"It takes a view of the Kennedys largely through the figure of Joseph P. Kennedy as a kind of monster figure in American history, which has a profound impact on events in recent past. And the truth is, that just is not so. The characterization of Joseph P Kennedy, although as a personality is fine, in terms of history, it's absolute rubbish. To me it's a Republican version of Joseph P Kennedy that was trotting out twenty or thirty years ago. It was trotted out when JFK was campaigning for president. It was the notion that here was a very powerful figure with a lot of money who was going to dictate what happened to the United States and therefore, the world. Well, you know, over the last thirty years, historians have produced biography; history after history, the true course of President John F Kennedy's life story and it's extremely interesting that it's not the one that is represented in this script for the History Channel. As a historian, I find particular episodes, the history episode from the sex episodes in the series, absolutely ridiculous. Some of it is just so childish and childishly worn that I wonder if the scriptwriters ever have cracked open a book; it's really sad when a program is produced mainly about President Kennedy who loved reading and loved history. As someone that's researched and interviewed hundreds of people who have been close to JFK from the time basically when he went to elementary school all the way through to the presidency, I find the version of JFK that we see in this script, to be really nonsensical. It presents him as this, not simply a sex addict, well whether he was or not is up to one's own personal judgment. He is presented as an extremely shallow, late developer. And that is so very wrong. I tried to show in "JFK: Reckless Youth," JFK from the time he was a kid, was obsessed with politics and not the politics of his father, Joseph Kennedy, but the politics of his grandfather, who had been mayor of Boston...JFK has an empathy for ordinary folks, especially Irish-Americans and his fascination with politics was both intellectual and personal. And, hell, this is a guy when he's at Harvard, writes such a good dissertation, it's produced as a book and the book becomes a best seller in 1940 because it's so topical. It's called "While England Slept." It's a warning for America, which was still an isolationist country, about the dangers of fascism and Nazism and how the United States would have to start mobilizing and get ready for an inevitable war."
And it misses the wonderful story that happens, which is how does this decadent son, how does he persuade his father, who is an appeaser, pretty Republican in most of his views... how does he persuade that father to back off? How does he persuade that father not to stop the "Lend/Lease Act" for instance, which in World War 2 gave absolutely crucial help to Britain? Britain would have fallen without the "Lend/Lease Act." Who is responsible for getting that act through congress? On one level, it was JFK, when he was a student, out on the West Coast in California. He wrote to his father and said, "Dad, you cannot stop this bill... You must not stop this bill...without this bill, Britain is going to fail in fighting the Nazis." Well, again, not the JFK that's appearing in this script. All we have in this script is an absolute dunce, maybe, who doesn't know his elbow from the rest of his anatomy. It's a travesty not only of history, but a travesty of characterization.
I think some people would be offended by this script, certainly admirers of the Kennedy family who did give their lives to public service, like JFK, like Bobby Kennedy and Ted Kennedy. I can see that they would find it very offensive. I mean, some of it, really? When you have poor, stricken Joseph P Kennedy paralyzed through his stroke and you have him being given oral sex by one of his mistresses, I mean you do wonder what length these people will go to. And as I said, if you put this in National Inquirer it's fine, but why put this on the History Channel? We're pumping so much money into public education; we want to improve the education system so this country can compete with China and other world leading countries, why feed this kind of garbage in something called the History Channel?
I mean there's so much rubbish that's put out you....just don't take it seriously. I think in, as much as this is as you say going to be the first dramatization on the History Channel, it really is alarming. It sort of reminds me when Murdoch took over the Sunday Times. I mean, you see, bit by bit, a great newspaper being sensationalized and moving into that what later became Fox News. It was really distressing.
Well one of the things that I found striking was that there was a pretty howling historical mistake on the first page of the script. I mean, they talk about reading the exit polls in 1960 and as I understand it exit polls weren't even invented until many years later...you know those kind of mistakes are all over the place; It's almost like they didn't care about accuracy.
Sure, um, what I found especially striking is that the way they frame the entire drama of James Meredith entering the University of Mississippi was around the Kennedy brothers difficulties passing their civil rights bill through congress. Now the Meredith stuff was in September of 1962, the civil rights bill wasn't introduced until June of 1963, so their basically talking about something that didn't even exists. It's a pretty reckless disregard for something that is easily verifiable facts right there. Another things is the striking thing about the deliberations, the discussions with the governor of Mississippi is that these things were all taped by President Kennedy. They're available on the public record. And somehow the screenwriter just arrogated himself the right to just make up the dialogue. The script has Martin Luther King coming into the White House in September of 1962 and the President is black mailing Martin Luther King with FBI surveillance. But the FBI didn't start surveilling Martin Luther King until October of 1963, again that callous disregard for the facts. Let me see if there's anything else that I have to say. Right, yeah. On page 31 of the script they say, "his phone's been tapped for years." You know this is either Bob Kennedy or Jack Kennedy speaking of Martin Luther King. Well you know that didn't happen for another few years. You know you can say these are minor errors that I'm being pedantic but this kind of chronology is the stuff of which history is made.
