Last night, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Greg Kinnear and over one thousand other movie-industry types attended the Hollywood premiere of the “controversial” Kennedy miniseries that will start airing this Sunday on the ReelzChannel. I was also there, though, oddly, Tom and Katie never said hello.
“The Kennedys” has been and will be the subject of much debate because it was scheduled to air on the History Channel before the History Channel caved to backchannel political pressure exerted by the Kennedy family (specifically Caroline Kennedy and Maria Shriver) and claimed that the epic, eight-part miniseries didn’t “fit the History brand.” Keep in mind that topics that regularly “fit the History brand” include Big Foot, UFOs, Nostradamus, and 9/11 conspiracy theories (not to mention Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories).
But the two hours I saw (depicting the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis) were among the most historically accurate and pro-Kennedy examples of historical docudrama that I have ever seen.
Before I delve into my actual “review” of what I witnessed, let me first disclose that the executive producer of the film is Joel Surnow (whose “conservative” leanings were used as a weapon against the project even though it was written by a liberal), who is a golfing buddy of mine, and that I produced a feature documentary called “Blocking the Path to 9/11” that told the incredibly similar story of how many of the same studio executives who bailed here also censored the magnificent 2006 ABC docudrama “The Path to 9/11.” But just to be clear, I obviously I had nothing to do with the making of “The Kennedys” and had never even seen any of the film until last night.
What I saw shocked and angered me.
I am not referring to the actual production, which is riveting, entertaining and educational. Instead, I am referencing how, in a rational world, the Kennedy family and the History Channel should have reacted to its content.
Imagine for a moment that you are Caroline Kennedy, who reliable reports indicate effectively blackmailed ABC/Disney (which owns part of the History Channel) into trying to kill this miniseries. You get to stifle legitimate free expression about your incredibly famous family without ever even having to make a public statement. You can still do interviews with NBC Nightly News (as, unbelievably, she did with Brian Williams just days after it was reported that she had blackmailed a media outlet) further romanticizing your father’s inauguration, and NOT EVEN GET ASKED ABOUT THE EPISODE. And you can do all this apparently without ever having watched a frame of the film or without the vast majority of the country even knowing you committed these crimes against justice and rationality.
Most amazingly of all, you inadvertently (because it seems you didn’t bother to even read the script) make it more difficult for the nation to see an extremely cute childhood version of yourself being literally told by your mother that your father “saved the world” at the end of the Cuban missile crisis. I am sure that anyone could understand why free expression should take a backseat to preventing you from experiencing such horrible public humiliation.
As a bit of a side note, it is interesting to surmise why the Kennedy clan was so eager to believe that a project that is abundantly fair to their legacy was actually out to get them.
The controversy began when a liberal “filmmaker” (to call him a “hack” would be an insult to hacks) of no talent, integrity or achievement found out that a “conservative” (Surnow) was behind the show and that the historically-based program depicted known adulterer JFK as an adulterer. The fact that Surnow was one of dozens of decision-makers on the film and did not write it was irrelevant. Liberals are so threatened by the notion of anyone right-of-center being allowed to even visit their monopoly on Hollywood production that they literally go into some sort of derangement syndrome whenever that even comes close to happening (even though, in effect, such an actual “take over,” even on a temporary basis, is utterly impossible).
So I am quite sure that Caroline and Maria didn’t feel the slightest hesitation about attacking the film without any of the facts. A liberal “filmmaker” had raised questions about the one version of the script and a “conservative” (Surnow is hardly a right-wing nut and his hit show “24” gave us two fictional black presidents before we ever had our first real one) was the executive producer. Because they know what liberal filmmakers would routinely be capable of doing to a conservative target (just imagine what HBO’s upcoming “Game Change” will try to do to Sarah Palin), they automatically, and wrongly, assume that they must be up against a hit piece. Frankly, this is nothing more than blatant philosophical prejudice.
What makes all of this so incredibly infuriating is that both the episodes shown at the premiere (numbers three and five out of eight) were, within the confines of historical accuracy, extremely sympathetic to all the Kennedys.
The viewer feels great compassion for President Kennedy during the Bay of Pigs disaster. The Cuban missile crisis episode, which some historians now believe was an overblown charade, depicts both John and Bobby Kennedy in the most positive and heroic light possible. Even the president’s affairs are handled in a way that almost makes you understand why he strayed from his marriage.
Quite simply, there was not a single moment in the two hours I saw that was both anti-Kennedy and not easily supportable by the known historical record. Frankly, I have never felt better about the Kennedy family than I did after seeing episodes three and five. Conservatives will likely experience the same phenomenon as we now see President Kennedy through the prism of our current president, which makes JFK seem like a right-winger.
As for the theatrical elements, Greg Kinnear is simply the most convincing JFK I have ever seen. He looks just like him (though the hair might be slightly off) and he does just enough of the accent to be credible without making that the distraction that it inevitably becomes. Similarly, Katie Holmes is a dead ringer for Jackie, though, since so little is known about the real Jackie Kennedy, it is tough to judge how accurate her portrayal of her really is. Other than a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who acts like a General Patton parody on a caffeine high, the rest of the cast is also outstanding and the production elements are remarkable, especially for an eight-part TV show.
I highly recommend doing everything you can to watch “The Kennedys.” You will enjoy it, probably learn a thing or two, and you will strike a blow for artistic expression and against the liberal Hollywood establishment that apparently no longer believes in such concepts, even when doing so would have further elevated one of their heroes.
John Ziegler is currently a documentary filmmaker who most recently released a movie on the 2008 election called, “Media Malpractice… How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted.” He has also been in radio talk show host in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Louisville and Nashville. Ziegler has written two books and has appeared live on numerous national television shows including the Today Show, The View, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC.