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Another Historian Criticizes ‘The Kennedys’

By Dave Itzkoff at New York Times

Add David Talbot to the list of authors who are pre-emptively criticizing “The Kennedys,” a planned mini-series that the producer and “24” co-creator Joel Surnow is preparing for the History channel.

Mr. Talbot’s book “Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years” was among the works cited by the “Kennedys” screenwriter, Stephen Kronish, as source material for the television project in a recent article in The New York Times.

At that time, the mini-series was under fire from Robert Greenwald, the liberal filmmaker who had obtained early copies of Mr. Kronish’s screenplays and provided them to other historians, whose critiques he recorded and posted at a Web site, stopkennedysmears.com. Mr. Kronish said he identifies himself as a liberal Democrat and suggested the criticism was politically motivated because Mr. Surnow is an outspoken conservative.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Mr. Talbot said that after the article appeared, he was contacted by Mr. Greenwald, who provided him with preliminary scripts for four episodes of “The Kennedys.” Having read the scripts, Mr. Talbot said they had many historical errors. “It’s soap opera as character assassination and an egregious distortion of the historical record,” he said. “I’m completely dumbfounded as to how he used my book as one of his sources.”

For example, Mr. Talbot said, the scripts presented President John F. Kennedy as dithering and indecisive on the issue of civil rights. In one scene, he said, the president is seen asking if James Meredith can be persuaded (even bribed) out of attending the University of Mississippi, where he would become its first black student, or if pressure can be applied to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to persuade Mr. Meredith not to attend. (In fact, Mr. Talbot said, Mr. Kennedy dispatched Army troops to enforce Mr. Meredith’s enrollment and fought vigorously with his military advisers to see that the order was carried out.)

Mr. Talbot said the “Kennedys” scripts also portrayed Robert F. Kennedy as being soft on organized crime and caving in to a demand from his father, Joseph, not to pursue a case against the mobster Sam Giancana. “That is a lie,” Mr. Talbot said, adding that such a depiction was in “complete violation of the historical record.”

In a statement, the History channel said:

The History Channel’s mission is to give a balanced view of history without a political agenda. History produces historical documentaries and programs on numerous topics and presents them to viewers, allowing them to cultivate their own informed opinions. Our mini-series “The Kennedys” was just commissioned in December 2009 and is planned to air in 2011. Not a frame of footage has been shot nor a final script delivered to the network. Our in-house group of historians have not vetted or for that matter seen any scripts yet. The scripts are in early draft form and are currently being annotated and revised every day. There are no final versions. The mini-series will be historically accurate and based on the work of multiple noted scholars. Anyone claiming otherwise is basing their claim on inaccurate information that has not been vetted by the History Channel.