Joe Kennedy's Father, PJ Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy had many jobs in his life. He began as part owner of a saloon. He tended bar as a very young man, by the time he was in his 30s, and his 40s and his 50s...he was a successful businessman. He had started and was the President of a bank. He owned real estate and he was a political powerhouse. He was one of the most important democrats in Boston, the most important democrat in East Boston. He had held several elected offices and appointed offices in state Government. He was widely respected. He had become a liquor dealer and was a co-partner in some liquor stores. This script reaches back to false stereotypes and makes PJ a saloonkeeper in 1908. 1908 he didn't even live in East Boston anymore, he had moved on. It has PJ saying to his Father, I'm sorry; It has PJ the Father saying to his son who had just gotten into Harvard "Do they know I run a saloon?" And the mother says interrupting, "They don't need to know. And by God they're not gonna know." PJ says, "We are what we are." And Augusta, the wife, Joe's mother's says "it doesn't matter what we are." And Joe Sr. says "Only what they think we are." Well the reality was Joe was enormously proud of his Father. And he should've been proud of his Father. His Father was one of the most respected political leaders in East Boston. He wasn't a bar keep at age 50. But to make their real life characters into cartoon characters, they not only have to reduce Joe Kennedy to a foul mouth, nasty Father who would send his son into harms way to protect the family name, who turns son-against-son, child-against-child, who cavorts openly with a mistress...all of which is caricature. It makes fun of his Catholicism, and it makes fun of his Irish heritage and that's just unacceptable.
They distort everybody. They have Eisenhower preaching to Jack Kennedy, ‘The Russians are going to destroy us. Their army is 3 times larger than ours.' Well the opposite was true. Eisenhower knew that there was no missile gap; Kennedy had run on a missile gap. Eisenhower knew that there was no missile gap, but they played not only with Kennedy's Catholicism and their Irish Heritage, they invent a Cold War, that didn't exist. There was a cold war, true, but not the one that is presented here.
There's all kinds of character assassination of the President's beloved mother, Rose, accusing her of being indifferent to her children and even to her husband when he had a stroke. And according to the script, she then goes off to play golf. There's character assassination of Dave Powers, a Kennedy assistant. There's character assassination of the doctor who operated on Rosemary Kennedy's sister, who's mental retardation was exploited in a mean and vicious way, that every organization in this country concerned with mental illness and the mentally retarded is going to stand up and denounce. There's character assassination of even Jackie's parents, showing her mother as being an indifferent mother. Showing her father as being a drunk and a womanizer. I could go on and on, the list and Dr. Martin Luther King is reported in this script to be a womanizer and a phony. It's just amazing that anyone could be as mean spirited and vindictive.... I think there are plenty of people...I know dead people can't sue...but their relatives can, and their heirs and estates can and I think there will be hell to pay if anyone is ever foolish enough to put this banal, repetitive, old hat lists of libels and slanders on the air.
You and I wouldn't be talking today if John F. Kennedy had not been President during October, November 1962 when the Soviets secretly rushed nuclear missiles into Cuba 90 miles from our shore and the world teetered on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. But because Kennedy's calm, cool leadership formulated a response that led in 13 days to the soviet withdrawal of those missiles under UN inspection. Today we take exploration of space for granted. But there would be no exploration of space had John F. Kennedy not literally reached to the moon vowing that we were going to send a man to the moon and return him within the decade, which we did and as a result of US mastery of space there's no hostile military occupation of space, which would be a nightmare and instead we've had all kinds of communication, medical and scientific and other benefits from the exploration of space.
I should add finally that the admission of James Meredith through the University of Mississippi was only the first act of many in the courageous leadership of John F. Kennedy which led to comprehensive Civil Rights legislation, equal opportunities for our black citizens in employment, in housing, in places of public accommodation and by follow-up actions from Kennedy's Vice President Lyndon Johnson in voting rights so that we now have black Mayors throughout the south, dozens of black congressmen the world is a different world and we're proud of our democracy in the world at large especially to people of color of other countries because of what Kennedy did.