A television series on the Kennedys that is nearly a year away from official release has already spurred heated debate and aggressive pushback over its treatment of the iconic American family.
On Tuesday progressive filmmaker Robert Greenwald released a short video preemptively calling into question the accuracy of “The Kennedys,” an eight-hour miniseries which will air on the History Channel and is being produced by Joel Surnow, the creator of the series “24″ and a well-known Hollywood conservative.
In on-camera interviews, a set of renowned Kennedy historians, including Ted Sorensen — a one-time aide to John F. Kennedy — trash the script, which was obtained in advance by Greenwald. Charging that it is littered with easily documented falsehoods, they insist that the production team drafted a “cartoon” and “caricature” of the former president — downplaying weighty historical episodes in favor of tawdry and salacious material.
WATCH “Stop The Kennedy Smears” — Brave New Films makes the case against the miniseries.
The History Channel recently announced its first scripted miniseries, “The Kennedys,” to be produced by Joel Surnow, the conservative co-creator of Fox’s “24.”
While this is the umpteenth Kennedy project to come before cameras — a few years back, there was even a pilot for a Kennedy series, about JFK’s rise to power, called “Camelot” — this project has become a political flashpoint, not just because it’s Surnow involved but because of the successful effort among conservatives to get “The Reagans” miniseries pushed off CBS to Showtime.
The New York Times highlights the latest volley, from progressive activist Robert Greenwald, whose Brave New Films has in the past taken on health insurers, Afghanistan escalation and Iraq contractors, as well as Fox News, where Surnow once had tried a late-night comedy series with a conservative bent.
Greenwald has gathered comments from a number of historians and biographers, who have read the script have have spotted a number of inaccuracies, as well as what they call flaws in the depiction of the Kennedys. Ted Sorenson, the Kennedy speechwriter, calls it “character assassination.”
One of the more tawdry portions of the script comes when a Secret Service agent tries to get JFK’s attention when he’s having sex in a pool with a young woman.
A new mini-series about John F. Kennedy’s presidency that is being prepared by the History channel does not yet have a cast or a premiere date. Not a frame of footage been shot. It does, however, have prominent critics who want it brought to a halt.
The critics, including Theodore C. Sorensen, a former Kennedy adviser, say they have read the scripts for the project and that those contain errors of fact and emphasis. But like a similar controversy over a 2003 television film about Ronald Reagan, the dispute over the embryonic Kennedy series seems to say as much about the enduring place of the Kennedys as a battleground in the culture wars as it does about history itself.
The miniseries, called “The Kennedys,” is the brainchild of Joel Surnow, a creator of the Fox action show “24” and an outspoken political conservative. That raised alarms among Kennedy partisans when the History channel said in December that it would pick up the project.
Now, a documentary filmmaker who makes no secret of his liberal politics is releasing an Internet video in which a group of Kennedy scholars says the scripts for the miniseries offer a portrait of the president and his family that is, at best, inaccurate, and at worst, a hatchet job.
“It was political character assassination,” the filmmaker, Robert Greenwald, said of the screenplays in a telephone interview. “It was sexist titillation and pandering, and it was turning everything into a cheap soap opera of the worst kind.” Mr. Greenwald said he is hoping that his 13-minute video and an accompanying petition, at stopkennedysmears.com, will take on lives of their own on the Web. A title card at the film’s conclusion reads: “Tell the History channel I refuse to watch right-wing character assassination masquerading as ‘history.’ ” The charges come as a surprise to the production team behind “The Kennedys,” who say that the scripts for the eight-part series are still being rewritten and that any criticism of the project is premature.
“Next year, when it’s done and it’s on the air, if people want to criticize it, so be it,” said Stephen Kronish, the screenwriter of “The Kennedys,” who says he identifies himself as a liberal Democrat. “But at this stage of evolutionary development, it seems that Greenwald’s agenda becomes all the more obvious.”
Given the résumés of the players in the debate, it is understandable why everyone sees agendas everywhere. On one side is Mr. Surnow, an Emmy Award-winning producer and friend of prominent conservatives like Rush Limbaugh. During Mr. Surnow’s tenure as executive producer, his hit series “24” was criticized for its seemingly permissive attitude towards torture.
On the other side is Mr. Greenwald, the founder of the advocacy media company Brave New Films, who has created documentaries like “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism,” a condemnation of the Fox News Channel, and “Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers.”
Before turning to non-fiction films, Mr. Greenwald was a director and producer of made-for-television movies. From his contacts in that industry — agents, managers, casting directors, location scouts — he said he began receiving copies of “The Kennedys” scripts earlier this year. He then recruited a group of historians to appear in his video, including Mr. Sorensen and Nigel Hamilton, whose 1992 best-seller “J.F.K.: Reckless Youth” was criticized by the Kennedy family.
They say the “Kennedys” screenplays contain many factual errors, some benign and others less so. For example, they say the scripts refer to exit polling for the 1960 presidential election when exit polling had not yet been invented; and that Mr. Kennedy introduced the Peace Corps during the Bay of Pigs crisis in April 1961, when in fact he signed an executive order creating the corps one month earlier.
