophy that have marked McCain's current bid for president.

The Barack Obama show also dragged some skeletons out of his closet, such as his drug use during high school and college. Unlike the McCain production, which seemed to shoehorn a lot of information into its time allotment, the Obama program seemed to be a tad fluffy. I suppose this is to be expected as McCain is in his 70s and has had a long career in the Senate. Obama is 47 and is just starting his national political career.

The question is missing in the Obama piece of just why he is running for the presidency with not even a full term complete in the Senate.

The problem with both shows is they are constructed as more entertainments than biographies. A true biography has both supporters and critics and seeks to enlighten the viewer or reader with information they can't readily get from other sources.

That being said, these two DVDs make up a starting point for a discussion on the two men for people who don't know much about either.

The Real McCain: Less Jobs. More Wars.

Well, if the two previous productions were striving for some sort of objectivity, this hour-long DVD from the Disinformation Company makes no bones about it: the producers don't want John McCain for president.

Essentially the 10 short videos in the collection examine various aspects of McCain's candidacy and career and were first seen on a number of progressive Web sites. Producer Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films explains in the introductions of the shorts the idea was to zero in on a single topic and make a film that could then be passed around the Web.

Part of this DVD is instruction from political activists who explain how these videos can be used to build greater opposition to McCain's candidacy.

Of course, I don't know how much preaching to the choir these productions truly represent, but I think it's probably substantial. Would a McCain supporter actually view and think about what these news clips of McCain changing his mind on substantive issues?

I think that historians might look at this election as one in which low-budget political videos passed around the Web actually became a real force for change.

If you like John McCain, these videos will challenge your beliefs.