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Kennedy "History" Cable Program Deserved to be Axed

By Bill O'Donnell, February 4, 2011

By Bill O’Donnell
Kennedy ‘History’ Series Deserved Axe – The History Channel produced and planned to air an expensive TV miniseries allegedly depicting the Kennedy family saga, which, after considerable controversy about the accuracy of its content, the cable channel killed.

The Boston Globe has charged the Kennedy family and influential allies with “overstepping their bounds in strong-arming the History Channel into abandoning the show.” What patent rubbish. There have been countless Kennedy TV docu-dramas broadcast; many have included totally fictional scenes and dialogue yet they have run despite the disapproval of the Kennedys and their friends.
There are lingering, substantial reasons to look anew at the entire genre of the “based on fact” television and film output. The finished product begins with actual people (generally famous) and purports to deliver the facts of an event or life story in dramatic style. The real problem, inherent in this type of treatment, is that the “drama’ frequently features fictional dialogue, meetings that never took place, and imagined events added to the narrative purely for its audience-grabbing sensationalism. Do the docu-drama producers have a right to do that. Apparently they do; it’s virtually impossible today to libel or slander a public figure in America.
Filmmaker Oliver Stone has become hugely successful mixing fact with history, real lives with imagined scenarios. His “JFK” movie fantasy about skeptical New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison and his conspiracy theories is well-crafted but fictional, yet an entire generation of 1990’s thirty-somethings, confusing a good story for history, continue to cling to their own movie-version “facts” of JFK’s assassination. They’ve been “Oliver Stoned.”
In the latest Kennedy “made for TV” version there is ample reason to justify the History Channel’s axing the miniseries. Reports suggest that there are serious over-the-line questions about dramatic license and documented fact, and historians brought in by the series producers condemned the early script; later, Robert Dallek, author of arguably the best biography of JFK, “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963,” and Steven Gillon, the resident historian of the History Channel, had recommendations for changes. Some were taken, others were not. The New York Times said that “neither Mr. Dallek nor Mr. Gillon felt the miniseries met History’s standards.” The respected journalist Richard Reeves said a number of events shown in the miniseries most likely never occurred. The late Ted Sorensen called the script he had seen “vindictive and malicious.”
It seems to me that families, loved ones and, colleagues who have problems with the way the entertainment media jazz up a televised life story, often replacing mundane meetings and pro forma conversations with high-octane fiction, have a right to inquire, criticize, and seek changes and, if necessary, to demand truth in the telling of the story. And this would seem to apply, yes, even to the family of the late president.
Who Is The Greenest Of All? – If you asked the US Census Bureau which city or town in Massachusetts, or maybe in the entire United States, is the Greenest, the clear answer is Scituate, the seaside community often called the Irish Riviera. Today in Scituate one out of every two citizens, almost 50 percent, claim Irish ancestry, which is likely the highest percentage in the country. Some 16 communities south of Boston lead the pack in their green connection. Among the leaders in Irish population following Scituate are Marshfield, Braintree, Hull, Milton, Pembroke, Hanover, Whitman, and Weymouth. Others in the top sixteen tier are Walpole, Duxbury, Holbrook, Norwell, Avon, and Boston.
In Boston, one out of six trace their roots to Ireland and in the Bay State itself, close to one-quarter of the state’s population (23.7) claim Irish heritage.
Back in the 1950s the popular consensus would likely have focused on spots like South Boston and West Roxbury leading the Irish population parade, but that’s no longer true in Southie, although West Roxbury still maintains a large but aging Irish population.
Ten Days That Changed Irish Politics – For Ireland’s leading political party, Fianna Fail, the recent upheaval in Dail Eireann is a body blow that will effectively for the near future immutably change the political dynamic in the Republic. The Soldiers of Destiny have been the senior coalition partner in government since 1987. More recently Bertie Ahern and his handpicked successor, Brian Cowen, have led Fianna Fail and the Irish government as senior coalition partners with the Progressive Democrats, Labour, and, most recently, with the Green Party.
All that has come crashing down with the very public political humiliation of the current Taoiseach, Mr. Cowen. First, an inescapable part of the shift in political power came with the financial bailout (over $100 billion) by the IMF and the European Union. The public and many politicians were asking why there was such a lack of warning of the impending banking disasters by the FF-led government. Others were asking why the Irish government under Cowen and Brian Linehan as finance minister had guaranteed to make the erring Irish banks completely whole, relying not on bond holders or bank debtors but Irish ratepayers. Added to this was the Cowen-Linehan budget mandating the most stringent cost-saving measures in Irish history. The beleagured Cowen had until mid-January fought to stay in power and pledged to lead his Fianna Fail party into a March election. Then came the resignations of senior cabinet members (fresh faces for the upcoming election?), a falling out with coalition partner, the Green Party, Cowen’s resignation as party leader, a walkout by the six Green Party Dail members, including ministers and, for the moment in this fast-moving scenario, a caretaker government, and a snap general election now newly set for this month.
Brian Cowen is a decent man, buffeted and badly bruised by the financial collapse and bailout. The same could well be said for Finance Minister Linehan struggling quietly with cancer. Cowen was considered a bright, knowledgeable finance minister in the Ahern government and was one of the better prepared ministers when he assumed the role of Taoiseach. But all that is gone.
The challenge now is to elect a new coalition, quite possibly Fine Gael and Labour. It seems unlikely that either of those two poll-leading parties will be able to attract enough support to lead government alone. Fianna Fail’s election job is simply to try to survive the political tsunami and stay alive politically, albeit far out of power, and look to better days down the road.
Mixed Signals From Orange Order – The North’s Orange Order has been making sounds in recent months that could be construed as reaching out to the Republic and border counties, looking to become a benign tourist attraction and Northern cash cow There has even been talk of turning the exclusivist July 12 holiday/cum parade day into a major marketing campaign in the North. The twelfth is traditionally a holiday out of town for many Belfast Catholics and the bonfires on the eve attract few nationalists. But with a new Grand Master and an eye on attracting tourists, the old Order is looking to freshen up its act.
All this amity and good fellowship, however, has been tempered recently by the words of the new Grand Master, Edward Stevenson, a dairy farmer from a rural village near Strabane. Former Sinn Fein Belfast Mayor and assembly member Alex Maskey has offered to meet with Stevenson and other Orange Order members, but the Orange leader is having none of it.
In reply to Maskey, Stevenson said, “Sinn Fein carry a lot of baggage as far as the Orange Order is concerned ... as the situation is at the moment we will not be meeting with Sinn Fein.” Stevenson also said the policies of the Orangemen on parades, a continuing source of dispute, would not change.
Maskey, an assassination target as a city councillor, had a good run as a gregarious Belfast mayor and is sincere in trying to find common ground if such exists in the contentious North today. But, as always, it takes two.
Did You Know … That an Irish American priest and native son of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Father James Walsh, co-founded the Maryknoll Missionary Society with Father Thomas Price in 1911? The two priests met first in 1910 and later traveled to Rome where they met with Pope Pius X and gained permission to found the foreign mission society, which celebrates its centenary this year
Maryknoll, the US-based Catholic missionary movement includes the Maryknoll Society of Fathers & Brothers; the Maryknoll Congregation of Sisters, the lay missionaries, and the Maryknoll affiliates. The Maryknolls currently serve in 39 countries worldwide.
The Queen Is Coming, The Queen is Coming – It appears that Queen Elizabeth is going to visit the Republic of Ireland this year sometime before President Mary McAleese’s term ends in late 2011. The royal visit will take place once the election has been sorted out and a new Irish government and Taoiseach are in place.
There have been the usual low key rumblings from Irish republicans and some nationalists about the visit, but with an eye towards a tourism boost, and vastly improved relations with the British, including strong trade arrangements between the two countries, there seem few obstacles to the queen’s state visit.
Meanwhile, what has been termed by some as an “awkward diplomatic moment” occurred last month when the North’s Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, publicly criticized the queen. McGuinness said he “would not be enamored by a visit from the queen of England.” He added that he was looking for an apology, pointing out that the “British royal family are colonels in chief of the Parachute Regiment” and he had not heard the queen nor any of her sons say anything about the murder of 14 people on the streets of Derry.
The Glass House cliche reflexively springs to mind when assessing the McGuinness statement. Gregory Campbell, who rarely misses a chance to touch up Sinn Fein’s IRA veterans, noted that McGuinness (an IRA commander in Derry during the Conflict), has never publicly apologized for his involvement in a “failed campaign of violence.”
And there it sits — McGuinness accused of hypocrisy, and Campbell, eternally embittered at the Irish republican campaign of violence, only too happy to attach the “failed” tag to Sinn Fein/IRA’s positive role in the peace process.
Grand Night For Irish Theatre and John B. – Some 45 years since it debut in Dublin, John B. Keane’s harsh, iconic play, “The Field,” returned to Dublin’s Olympia Theatre stage with veteran American actor Brian Dennehy as Bull McCabe. In the original production in 1965 of Keane’s most honored play, the marvelous Ray McAnally was Bull and John B’s brother Eamon played “The Bird” O’Donnell.
Sharing in the nostalgia and joy of a theatrical opening night to remember in this new year the Keane family was there some 44 strong, although John B. and his brother had died. Mary Keane, who often shared bar duty with her late husband at Keane’s pub in Listowel, was there with her three sons and daughter Joanne, and John B’s only surviving brother, Dennis.
It is impressive to recall that Keane’s “The Field” has had three superb actors play Bull McCabe. First in 1965 was the legendary McAnally (he played Cristy Brown’s father in “My Left Foot”). In 1990, it was Richard Harris in perhaps his finest movie role, and the newest production just last month with the much honored Hollywood and stage veteran Dennehy.
An Overdue Mea Culpa to a Fine Public Servant – Former state Sen. Marian Walsh got herself in a political firefight in 2009 when she was offered and accepted a highly paid state administrative job from Governor Deval Patrick. It was an awful lot of money for a state position that had gone unfilled for several years but Senator Walsh, a lawyer with four degrees including a masters from Harvard Divinity School, had the background and the political smarts for the job. To cut to the chase, Walsh got chewed up by the media and withdrew her name for the job.
A few words about her: While an administrator with the Suffolk County DA’s office, she established the Victim/Witness Assistance Program, the first full-time organized crime division, and the Homicide Response Team. Later she served 16 years as a legislator (assistant majority leader) and was assistant director of government relations for the Mass Medical Society. And she has taught at three local universities.
As a senator she championed a number of controversial issues; she was the only state legislator to call for Cardinal Law to resign; she came out strongly for opening the books of the Archdiocese; she made the case for fairness for gays in a staunchly conservative district; and she was the only senator to vote against corporate welfare for Fidelity, Raytheon, and the Red Sox.
This is a woman of substance and courage. I am sorry that from my quiet corner of the local press, I failed to speak out, failed to write something good when I had the chance to while the Boston media was beating her up. She deserved better. Thank you to the Globe’s Joan Vennochi for reminding me of that.
RANDOM JOTTINGS
There is growing consensus among unionists and nationalists that the St. Patrick’s Day holiday should become a holiday in the North, making it an All-Ireland celebration. … Get used to H-Blocks The Museum as the British government has asked the EU for $30 million to develop the site. … Petrol in Ireland, or gasoline as we call it, is selling around $8 an imperial gallon, which holds 20 percent more than our gallon (do the math). … There will be more later but the JFK Library & Museum has launched the first online presidential archive, which means you and I now get to see it online. … The Irish Department of Finance in February 2008 ruled out a blanket bank guarantee but Cowen and Linehan issued the blank check guarantee anyway. … Looking up: the Presbyterian moderator and GAA officials held an historic first meeting to look towards a shared future. … Gerard Kilcommins , newly elected chief of the US Chamber in Ireland, is hoping that Ireland can rebuild its reputation following the bailout. … There is a new delay in ordering a “public” inquiry into the 1989 murder of Pat Finucane, but the late lawyer’s family is hopeful.
Ryanair, the famous Irish cheapo airline, carried over 72 million passengers in 2010 and had a 82 percent load factor. … The 32-county sovereignty movement is sadly still trying to win hearts and minds for Irish unity with bombs and bullets. … Good news for the punters: Irish ministers who are retiring this politically disastrous year have to pay taxes on their pension excess. … The Irish Catholic Church is looking for a self-styled “revolution” that will spread religious teaching back into homes and parishes. … The Irish birth rate is the highest in the 27-member European Union at 17 per thousand. …
Bay State Congressman Richie Neal, the outgoing chairman of the Friends of Ireland, is the Irish Echo’s Irish American of the Year. … The Irish government has been steadfast in blaming Sinn Fein/IRA for the famous $50 million heist at the Northern Bank in 2004. … Salon, one of the classier blogs and well-wired, is saying that U.S. Sen. Scott Brown may be the target of a Tea Party campaign against him and the teaPs might back a more right wing candidate in the Republican primary. … A huge problem in Belfast these days, police admit, is the abuse of prescription drugs, especially among the younger set. … Has John McCain got a good grip on his personal luggage? Late last month he suggested with a straight face his 2008 campaign trail mate, Joe Lieberman, for Secretary of Defense. Is it the desert heat? ... Junketeer extraordinary and newly resigned Irish Minister of Health Mary Harney left her cushy health portfolio whining, casting herself as some sort of an overworked victim while hundreds of patients still waited on gurneys in hospital corridors. Don’t let the door hit you in the fanny on your way out, Mary

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