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JFK Historian Cited as Source for History Channel’s Maligned Series Speaks Out

By Daniela Perdomo at AlterNet 

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.”

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JFK Documentary is Character Assassination

By Mike Farrell at Huffington Post

My name is Mike Farrell. I’m an actor.

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.

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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, 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.”

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Another Historian Slams History Channel’s “The Kennedys”

By Ted Johnson at Variety

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.

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Outrage as 24’s creator Joel Surnow rewrites the Kennedys with extra sex

By Paul Harris at The Observer

A new TV mini-series masterminded by the rightwing co-creator of the hit show 24 has outraged liberals and placed the legacy of the Kennedy family at the heart of America’s culture wars.

The show is the brainchild of producer Joel Surnow, who is a rare political conservative in liberal-dominated Hollywood. The planned series, entitled The Kennedys, has been accused of emphasising the sexual shenanigans of the Democratic party’s most famous dynasty rather than the story of their rise to power and the way they captured of the imagination of the American people in the 1960s.

Despite not yet having a cast or a release date, Surnow’s plans for The Kennedys has already triggered an astonishing backlash among leading liberal Hollywood figures, former Kennedy aides and many Kennedy scholars. Leading the charge is liberal documentary-maker Robert Greenwald, whose films include Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism and Iraq For Sale.

Greenwald said that, when the scripts for The Kennedys were shown to him by friends, he realised he had to act. “There is not a lot that shocks me, but I read them and I was really shocked. He has such a clearly overt agenda … It is an effort to defame and destroy the achievements of President Kennedy,” Greenwald said.

While Surnow may not have done any filming yet, Greenwald certainly has, releasing a 13-minute video filled with attacks by Kennedy scholars and former colleagues and friends of JFK.

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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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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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