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Campaign Against JFK Miniseries Smear Effort Forces History Channel to Rethink Project

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, “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.

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You can sneak into Hollywood, but keep it quiet

By Nikki Schwab and Tara Palmeri at Washington Examiner

Allegedly, there’s a secret network of about 1,500 like-minded conservatives in the entertainment industry, according to Kevin McKeever and Larry O’Connor. The two spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday in D.C.

Here’s a tip for conservatives trying to break into Hollywood: You’re not alone, but don’t out your political leanings.

“Up until about two years ago, life in L.A. as a conservative sucked,” said Larry O’Connor of Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday morning. “It really did … but I’m here to tell you that it’s a lot more welcoming.”

O’Connor and Kevin McKeever of Bank of Kev Productions spoke of a secret network of about 1,500 like-minded conservatives in the entertainment industry at a seminar called “Getting Started in Hollywood.”

“It’s become a little bit more organized, and you might hear about it in the future as an actual movement within Hollywood,” O’Connor said.

The panelists encouraged participants to connect with this support system for actors, directors and producers, and though they wouldn’t mention names, they boasted of Academy Award winners in this secret society.

O’Connor and McKeever said they were particularly gleeful about a pitch to the History Channel for a miniseries on John F. Kennedy’s presidency by Joel Surnow, creator of the Fox action show “24.”

Liberal documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald, in an interview with Yeas & Nays on Thursday afternoon, argued, “This is a miniseries with a political agenda, and it is a conservative political agenda, and the History Channel needs to take five steps backwards.”

Greenwald is asking people to sign a petition against the History Channel at the Web site Stop

“They have about 12 to 20 sex scenes and no time to talk about the missile crisis,” he said.

O’Connor mentioned a liberal countermovement at the seminar aimed at thwarting the show’s production.

“Suddenly they are all concerned about how politicians are portrayed — remember the Reagan movie, we were successful with at least getting it off CBS,” O’Connor said.

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The Kennedys: Is Sex Part of History?

By Michael Wolff at Newser

After more than half-a-century of Kennedy video hagiography, it seems a bit churlish to object to a production that might not so considerately toe the party line—and I’m as much a Kennedy guy as anybody else.

The History Channel’s made-for-TV Kennedy film, which is apparently unfilmed and unwritten, has already attracted a serious cabal of phumphering Kennedy oldsters and other stalwart liberals appalled at the possibility of an off-message portrait.

The form of the protest is an internet video produced by Robert Greenwald, the documentary filmmaker who made Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism. And, indeed, central to his complaint is that the Kennedy film is being made by Joel Surnow, not just a conservative, but one who has worked for Fox as the executive producer of 24. So in a sense this has more to do with the war modern liberals are waging against Fox than with old-time liberals defending the Kennedys.

Greenwald’s attack video features a series of righteous Kennedy defenders as well as reenactments of what seem to be purloined versions of the possible script. The Kennedy partisans are quite a tongue-tied bunch, all of them struggling gamely, if inarticulately, to somehow dismiss or disdain or circumlocute what is, apparently, the main focus of the film.

Since we all know what this is—it’s the thing the Kennedys are now perhaps most noted for—it makes all these harumphers seem as though they’re trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

“It bears no relationship to the lives of these once living people,” says the biographer and historian David Nasaw, in, to say the least, a peculiar turn of phrase.

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Kennedy Supporters Try to Stop Miniseries: 24’s Joel Surnow to Produce ‘Warts and All’ Kennedy Family Series

By Mark Whittington at Associated Content

Joel Surnow, the creator of the hit TV series ‘24′ and a rare Hollywood conservative, is developing a Kennedy family miniseries for the History Channel. A group of Kennedy acolytes, led by Kennedy advisor Ted Sorenson, are aghast.

The Joel Surnow miniseries is purported to be a “warts and all” examination of the Kennedy family, which is to say there will be a lot of sex in it. The Kennedy defenders are so appalled that they have created a short documentary, Stop the Kennedy Smears, and a petition to try to prevent the miniseries from ever being aired.

The documentary, produced by left-wing documentary film maker Robert Greenwald, consists of a number of talking heads, historians as well as Ted Sorenson, attacking the miniseries on the basis of having read a version of the script. There are charges of historical inaccuracy, as there are will most dramatic retellings of history, some serious, some trivial. One of the historians wonders why the sex scenes, which he admits happened, are being portrayed.

Some of the talking heads speak darkly of a right-wing plot to smear the Kennedys, suggesting that Joel Surnow is a good friend of Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who created Fox News. The short ends with Ted Sorenson darkly suggesting that there will be law suits aplenty if the Joel Surnow Kennedys miniseries ever sees air.

The production team behind the Kennedys miniseries resply that they are adhering to historical accuracy:

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Liberals, historians aghast at History Channel’s Kennedy mini-series

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.”

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Is The Kennedys the next Path to 9/11?

By Media Matters

Media Matters expresses deep concerns about The History Channel’s upcoming Kennedy miniseries

Washington, DC - Today, Media Matters for America responded to news that The Kennedys, a History Channel miniseries about John F. Kennedy’s presidency tentatively set to air next year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his inauguration, contains a “remarkable number of obvious errors,” according to former Kennedy adviser Ted Sorenson, who reportedly saw scripts for the series. Sorenson additionally said that “[e]very single conversation with the president in the Oval Office or elsewhere in which I, according to the script, participated, never happened.”

“Of any network, The History Channel should understand the value of accurate, agenda-free historical programming,” said Eric Burns, President of Media Matters. “The fact that one of the Kennedys’ closest advisers doesn’t think the script fits that description is deeply concerning.”

Burns added: “The question is whether The History Channel is going to allow The Kennedys to become the next Path to 9/11.


The New York Times reported today that after Brave New Films’ Robert Greenwald read the scripts for the miniseries, he reached out to Sorensen and historians to fact-check what Greenwald described as a “political character assassination.” In addition to Sorensen’s criticism, historians said that the script was “loony and juvenile,” a “travesty,” and “distorted.”

  • Former Kennedy adviser Ted Sorensen: “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.”
  • Author and historian Nigel Hamilton: “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.”
  • Author, historian, and professor of American history David Nasaw: “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.”
  • Author Rick Perlstein: “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.”

The miniseries is being developed by Joel Surnow, producer of Fox Broadcasting Co’s 24. Greenwald wrote on The Huffington Post that Surnow is “a right wing activist” who vacations with Rush Limbaugh, refers to Bill Clinton as a “yuppie, baby boomer narcissist,” and supported Rick Santorum for Senate.

This is not the first time a historical miniseries has sparked controversy. Media Matters was one of several organizations to criticize ABC’s The Path to 9/11 and successfully pressured Scholastic to pull flawed, ABC-sponsored educational materials about the 9-11 attacks.

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Loyals Wage Campaign to Stop Kennedy Miniseries

By Mara Gay at AOL News

It might be the adulterous sex scene in the White House swimming pool that sent them over the edge. Or the line that has President John F. Kennedy saying he gets migraines unless he sleeps with a new woman every couple of days.

But the proposed script of a new History channel miniseries has drawn the ire of progressive historians and bloggers, who are waging a campaign to stop a portrait about JFK that some are calling a “right-wing political hit job.”

The Kennedy family poses after the election of John F. Kennedy to the presidency.
AP – The Kennedy clan gathered for this group shot at the Hyannis Port, Mass., home of Joseph P. Kennedy on Nov. 9, 1960.

It began when Kennedy scholars, including Ted Sorensen, a Kennedy historian and former adviser, got ahold of the script and were horrified. Sorensen called the approach “vindictive” and “malicious,” and said that the script is historically inaccurate.

When liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald read the script, he was so angry he started a “Stop the Kennedy Smears Campaign,” complete with a video featuring progressive historians calling for a boycott of the History channel until the network stops “running politically motivated fiction as historical.”

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Is ‘The Kennedys’ Miniseries a ‘Political Character Assassination’?

By Gary Susman at AOL Television 

Coming soon from two of the makers of ‘24′: Another tale of a president whose scandalous, secretive behavior jeopardized America’s national security. Only this time, the president is John F. Kennedy, and the project is ‘The Kennedys,’ an eight-hour docudrama miniseries due in 2011 on the History Channel.

Not a frame has been shot yet, but one documentarian and several JFK historians who claim to have seen the script say ‘The Kennedys’ as written is full of smears, distortions, and an emphasis on the 35th president’s lurid sex life at the expense of his historical achievements. They’ve formed an ad hoc group,, and have launched an online petition drive threatening a boycott of the channel if the miniseries airs with the script’s alleged falsehoods intact.

The group’s founder, Robert Greenwald, is a filmmaker known for left-leaning agitprop documentaries like ‘Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism’ and ‘Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers.’ But before he started making such films, he directed many standard-issue Hollywood movies and miniseries, and he tells the New York Times that contacts in the industry leaked him the script.

Although the author of the script, ’24’s’ Stephen Kronish, calls himself a liberal Democrat, the project’s director is ‘24′ co-creator Joel Surnow, one of Hollywood’s most outspoken conservatives. It’s Surnow whom Greenwald blames for what he calls the script’s “political character assassination” of the Democratic icon.

True to form, Greenwald has made a 12-minute documentary, marshaling historians who object to specific scenes in the draft of ‘The Kennedys’ Greenwald showed them. Former JFK aide Ted Sorenson says none of the script’s conversations between him and the president ever took place. Greenwald and his team object to scenes like one where JFK is committing adultery in the White House swimming pool while a Secret Service agent tries to get him to attend to a national security matter, or the one where JFK tells an aide that if he doesn’t cheat every other day, he gets a migraine headache. Even Nigel Hamilton, whose unflattering 1992 history ‘JFK: Restless Youth’ drew the ire of the Kennedy family, thinks the script’s portrayal is over the top and better suited to the National Enquirer than the History Channel.

Robert Greenwald’s ‘Stop Kennedy Smears’

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History’s Kennedy series stirs controversy

By Matea Gold at Los Angeles Times

Controversy is already dogging “The Kennedys,” a miniseries about the iconic political family that marks History’s first original dramatic project, according to the New York Times. Liberal documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald got hold of some early scripts and has shown them to historians, who say the screenplays are inaccurate. The fact that the series comes from producer Joel Surnow (”24″), who is known for his conservative political views, appears to have fed skepticism about the series.

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Cable film on JFK draws flak

By United Press International

NEW YORK, Feb. 17 (UPI) — Producers of a planned miniseries about former U.S. President John F. Kennedy deny a critic’s charge the project is “political character assassination.”

Producer Joel Surnow, best known as a creator of the Fox TV action hit “24,” is developing the Kennedy project for the History channel, with a script by Stephen Kronish, who identifies himself as a liberal Democrat, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who has received copies of the script from other entertainment industry professionals, has produced a video featuring critics of the script — including former JFK adviser Theodore C. Sorensen — in which the panel argues the script contains factual errors.

“It was political character assassination,” Greenwald told the Times. “It was sexist titillation and pandering, and it was turning everything into a cheap soap opera of the worst kind.”

Greenwald’s video includes an appeal to viewers to “tell the History channel I refuse to watch right-wing character assassination masquerading as ‘history’” and directs them to a Web site,

Producers say the scripts are not complete. Kronish said criticism is premature.

“Next year, when it’s done and it’s on the air, if people want to criticize it, so be it,” he said.

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