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PBS’ ‘Pelosi Power’ documentary offers high praise of the Speaker, scant on criticism

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PBS’ “Frontline” series released a documentary highlighting the career of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which praised the seasoned lawmaker as railing against the “white capitalist patriarchy” system.

“Frontline” filmmaker Michael Kirk produced “Pelosi’s Power,” which was released in March, spent a majority of the 78 minutes praising the 82-year-old California lawmaker. 

“A gripping and unprecedented look at the life and legacy of the first woman Speaker of the House: how she has gained and wielded power across three decades, and how she has handled grave challenges to her leadership and to American democracy from former President Donald Trump and his allies,” PBS’s description of the episode states. 

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Pelosi joined the House of Representatives in 1987. 
(Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The documentary featured a wide-array of supports of Pelosi and few detractors and often framed opposition to her being based in sexism. Featured supporters of Pelosi included; former advisor to President Obama David Axelrod, political activist and her daughter Christine Pelosi, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, and other liberal figures. Most of the testimonies praised Pelosi’s political wit and breaking down barriers for women. 

“Nancy Pelosi is more comfortable with power than any other person that I’ve covered,” USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page said. 

“One thing Pelosi has never been accused of is bringing a knife to a gun fight,” Robinson said.

“She is a woman who is challenging the President and the head of the Republican Party. Within a white capitalist patriarchy, Nancy Pelosi is a person who is not supposed to have the authority to talk back to the President of the United States during a war. So she is a tremendous threat,” liberal columnist Rebecca Traister said. 

The documentary also included numerous former lawmakers who were close allies to Pelosi, all praising the Speaker for her leadership. The little criticism included came from former Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. They criticized Pelosi for being hyper partisan and leading Democrats in refusing to work across the aisle. 

PBS frames Pelosi’s career as a protagonist in a hostile environment. From her beginning joining a male dominated institution to her fighting against former President Trump. It often framed her opponents as sexist, downplayed their criticism and highlighted the praise she received. For example, in one segment they highlighted the compliments and praise she received after having a contentious meeting with Trump. 

One of the memes the PBS documentary

One of the memes the PBS documentary “Pelosi’s Power” included in their film. 
(PBS)

One of the memes the PBS documentary

One of the memes the PBS documentary “Pelosi’s Power” included in their film. 
(PBS)

One of the memes the PBS documentary

One of the memes the PBS documentary “Pelosi’s Power” included in their film. 
(PBS)

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One of the segments that was critical of the Speaker was the insurgency Pelosi faced after Democrat victory in the 2018 midterm. Pelosi faced resistance from the far-left members of caucus known as the Squad, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, N.Y., Ilhan Omar, Minn., Rashida Tlaib, Mich., and Ayanna Pressley, Mass. The documentary framed Pelosi as being out-of-touch when compared to the new members. It highlighted how Ocasio-Cortez visited a climate change protest on her first day in Congress in Pelosi’s office. 

“I think it was probably galling to her that here you come, you haven’t achieved anything yet, you don’t know anything about policy when I’ve spent all of these years learning the institution, learning the policy, learning how to pull the levers,” Washington Post columnist Matt Bai said. “”I think it had to be galling and sort of ironic at the end of the day.”

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Compared to other documentaries Kirk has produced, “Pelosi Power” stands out for its lack of critical commentary. In his other documentaries like “Trump’s American Carnage”, “The Choice 2020: Trump vs Biden”, “The Mueller Investigation”, and “Zero Tolerance” all were critical of conservatives and Republicans particularly when it came to former President Trump. Meanwhile, in “Pelosi’s Power,” Kirk frames the long-time lawmaker as fighting an increasingly radical Republican Party that will upend democracy in the United States. 

“From her position as speaker, Pelosi is doing what she can to stop them,” the “Frontline” narrator said. 

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