History Channel Pulls Kennedy Series: Censorship?

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Source: The Atlantic Wire – By Eli Rosenberg

The History Channel has decided not to air the mini-series The Kennedys, following pressure from the Kennedy family. Many are now accusing the network of censorship. After red flags were raised about the veracity of details in the initial draft, the History Channel brought on two prominent Kennedy historians to edit the script, who eventually agreed that it met the minimum standard to move forward. The eight-episode series, which starred Katie Holmes as Jackie and Greg Kinnear as JFK had already been filmed. Critics have pointed to the connections between the History Channel, Disney, and the Kennedys as one of the main reasons the project was canceled. Others have noted the tawdry and potentially apocryphal nature of many the details, particularly with regard to JFK’s extramarital affairs. That the controversy revolves around a TV series that potentially could have tarnished one of America’s most cherished political names is nothing new: a CBS series on Ronald Reagan was pulled in 2003 from the network amid similar concerns and allegations.

  • This Is Corporate Censorship, writes Glenn Garvin at the Miami Herald. “If you’re wondering why a TV network would sink $25 million into a show, reviewing scripts and daily shooting for 13 months before deciding that it’s ‘not a fit,’ let me suggest a couple of reasons. The History Channel is owned by Arts & Entertainment Television Networks, which, in turn, is owned by the Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and Hearst. Trade publications have reported that all these entities have been lobbied heavily by the Kennedy family, using both economic pressure and personal connections to get the show killed.”
  • Or Was The Show Inaccurate? Dave Itzkoff at The New York Times reports that concerns about the accuracy of the show were a major factor in its cancellation. “That decision seemed like a sudden reversal, but it came after an unsuccessful yearlong effort to bring the mini-series in line with the historical record. That effort raised questions about the boundaries between dramatic license and documented fact, a particularly fraught issue given enduring sensitivities about the Kennedy legacy.” Back in February, “historians said the scripts contained factual errors, fabrications and more than a dash of salacious innuendo.”

AETN [A&E, History Channel parent] is owned by a consortium including the Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and Hearst. The source said that Disney/ABC Television Group topper Anne Sweeney, who serves on the AETN board and is said to hold tremendous sway over its decisions, was personally lobbied by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy. Caroline Kennedy has a book deal with Disney’s Hyperion publishing division, which announced in April 2010 that it will publish a collection of previously unreleased interviews with the late Jackie Kennedy…[that] Caroline has agreed to edit….write an introduction and to help promote.

  • A Rose By Any Other Name Wouldn’t Smell As Sweet If you’re a Kennedy, your image is incredibly important, notes William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection: “When your success essentially hinges on your relation to one name, I suppose it’s rational to throw everything at preserving it’s glory…”
  • Regardless of Show’s Accuracy, Family Overstepped, says the Boston Globe’s editorial board. “The Kennedys and their admirers in Massachusetts may or may not be right in condemning a new eight-part History Channel miniseries as salacious and historically dubious.” The network now says the show was anti-brand, but it should have pulled the plug earlier in that case, say the editors–“not when letters poured in from Kennedy admirers, many of whom occupy powerful positions. The clear impression is that the History Channel pulled the plug not out of concern for historical fidelity, but in fear of alienating those who admire the Kennedys.”
  • Scenes That Were Later Cut Jessica Pressler at New York Magazine offers two examples: “JFK says to Bobby, ‘If I don’t have some strange ass every couple of days, I get migraines.'” And “JFK implies he boned a campaign aide by saying, ‘She volunteered to work overtime last night. We discussed the ins and outs of politics.'”
  • Controversy Could Only Bolster the Show’s Popularity, says Ted Johnson at Variety. “What is interesting is how many Kennedy projects surfaced in the 1980s and 90s, some with questionable accuracy, but generated little attention from principals. Depending on where it lands in the U.S., if it does at all, the controversy surely will help it.”


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