June 13, 2014; Mediaite

As this is being written on Sunday night, CNN is airing a documentary about President George H.W. Bush called “41ON41.” According to Mediaite columnist Andrew Kirell, citing Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik, it isn’t a documentary. It is a paid infomercial. The money behind it is from the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation.

Although CNN hasn’t hidden the Bush Library Foundation funding, acknowledging it in its press release, the ubiquitous CNN commercials for “41ON41” don’t contain any kind of disclaimer that the film was financed by the foundation or that one of the two producers is Mary Kate Cary, a former speechwriter for Bush 41.

As part of his 90th birthday celebrations, following his skydive—probably the only one ever done by a former president, much less one who is a nonagenarian—Bush was feted with an advance screening of the documentary accompanied by family and friends at a theater in Sacco, Maine, near the family compound at Kennebunkport.

“‘41ON41’ is a wonderful portrait of an amazing man through the voices of 41 people who know him well,” daughter Doro Bush Koch said. “I’m excited for the world to know more about my extraordinary Dad.”

How does a documentary on Bush 41, an admirable but hardly perfect man, become a hagiography? Here is the list of the people who speak about the president in the documentary:

  • Barbara Bush
  • Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of FOX News Channel (and former senior advisor to Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign)
  • James Baker III, former campaign chairman for Bush-Quayle in 1988, former White House chief of staff in 1992-1993, also Secretary of State under Bush
  • Susan Baker, wife of James Baker and a co-founder of the National Alliance to End Homelessness
  • Tom Brokaw, former NBC Nightly News anchor
  • Doro Bush Koch
  • Jeb Bush
  • Marvin Bush
  • Pierce Bush
  • Buddy Carter, former White House butler
  • Bill Clinton
  • David Demarest, Bush’s White House Communications Director
  • Marlin Fitzwater, Bush’s White House Press Secretary
  • Bruce Gelb, retired president of Clairol and former vice chairman of Bristol Myers Squibb (and former classmate of Bush’s at Phillips Academy)
  • Brit Hume, senior political analyst for FOX News
  • Mike Krzyzewski, Duke men’s basketball coach and honorary co-chair of C-Change, an organization founded by George and Barbara Bush to find a cure for cancer.
  • John Major, Prime Minister of the UK from 1990 to 1997
  • Chip Miller, rear admiral who was a commanding officer of the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush
  • Barack Obama
  • Colin Powell
  • Dan Quayle
  • Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor under Bush
  • John Sununu, White House Chief of staff under Bush, national co-chair of 1988 Bush-Quayle campaign
  • Jean Becker, deputy press secretary for First Lady Barbara Bush
  • Billy Busch, fishing buddy of Bush 41 in Kennebunkport
  • George W. Bush
  • Neil Bush
  • Jeb Bush Jr.
  • Andrew Card, Deputy Chief of Staff, later Secretary of Transportation, and then Chief of Staff for President George W. Bush
  • Dana Carvey, Bush imitator on Saturday Night Live
  • Michael Dannenhauer, longtime personal aide
  • Mike Elliott, former member of the U.S. Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights, who has done two tandem jumps with Bush
  • Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, former Director of the CIA under Bush 41
  • C. Boyden Gray, counsel to Bush 41
  • Sarah Jackson, a 2011 graduate of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M
  • John Magaw, head of the U.S. Secret Service and lead agent for Bush’s security detail
  • David McCullough, historian
  • Jim Nantz, sportcaster
  • Arnold Palmer
  • Gabe Pressman, New York City radio and TV news broadcaster
  • Condoleezza Rice, who served as a Soviet specialist at the National Security Council during the Bush 41 administration
  • Alan Simpson, former Republican senator from Wyoming

Doro may get her wish that America will learn more about her dad, but they won’t get a much of a critical utterance from any of this lineup. On the 41ON41 webpage, there is a link for donations to the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation. There’s no reason why this film might not be a regular attraction at the library, a love letter to a president who many people clearly adored. But the foundation’s financing of the film as a documentary for CNN doesn’t cut it as a documentary and doesn’t stand CNN well as a news organization.—Rick Cohen