Globe Editorial

Kennedy admirers went too far in pushing to axe miniseries

January 17, 2011

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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. Whether that contention is just should be apparent when the series airs. But while Kennedy supporters would be performing a service in correcting the record, they overstepped their bounds in strong-arming the History Channel into abandoning the show.

The History Channel now claims that the series is bad for their “brand,’’ which is heavy on documentaries. But the time for that realization was when they read the script, 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.

It’s almost exactly the same chain of events that led CBS to pull “The Reagans’’ back in 2003. So those who are prone to construct conspiracy theories about liberal control of the media, like those who bemoan the baleful effects of conservative talk-radio outrage, should look elsewhere. The simple fact is that the Kennedy and Reagan brands still have great force in rallying people to Democratic and Republican causes, and those who support those causes don’t want to see the brands sullied.

In the case of the Kennedys, who’ve been the subject of countless miniseries, the outrage seems a little quaint. Most of JFK’s defenders long ago threw in the towel on the subject of his extramarital exploits. Of course, such stories can always be carried too far, and it does little to serve the larger cause of historical understanding to focus inordinately on a private life that’s connected only by gossip and conspiracy theories to the actual events of his presidency.

But whether about the Reagans or the Kennedys, docudramas shouldn’t be confused with fact, or even with historical consensus. Neither should the gauzy tributes that figures like the Kennedys and Reagans routinely engender. In the crowded media and political landscape, there’s a constant need for correcting the record. Those who objected to “The Kennedys’’ should have pushed their considerable energy in that direction.