Beyond this, they say the scripts invent scenes that never occurred, like an exchange that suggests Mr. Kennedy came up with the idea for the Berlin Wall. As Mr. Sorensen bluntly says in the video, “Every single conversation with the president in the Oval Office or elsewhere in which I, according to the script, participated, never happened.”
Many people are skeptical of President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, sending an additional 30,000 troops there in an effort to boost US counterinsurgency efforts. One of the most prominent skeptics is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry.
In November he contributed two reports to the Obama administration’s policy debate regarding the escalation, both of which argued against General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy and questioned whether Afghan President Hamid Karzai could be counted a reliable partner:
“Sending additional forces will delay the day when Afghans will take over, and make it difficult, if not impossible, to bring our people home on a reasonable timetable,” he wrote Nov. 6. “An increased U.S. and foreign role in security and governance will increase Afghan dependence, at least in the short-term.” [...]
“Yet Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. He and much of his circle do not want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further,” Mr. Eikenberry wrote. “They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending ‘war on terror’ and for military bases to use against surrounding powers.”
Eikenberry feared that sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan would only serve to make America “more deeply engaged here with no way to extricate ourselves, short of allowing the country to descend again into lawlessness and chaos.”
He has since said that his concerns have been alleviated, but it is unclear how. (Read more about the reports HERE.)
David Bromwich wrote of Eikenberry’s diplomatic cables:
It is as if we had been offered a long look at several pages of the most disturbing prognosis in the Pentagon Papers; as if we could see the president reading them with us, and then deciding in spite of everything to go ahead with the war.
For more on the significance of the Eikenberry cables, watch the Rethink Afghanistan video below.
Singer and activist Billy Bragg was interviewed recently by ‘Brave New Conversations’ about why he is threatening to not pay his taxes in protest of the big bank bonuses to the Royal Bank of Scottland. Bragg explains that he has written to the Chancellor to inform him that he is “no longer prepared to fund the excessive bonuses of RBS investment bankers. Unless he acts to limit [bonuses] to £25,000, I shall be withholding my tax payment on 31st January.”
Read Reuters’ write up of Bragg’s protest movement here and check out Bragg’s protest Facebook page here.
Hundreds of people have posted the following message or something very close to it to the White House page:
“President Obama, I am one of more than 20,000 signers of this petition from Rethink Afghanistan: ‘In your State of the Union address on January 27, 2010, I want you to provide a concrete exit strategy for our troops in Afghanistan that begins no later than July 2011 and which completes a withdrawal of combat troops no later than July 1, 2012.’ Petition: http://bit.ly/7romlW“
The posts link back to the petition page outside Facebook, soliciting more signatures and thus training more people to participate in the protest. We’re not sure how many people have posted on the White House’s wall in the protest, but as the message says, more than 20,000 have signed the petition.
Rethink Afghanistan has set up a Ustream embed on its own Facebook page, where it will air the anti-war documentary Cost of War with an introduction by Robert Greenwald at 7:15 p.m. EST tonight. After the one-hour documentary, Greenwald will answer questions leading up to the president’s State of the Union, which will also stream on the Facebook page.
Regardless of your political stance, this is an interesting (but not surprising) use of social media. Do you think social media protests could have an impact on policy?
The rock ‘n’ roll references were flying Wednesday evening as Shepard Fairey and Robbie Conal, leading, L.A.-based exponents of political street art — including posters they sometimes paste up illegally — sat side by side in a Culver City television studio talking about the inspirations and aims of what they do.
In a session that will be available on the Web as part of the “Brave New Conversations” series of chats involving cultural figures who push for social change, Fairey said punk rock changed his life while he was growing up in South Carolina and helped set him on a path toward art-as-agitation; Conal hailed the Clash as “role models” and worked Donny Hathaway’s “Everything is Everything” into one of the many quips and plays on words that suggested he could have grown up to carry on in the tradition of Lenny Bruce as easily as that of Francisco Goya.
When someone in the audience brought up Fairey’s ongoing legal battle with the Associated Press over his appropriation of an AP photo as a template for his landmark “Hope” poster supporting Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Conal jumped in with a long anecdote about a nervous moment he had with the AP in 1996 on account of his unauthorized use of a photograph of Ronald Reagan in the background of “Little White Lies,” an artwork Pearl Jam commissioned him to do when the band was putting in its two cents against the re-election of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).
By Nick Graham at Huffington Post
Former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford’s anticipated run for the New York Senate seat currently held by Kirsten Gillibrand has some progressive groups up in arms. One of them, Brave New Films, is attempting to drum up opposition to a Ford candidacy through a video accusing Ford of being “Ann Coulter’s favorite Democrat.”
On their website, Brave New Films writes,
Well, for starters, he’s a staunch opponent of abortion rights. He also disapproves of marriage equality for gay couples, opposes public safety laws to keep guns off the streets, and blames immigrants for America’s problems. Doesn’t sound like much of a New Yorker, does he?