History For Dummies

by digby

I wrote about 24 creator Joel Surnow's smear job of John F. Kennedy last December and unsurprisingly a look at the script proves that Ken Burns' The Civil War it ain't.

The NY Times reports:
A new mini-series about John F. Kennedy’s presidency that is being prepared by the History channel does not yet have a cast or a premiere date. Not a frame of footage has been shot. It does, however, have prominent critics who want it brought to a halt.

The critics, including Theodore C. Sorensen, a former Kennedy adviser, say they have read the scripts for the project and that those contain errors of fact and emphasis.
The good news is that unlike The Path To 9/11, when we were all scrambling at the last minute, Brave New Films is on this one early and has begun a campaign to expose the right wing agenda that's behind it:
Now a documentary filmmaker who makes no secret of his liberal politics is releasing an Internet video in which Kennedy scholars say the scripts offer a portrait of the president and his family that is, at best, inaccurate, and at worst, a hatchet job.

“It was political character assassination,” the filmmaker, Robert Greenwald, said of the screenplays in a telephone interview. “It was sexist titillation and pandering, and it was turning everything into a cheap soap opera of the worst kind.” Mr. Greenwald said he is hoping that his 13-minute video and an accompanying petition, at stopkennedysmears.com, will take on lives of their own on the Web. A title card at the film’s conclusion reads: “Tell the History Channel I refuse to watch right-wing character assassination masquerading as ‘history.’ ”

The charges come as a surprise to the members of the production team behind “The Kennedys,” who say that the scripts for the eight-part series are still being rewritten, and that criticism of the project is premature.

Right, because Joel Surnow is just another hard working filmmaker who happens to hang out with Rush Limbaugh. Why would anyone assume that the self-serving smears would stay in his script?

Expect the right to have a full blown hissy fit about censorship and rend their garments about losing their God given right to slander Democrats, but they don't really have a leg to stand on:

But the debate around “The Kennedys” recalls a similar flare-up around the mini-series called “The Reagans” that CBS was to show in 2003. In that case the network canceled its planned broadcast after conservatives criticized the project — before it was shown, and based on scripts and portions of the film. The conservatives complained about depictions of Ronald Reagan as being insensitive to AIDS victims, and that Nancy Reagan was shown as being reliant on a personal astrologer. (“The Reagans” later played on Showtime, the cable channel.)

They will of course claim that was completely different because they were right and we are wrong, but that won't make it so.

In the age of Citizens United this is going to become an ever bigger problem. The right is going to continue to create explicitly political fiction and sell it as history. (David Bossie alone is showing a whole bunch of films at CPAC this year.) And we are all going to be faced with the awful tension of not wanting to stifle free speech while battling back conservative propaganda.

All you can do in this situation is fight the lies with the truth. And according to this short film by BNF, the truth is that this script is filled with lies. Here's a sampling of historians who've read it:
"If the authors of this travesty had any conscience or any honesty they'd rename it. Call these people Sullivans or Schwartzes or some other name because they certainly aren't Kennedys as I know them."

"It struck me that the writer wanted to tell as distorted a story as possible, and find very little in the Kennedy years that possessed any dignity what so ever."

"I was amazed to find reading those pages that every single conversation with the President in the Oval office or elsewhere in which I according to the script participated, never happened. There were no such conversations... A minimum amount of research could've avoided the remarkable number of obvious errors of that kind in this script."

"The script becomes, historically, ever more loony and juvenile, as the writers invent more and more phony events to give an impression of a President Kennedy out of his depth, and dependent on others for advice."

Kennedy smears aren't anything new, of course, but putting the imprimatur of The History Channel on a work of sleazy right wing propaganda takes it to a new level. If you have the word "history" right there in the logo, you have some responsibility to deliver historical accuracy.