Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Kennedys vs. The Reagans

In 2003, conservative activists got hold of the script for CBS' mini-series The Reagans, and through an aggressive public campaign, with the support of some members of the family, managed to get the show re-edited and moved from its primetime network slot to be broadcast more quietly on Showtime. A new campaign has learned from this and gone further, getting the jump on the History Channel's commissioning of a series about the Kennedys before the script is finished or a single scene is shot.

The anti-Reagans, pro-Reagan campaign was led by Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center, whose thoughts can be found here.

Half of our dismay at this messy crossroads of entertainment and propaganda should be directed at Hollywood, which should be greeted with a shaker of salt every time a movie is "Based On a True Story." The other half should be directed at history-challenged Americans, those who could watch hysterical "history" films like Oliver Stone's "JFK" and actually swallow the nonsense. To those Americans who get their history from the movies (and their news from the late-night comedians), we can only plead: Read a book, or a newspaper, or else please don't bother to vote.

Bozell's equivalent in the campaign against the History Channel is Robert Greenwald, who as the maker of Outfoxed, a political propaganda documentary about political propaganda, is always alert to political propaganda. Like Bozell, Greenwald is concerned about the political identity of the film-makers in question, in this instance, the producer Joel Surnow of 24 fame. Surnow's conservatism casts a sinister light on the innaccuracies, inventions and flawed characters that appear in the draft script. Greenwald has enlisted several historians, and Ted Sorensen, in a video here, urging a boycott of the History Channel.

That this is a project of the History Channel, rather than a channel more traditionally associated with drama, seems to be the strongest argument, and gives the campaign the weight of intellectual principle. Otherwise, the two campaigns seem to have few differences - self-appointed watchdogs of America's media consumption interfering politically with representations of protected presidential symbols.

My only hope is that the Kennedy film is less painstakingly dull as The Reagans; it will certainly have more sleaze in it.

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