CNN writes instant political history Sunday with “True Believers: Life Inside the Dean Campaign” (8 p.m. EST, repeating at 11 p.m.)

It’s a rise-and-fall story, of course, almost shocking in both extremes. The cameras of “CNN Presents,” the channel’s Sunday documentary show, are there for a lot of intimate, “The War Room”-style moments.

It’s much better, in the way of most media, at documenting the fall than explaining or even chronicling the rise.

But so much of life is just being there, and CNN is there for one telling moment after another.

It’s there, for instance, when campaign manager Joe Trippi, the star of this show, gets the bad news that the tide is turning against the Vermont governor in the Iowa caucuses. It’s there to capture Trippi’s astonishment at how unfairly the infamous “Dean scream” is used by television.

And it shows the cloud of dejection that settles onto Trippi after Dean’s huge early lead in the polls turns out, in the actual voting of Iowa and New Hampshire, to have been just a tease.

The hour pulses with the rock “n’ roll energy of Dean’s campaign. Producer Kate Albright-Hanna and her editors do a splendid job editing their footage into something coherent, something that feels true to what was, for however short a time, a movement.

But what you don’t come to a program like this for is a deeper understanding.

Despite some attempts at context from political reporters, “True Believers” never explains, or, really, even tries to, what happened to Democrats’ early embrace of the Dean candidacy.

There’s a feeling at the end of this, as with the Dean campaign itself, of being rushed off the stage.

(c) 2004, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-03-04-04 1341EST

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