By Daniela Perdomo at Alternet
Media observers are abuzz with talk of a History Channel mini-series called “The Kennedys.” While the scripts for the eight-part show, slated to air in 2011, are still unfinished, that hasn’t stopped 40,000 people from signing a petition calling the series “right-wing character assassination” and “politically motivated fiction.”
The populist rage stems from two roots. The first is that the History Channel gave the green light — and $30 million — to Joel Surnow, a producer with significant ties to right-wing media. Known for producing “24,” the hit terrorist-fighting series that has normalized torture techniques for many Americans, Surnow is tight with Rush Limbaugh and Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News. His ties with the channel extend beyond the personal, as he also executive produced its now-defunct “1/2 Hour News Hour.”
“The History Channel made a major mistake by turning this project over to a man with a publicly right-wing agenda,” says Robert Greenwald, the progressive filmmaker who heads Brave New Films and has produced such documentaries as Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism. “Would you want me to be doing a Bush mini-series?” he asked. (Disclosure: Greenwald sits on AlterNet’s board.)
Perhaps not if the intent is to be politically unbiased.
Greenwald himself is behind the second reason fueling the campaign to quash the mini-series. A leaked script for “The Kennedys” found its way into his showbiz-connected hands, which he shared with prominent Kennedy historians who have since gone on the record calling the script everything from distorted and nonsensical to propaganda.
“I’ve read the script,” writes Greenwald in a letter directing supporters to the campaign’s site, StopKennedySmears.com. “It’s ridiculous, sexually exploitative, revolting stuff — everything you’d expect from a conservative re-writing of history… this garbage, coming so soon after Ted Kennedy’s death, makes the worst commercial schlock look Oscar-worthy.”
The script Greenwald has circulated includes various factual inaccuracies as well as a multitude of inventions, according to Kennedy experts. One scene in particular shocked Nigel Hamilton, a senior fellow in policy studies at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. In it, John F. Kennedy conceives of the Berlin Wall as a way to secure West Berliners from East Germany. In truth, the Berlin Wall was not a western conception; instead, it was built by East Germany to enforce Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions. (Interestingly, as Hamilton points out, the Bay of Pigs crisis, the most renowned of all of Kennedy’s foreign policy moments, is never mentioned in the script.)
In another scene, JFK is having sex in a pool with a girl named Judy, when a Secret Service agent comes to deliver time-sensitive information from McGeorge Bundy, his security advisor; the president doesn’t stop what he’s doing as the agent delivers the news. Indeed, sex figures importantly in the leaked script — JFK tells his father that having sex with strangers helps him run the country better, and he tells his brother Bobby that extramarital relations stave off his migraines. To be sure, Kennedy had many confirmed dalliances with women other than his wife, but the character presented in the advance script is portrayed as a silly heir with no interests other than sex.
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read this,” says David Nasaw, professor of American history at the City University of New York, in the campaign’s video. “I want to laugh because the portraits are so god-awful stupid. I want to cry because I feel that if they’re successful and get this thing on the air, with credible-looking actors, a generation is going to get its history from this nonsense.”
Thurston Clarke, historian and author of Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech that Changed America, believes Surnow’s involvement and the “conscious political hits” he read in the script make it possible that the overly sleazy script is an attempt to derail the upcoming 50th anniversary of JFK’s death.
By Brett Michael Dykes at Yahoo News
In a 2007 New Yorker profile, “24″ co-creator and executive producer Joel Surnow is portrayed as an unabashed conservative: He smokes cigars with Rush Limbaugh, can “hardly think” of Ronald Reagan without “breaking into tears,” and believed that “America [was] in its glory days” under President Bush. For being a right-leaning power player flourishing in a bastion of liberal politics, Surnow is understandably revered in conservative circles. And, naturally, he’s ruffled feathers on the left.
Now he’s producing a miniseries for the History Channel about the Kennedys, the closest thing the Democratic Party has to royalty, and historians – as well as a liberal documentary filmmaker – are up in arms.
The eight-hour series, titled “The Kennedys,” is still in the early stages of production. But when its script began circulating around Hollywood for casting purposes, it made its way into the hands of liberal documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald. After reading it and finding it to be what he termed a piece of “political character assassination,” Greenwald drew up a list of twenty “reputable historians” to pass the script to for their opinions.
What the historians found: The script painted a sensational view of the Kennedys and contained numerous factual inaccuracies. Further, Ted Sorenson, a close adviser to President Kennedy, lamented that “every single conversation with the president in the Oval Office or elsewhere in which I, according to the script, participated, never happened.”