Outraged Citizens Campaign Forces History Channel to Rethink Miniseries About the Kennedys
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"I'm glad to hear that the History Channel is changing its tune and that it will not run this screenplay," Greenwald said, upon hearing of the statements the History Channel made to AlterNet. "It means that the 40,000 who've signed our petition are really having an impact."
"The important thing is that they take a time-out and fix it. What fixes it is up to them, but I look forward to hearing what they plan to do," says Greenwald.
Feeney says the History Channel has "never had a political agenda," and points to its recent airing of Howard Zinn's "People Speak" series as proof of its balanced coverage. He says Surnow is the right person for this project in spite of his being an avowed conservative and the topic being one of the most celebrated Democratic presidents, because he is a "prolific producer."
The spokesman adds that "nothing on the History Channel would run that is not historically accurate." The channel employs three in-house historians who vet all of their programming for historical accuracy, and everything has to be sourced and annotated.
But this isn't the first time the channel has been met with outcry over the accuracy of its historical programming -- it has even been hit on Kennedy-related content before. In 2003, the ninth episode in a series called "The Men Who Killed Kennedy" linked Lyndon B. Johnson, among others, to JFK's assassination. Johnson's widow, journalist Bill Moyers, former presidents Ford and Carter, and the last surviving member of the Warren Commission lodged complaints of libel against the History Channel. A&E responded by assembling a panel of historians who agreed that the documentary was not plausible; the series was no longer aired.
According to Feeney, each episode in the series on the Kennedy assassination focused on different conspiracy theories relating to the event, and the channel erred in not making the theoretical aspect more clear to its audience. He further concedes that "The Kennedys" is uncharted territory for the channel, as it has never produced an original scripted mini-series, though it has aired historical movies and "Band of Brothers," an HBO series set during World War II.
Such examples are likely what led Ted Sorensen to say that as a historian, he generally views the History Channel as "interested in ratings a lot more than they are interested in accuracy."
Meanwhile, an official statement prepared by the History Channel as a response to Greenwald's campaign says that its brand "is the gold standard for historical accuracy... ["The Kennedys"] scripts are in early draft form and are currently being annotated by top Kennedy historians, vetted and revised every day. There are no final versions."
This does not explain why the channel bought a script that in any (or every) way resembled the script the StopKennedySmears.com campaign obtained, but all the high-level attention could play a significant role in ensuring that the final product be historically responsible.
AlterNet blog update here (Feb. 25): JFK Historian Cited as Source for History Channel's Maligned Series Speaks Out
Sign the petition here: StopKennedySmears.com