Monday, March 1, 2010

Getting Rid of Migraines

A still from the rough cut of the Stop Kennedy Smears video by Robert Greenwald feature Kennedy adviser Theodore Sorensen [above].

Inspired by the New York Times, February 16, 2010

It's hard to believe there is still anyone alive who knew President Kennedy. The man himself would have been 93 years old this May. As tragic as it was that he died so young, based on his medical history and his propensity for falling into women who weren't his wife, the odds are he wouldn't have made 73 let alone 93. Yet, there are a few from Camelot still around. And they are pissed. The reason is a new History Channel 'mini-series' [whatever happened to when they just showed the greatest hits of World War II?] that hasn't even been cast for yet, but that has aging Kennedy aides getting their Depends in a bunch. Although there isn't even a date selected yet to even start shooting - let alone airing - the series, Kennedy adviser Theodore Sorensen says he's read the script and that it is about as factual as Oliver Stone's rewrite of history in JFK.

Called - brilliantly, I might add - The Kennedys, the series is a project of 24 creator Joel Surnow. Therein, probably, lies some of Sorensen's angst. Surnow is an avowed political conservative. The fact that Kennedy himself was a conservative Democrat - despite his elevation to sainthood - always seems to escape the remaining Kennedy loyalists. The fact is, John Kennedy wouldn't have recognized the politics of his little brother Teddy. Bobby was too liberal for JFK. And Bobby was no liberal while JFK was alive.

In answer to a series that hasn't yet been cast, a liberal documentary filmmaker went to the Internet with a short in which historians of the era say the script is scandalous and inaccurate. My guess is it is scandalous and a bit accurate. Having not read the script, though, I've no idea.

“It was political character assassination,” the anti-series filmmaker, Robert Greenwald, told the New York Times. “It was sexist titillation and pandering, and it was turning everything into a cheap soap opera of the worst kind.” Greenwald further told the Times that he is hoping that his 13-minute video and an accompanying petition, at, will convince the History Channel to kill the project before it even begins.

Unless the series depicts Kennedy blowing up churches in Alabama, I think the thing should go forward, personally. Unlike JFK the movie, about three people will even see The Kennedys. And that will break a ratings record for the History Channel. Indeed, were it not for the outcry against the series, you can almost guarantee that neither you nor I would even know it existed. And that, folks, may be what this is all about. It wouldn't surprise me if the makers of the project leaked salacious versions of the script, knowing damned well that Kennedyphiles would go ballistic and actually help them in promoting it.

Ostensibly, those involved in creating the series feign shock and sorrow over the hullabaloo. They also lend some credence to my theory above by claiming that - no matter what Sorensen thinks he read - the scripts for the 8-part series [Jesus, the man was in office for less than three years; do we need eight episodes?] haven't been finalized. In fact, they claim the scripts are still being rewritten.

“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, told the Times. Kronish, who actually told the Times he identifies himself as a liberal Democrat concluded, “But at this stage of evolutionary development it seems that Greenwald’s agenda becomes all the more obvious.”

The angle of the Times article is that the whole tempest is a Left vs. Right thing. Project creator Surnow is an Emmy Award-winning producer and friend of prominent conservative blowhard Rush Limbaugh. Right there, you know his judgment is questionable. Anyone who is friends with that fat bastard is suspect. On the other hand, I like Surnow because - during his tenure as executive producer on 24 [a show, believe it or not, that I still haven't seen despite word that "you'd love it] - Surnow was criticized for what the Left called the show's permissive attitude toward torture. Sounds good to me.

Then there is the stopkennedysmears guy, Greenwald. He is the founder of the advocacy media company Brave New Films. His company has created documentaries like Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism [again, never saw it but heard I'd love it], a condemnation of the Fox "News" Channel, and Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers. So, he sounds a bit credible, too. Generally when you have two credible adversaries, the truth to their argument lies somewhere in the middle.

The story of how Sorensen got his liver-spotted fingers on the script is that from Greenwald's days as a director and producer of those God-awful made-for-television movies [that's one thing I'll say for reality TV - at least it killed the acting career of Meredith Baxter Birney and Lindsay Wagner] Greenwald started hearing about the project. Based on what he read, he lost his mind. He dug up Sorensen and a group of historians. To his credit, though Greenwald didn't just choose Kennedyphiles. Appearing in his video is Nigel Hamilton, whose 1992 JFK: Reckless Youth [which I think I read on my honeymoon, or thereabouts] drove the Kennedy family insane.

Among the errors they cite in the scripts are factual ones that would drive someone like me nuts. If there's one thing I cannot stand it's when a movie, TV show, play whatever gets a tiny fact wrong. It undermines - for crazy people like me, anyway - the credibility of the whole project. Among those kinds of things these critics say are found in the scripts include references to exit polling for the 1960 presidential election. Which would be fine, except exit polling had not yet been invented. Another is that President Kennedy introduced the Peace Corps during the Bay of Pigs crisis in April 1961. Which, again, is fine except for the inconvenient fact that he signed an executive order creating the corps one month earlier. Again, to normal people that's no big deal. To me, I'm already done with the thing.

I'm not a big fan of historical fiction, which is what this project sounds like. The average person may be ok with script scenes that never occurred [such as an exchange that suggests Kennedy came up with the idea for the Berlin Wall]. At age 82, you have to wonder if Sorensen remembers how he got into his chair, but you do have to pause when he 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.” Since older folks tend to have great long-term memory [ok, they have no short-term memory], Sorensen is either lying or they really didn't happen.

Some of the other scenes the Kennedyphiles are complaining about, however, are inconvenient facts as far as I'm concerned. There are too many sources who have reported over the years about how Kennedy enjoyed banging young ladies in the White House pool for there not to be a whole lot of truth to it. So, when critics complain about a scene where a Secret Service agent approaches the President while he is banging a young lady, I have to say that Kennedyphiles no doubt don't want that portrayed, but it happened so it's ok by me. There is also a story - possibly apocryphal although more than one person has said Bobby Kennedy repeated it to them - where JFK asks Bobby “What do you do when you’re horny?” JFK then tells his younger brother that if he doesn’t have sex with unfamiliar women “every couple of days I get migraines.” I've finally discovered the cause of 20 years of headaches!

For his part, screenwriter Kronish told the Times that the History Channel’s standards for producing its mini-series are more rigorous than the broadcast networks’, and that his finished scripts will require bibliographic annotations and legal vetting before filming proceeds. Kronish can also cite his own historians like Seymour Hersh, Robert Dallek, David Talbot and others from whom - he says - he developed his personality sketch of the main characters. “If I’m wrong,” he told the Times, “I guess all of them are wrong.” No, I wouldn't say that. But I would say that Hersh's work in particular borders on the salacious-as-history. Still, Dallek and Talbot are pretty sound.

Kronish loses me, however, when he acknowledged that some factual details, like the date that the Peace Corps was established, were changed for concision or dramatic license, but not with malicious intent. His argument - “This is not a documentary,” he said. “It is a dramatization.” - is crapola. There's no such thing as dramatic license when writing about historical figures. At least not in my world.

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