George Bush is a careful custodian of his image. It's fine to snap a photo of him without a tie as he works on his ranch, but photographers have been prevented from snapping him with his tie loosened. So the premiere next month at an Austin film festival of a feature-length movie that depicts Governor Bush merrymaking with journalists aboard his presidential campaign plane in the fall of 2000 may not get a thumbs-up from the Commander in Chief. "These are my people," says Bush, who is seen wading into the boozy throng's cocktail hour as the press corps whips up margaritas in the back rows of the 757. "It takes an animal to know an animal," Bush proclaims, to the whir of a blender. "And I'm not admitting I'm an animal, with 60 days to go in the campaign." The ex-tippler doesn't break his sobriety, but he is filmed doing something else that other photographers were forbidden to capture: drinking a nonalcoholic beer with the gusto of a man who has downed the real thing in his day.
How did someone film that scene and hours more of Bush at his most relaxed, when the rest of the press corps was told Bush's back-of-the-plane antics were "off the record"? The answer comes in one of the early scenes of Journeys with George, the video by former NBC producer Alexandra Pelosi, who is the child of Nancy Pelosi, the new House Democratic whip. At a New Hampshire rally in the fall of 1999, Pelosi jokes to a fellow reporter about their colleagues, "I hate these people." Suddenly, Bush is in the camera frame. "Why do you hate me?" he mistakenly asks. For the next 18 months of the campaign, Bush was drawn to Pelosi's camera with an intensity that almost matched his dislike for the big, imposing network ones. In front of them, he had to work, but when the red light was lighted on Pelosi's Sony handheld, that was fun. Even on the night of his loss in Michigan, Bush was mugging for Pelosi, wearing a sleeping mask and bumping his way down the plane aisle.