It’s the silly season of attention-getting campaign ads, and Hollywood director, producer and political activistRobert Greenwald – of “Outfoxed” fame — may have hit the sweet spot with his spoof ad on Prop. 17, the coming insurance ballot initiative backed largely by Mercury General Insurance.
With Mercury and the “Yes on Prop. 17″ forces ready to drop some big cash on expensive TV ad time to argue the measure will increase competition and reduce consumer costs on insurance, this scathing spot from Greenwald’s progressive Brave New Films — which has produced such documentary efforts as “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism,” “Sick for Profit,” “WalMart: The High Cost of Low Price,” and “Iraq for Sale” –aims to counter.
It stars a “Mercury spokesman” haplessly trying to convince folks that insurance companies really do want to spend millions to be, uh, good guys and cut premium costs. (The sounds of hysterical laughter are a hallmark of this spot.) The classic Greenwald effort looks timed to take some of the punch out of that coming Mercury campaign.
The spot is a production of StopProp17.org, the consumer group fighting the initiative.
With big money backing the measure — Mercury has already put $3.5 million into the kitty — voters will be deluged with information on Prop. 17, which will be on the June primary ballot. So here’s the first salvo in a war that’s only just beginning.
The US military has used drones to attack suspected terrorists in Pakistan since at least 2004. Proponents of the small, unmanned planes say they are capable of “surgical strikes” that reduce civilian casualties and effectively combat terrorism.
Is that true? Well, not really, according to a new report from the New America Foundation, a non-profit research institute.
The percentage of civilians killed by drones in Pakistan is at about 32 percent, or one out of three, the report states, and the strikes themselves have little effect in deterring terrorist activities in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. Researchers do not believe any of the reported strikes targeted Osama bin Laden.
Our study shows that the 114 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, including 18 in 2010, from 2004 to the present have killed approximately between 834 and 1,216 individuals, of whom around 549 to 849 were described as militants in reliable press accounts, about two-thirds of the total on average. Thus, the true civilian fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 32 percent.
The group’s report is titled “The Year of the Drone,” referring to 2009. According to the figures obtained by the foundation, the Obama administration has increased the use of drone strikes considerably when compared to the previous years of the Bush administration.
There were 114 reported drone strikes from 2004 through 2009, but only 45 during the Bush years. The other 51 were during last year.
…[A]lthough the drone strikes have disrupted militant operations, their unpopularity with the Pakistani public and their value as a recruiting tool for extremist groups may have ultimately increased the appeal of the Taliban and al Qaeda, undermining the Pakistani state. This is more disturbing than almost anything that could happen in Afghanistan, given that Pakistan has dozens of nuclear weapons and about six times the population.
Although the US military executes the strikes with the approval of the Pakistani government, the people feel differently. Only 9 percent approve of drone strikes.
The group ReThink Afghanistan has already created a short documentary using some of the report’s findings.
“Clearly when you have a drone strike that kills a wedding party of ninety people when you’re really after one person and maybe you didn’t even get that person, this contributes to the problem,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) says in the film.
Many years ago, I was lucky enough to realize an ambition to portray John F. Kennedy, the first US President I was old enough to vote for. Made for PBS, the project was JFK, A One-Man Show, produced by David Susskind, written by David and Sidney Carroll and directed by Frank Perry.
This extraordinary team, understanding its responsibility to history, carefully researched every word that went into the show. As actors portraying historic figures, we can do no less.
To learn, as we near the 50th anniversary of JFK’s presidency, that a project now in the works is not only grossly inaccurate but clearly intended to assassinate the character of a man who gave his life for this country fills me with contempt for the tone and depth of the political rancor that rages about us today.
For the History Channel, of all venues, to present a screed that is not only historically inaccurate but meant as a knife in the back of a beloved president, is disgraceful.
At a time when our country is so wrenched with turmoil and confusion, I believe members of our profession, people who have the capacity to speak to the hearts and minds of America through entertainment, have a responsibility to portray history both fairly and honestly. If writers and producers fail to do so, actors, asked to provide faces and voices to their efforts, must draw the line.
Following my article last week on the campaign to quelch the History Channel’s upcoming mini-series on the storied Kennedy family — produced by a FOX News-affiliated right-winger — comes more news on the heated story.
For context, the channel is developing a mini-series called “The Kennedys” that has been called, by historians and people who knew the people that’ll be depicted in the show, sex and sleaze disguised as history. The best way to paint the picture is to quote what Ted Sorensen, JFK’s legendary speechwriter and adviser, told me for my article:
According to Sorensen, “not a single scene” in which he appears took place. “Some of that is simply sloppy invention, but most of it is because the script has been distorted by a hatred for the Kennedys,” he told AlterNet. “Almost everything is invented or slanted in one way or another against the Kennedys.”
Now it appears that David Talbot, a historian whose books the show’s screenwriter, Stephen Kronish, told the New York Times he read as background, is outraged that he is being cited as a source for the maligned script.
Talbot released this statement:
… I don’t recognize the JFK in his script. There’s no sense of that in the screen play, in this miniseries, there’s no sense that the Kennedy family was devoted to public service and sacrificed several of its sons to the cause. There’s no sense of grandeur and gravitas of this family and how again and again its sons, literally put themselves on the line for this country. That to me is the outrage. Yeah, you can have an evenhanded and truthful account of President Kennedy, not only his own discretions but also his fathers. That’s a matter of historical record at this point, but unless you put it in a truthful context to show that while meanwhile he’s changing history and fighting every day of his life to change history despite his own illnesses and his personal problems, then you have no kind of appreciation or measure for the man. It’s such a distortion and such a one –sided almost perversely so portrait of Kennedy that when I saw my booked linked to this, a book that is really all about his political courage, then to me it’s defamation.”
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.”
David Talbot’s book “Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years” was cited by screenwriter Stephen Kronish as source material for his script for the upcoming History Channel miniseries “The Kennedys.”
But Talbot now has come out against the script for the project, joining a chorus of historians who have characterized it as a politically motivated hatchet job, focusing on soap opera aspects of the Kennedys’ private indiscretions and ignoring seminal events of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, like the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Talbot’s comments were posted in a web video this afternoon on the site of BraveNewFilms, the progressive org run by Robert Greenwald, who has been spearheading the campaign against the project. “The Kennedys” is being produced by Joel Surnow, the former “24″ executive producer and unabashed conservative.
In the video, Talbott says that he was so “furious” by Kronish’s citation of his book as a source that he said it amounted to what he called “defamation.”
“I don’t recognize the JFK in his script,” he says. “Certainly he’s not the JFK in my book.”
After reading a draft of the script, Talbot said that “obviously they made a determination to do a one-sided portrait,” citing in particular scenes in which President John F. Kennedy is shown “dithering” about the unfolding crisis in Oxford, Mississippi, where James Meredith sought to become the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi. In fact, Kennedy sent in a major division of the U.S. Army to enforce his enrollment.