Monday, January 10, 2011

Stopping the Kennedy Smears

For some time now, Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films have had a video and petition circulating to stop the History Channel from airing an historically inaccurate miniseries about the Kennedy family. I wrote about it here back in February when Brave New Films began their campaign and I am happy to announce that Brave New Films and the numerous historians who objected to the right-wing smear were successful. The History Channel has pulled their miniseries.

The eight-part miniseries touted a powerhouse ensemble cast that included Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes, Barry Pepper, and Tom Wilkinson. A&E Television, who owns the History Channel, pulled the plug after objections piled up from historians, politicians and members of the Kennedy family (specifically Caroline Kennedy).

Though the History Channel will not air the miniseries, The Kennedys will run in Canada, internationally, and there is talk that Showtime might pick it up for airing in the United States.

For some time now, the History Channel has become less and less historically accurate. For whatever reason (read: ratings), reality-based shows and conspiracy theories have found a home at History and historically accurate programming is quickly going the way of the dodo. In the case of The Kennedys, the History Channel admits the miniseries is "historical fiction" which is a huge admission for a channel that devotes considerable air time to Nostradamus. Regardless of whether or not the film is aired in the U.S. by another outlet, History's nixing of the miniseries is no small victory for historians.

Why does an inaccurate miniseries matter to historians? It isn't simply a matter of historians being fierce defenders of the historical record. And it certainly has nothing to do with the political affiliation of said historians.

There are few Americans born after 1968 who have any interest at all in the Kennedy family or the legacy of the Kennedy brothers. Americans born after 1980 have no memory of a Kennedy brother running for president. Many Americans don't even know or could name the generation of Kennedys that includes a congressman who just left office (Patrick Kennedy), California's most recent first lady (Maria Shriver), a city councilman (Bobby Shriver) or a former gubernatorial candidate and Lieutenant Governor (Kathleen Townsend) and those are the Kennedys on the front lines of public service--there are Kennedys who run amazing non-profits (Caroline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Timothy Shriver, Special Olympics; Anthony Shriver, Best Buddies International; Mark Shriver, Save the Children) and Kennedys who work for distinguished organizations (Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Foundation & Amnesty International Leadership Council; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Natural Resources Defense Council; Kerry Kennedy, VSA Arts & National Advisory Board of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). Americans deserve to have an accurate historical record to turn to when they do seek information about the leaders of their country, an inaccurate one does no favor to the American people. Additionally, it isn't fair to any family, especially one so deeply devoted to public service, to be smeared to the extreme that the History Channel indirectly intended with their miniseries. As a historian myself and someone who has studied the Kennedy family and admired many members of it, I would personally like to thank Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films for their successful campaign to stop the Kennedy smears.

As I said, this is no small victory for those who dedicate themselves to the practice of history and the defense of the historical record. Regardless of our political affiliations, we should also find this a victory for our shared American past.

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