The President’s Book of Secrets
A History Channel production, released by A&E Television Networks.
A standard definition program, 16x9 aspect ratio, with Dolby Digital stereo sound. The run time is about 94 minutes, and the main menu comes up fairly promptly after a brief FBI warning, and a History Channel splash. The disc is Line-21 Closed Captioned. The packaging is a standard DVD case. Retail price for this title is $19.95, and has a USA street date of April 26, 2011.
The program originally aired on December 1, 2010.
The Feature — ••½
There are a lot of secrets that surround the American Presidency. Things the President does or knows that are kept secret. Secret ways to evacuate Presidents from emergencies. Maybe even some genuinely interesting secrets that might be handed direct from Mr. Outgoing President to Mr. Incoming President on Inauguration Day. And then, of course, there is also the sort of meta-question of: are there things explicitly kept secret from the President?
This is the fundamental ‘germ’ of the idea behind this feature. Unfortunately, the producers got caught up into what might have been the useful image of ‘a book of secrets,’ and pursued it with relentless literal-mindedness until the viewer might be ready to scream.
That said, however, there are interviews with senior White House staffers, Vice-Presidents, Chiefs-of-Staff, Cabinet officers, Newt Gingrich as former Speaker of the House, and reporters and writers, including Dan Rather, about secrets, secrecy, power, Continuity of Government, and various other aspects surrounding the White House and it’s First Resident.
Unfortunately, it also devolves into conspiracy, ranging from 9-11, the assassination of JFK, the Illuminati (not by name, of course,) aliens and Area-51, and a few other things best left untouched.
For the person hoping for “the inside dirt,” by modern standards, there are no “secrets” being revealed in this program. Perhaps the most single unfortunate aspect of this production is the disconnect between the cover-art and materials, and the actual program itself. Consider the following quote from the liner notes on the back: Why does Air Force One always appear with its left side facing the public and how much does the president know about activating the on-board flares to repel missiles? Neither subject is addressed in the slightest by the program.
The Picture — •••
The picture quality is otherwise unremarkable standard definition video. Some of the interviews may have been shot in HD, but much of the remaining video was from a variety of archival sources, not shot under studio conditions. There are no significant flaws added by the History Channel production and later mastering for DVD.
The Sound — •••
The sound is similarly an unremarkable stereo recording. The narration by Jonathan Adams and interviews are localized to the center. Atmospheric, thematic musical stems and atmospheric sounds expand the stereo image, but do not interfere with the intelligibility of the spoken word.
There Are No Extras
Unless, of course, they are secret.
In The End — ••½
With some judicious removal of some of the more blatant conspiracy material and the redundant bumpers around the commercial breaks, I suspect this program could have been cut down to a fairly clean and interesting program of about an hour. As it is, at just over ninety minutes, it tends to drag a bit. Technically, there is wrong with the presentation; it just seems to fail to live up to its advertised claims.