‘Kennedys’ miniseries ignites a storm

New York Times / February 17, 2010

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NEW YORK - A miniseries about John F. Kennedy’s presidency being prepared by the History channel does not have a cast or a premiere date. Not a frame has been shot. It does, however, have prominent critics who want it halted.

The critics, including Theodore C. Sorensen, a former Kennedy adviser, say they have read the scripts, and they contain errors of fact and emphasis.

“The Kennedys’’ is the brainchild of Joel Surnow, a creator of the Fox action show “24’’ and an outspoken conservative. That raised alarms among Kennedy partisans when the History channel said in December that it would pick up the project.

Now, a documentary filmmaker who makes no secret of his liberal politics is releasing an Internet video in which Kennedy scholars say the scripts offer a portrait of the president and his family that is at best inaccurate and at worst a hatchet job.

“It was political character assassination,’’ said the filmmaker, Robert Greenwald. “It was sexist titillation and pandering, and it was turning everything into a cheap soap opera.’’

Greenwald hopes his 13-minute video and petition, at, will take on lives of their own. A title card at the film’s conclusion reads: “Tell the History Channel I refuse to watch right-wing character assassination masquerading as ‘history.’ ’’

The charges come as a surprise to the production team for “The Kennedys,’’ who say the scripts for the eight-part series are still being rewritten and that criticism is premature.

“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, who calls himself a liberal Democrat.

Surnow is an Emmy-winning producer and friend of Rush Limbaugh. Greenwald is founder of the advocacy media company Brave New Films and has created documentaries like “Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers.’’

Greenwald recruited historians to appear in his video, including Sorensen and Nigel Hamilton. They say the screenplays contain many errors.

They also say the scripts invent scenes, like an exchange that suggests Kennedy came up with the idea for the Berlin Wall. As Sorensen 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.’’

“This is not a documentary,’’ Kronish said. “It is a dramatization.’’