Love the Kennedys and Nobody Gets Hurt

ON JANUARY 17, the New York Times ran a story about The Kennedys, the eight-part miniseries that the History Channel had mysteriously decided not to air — after spending a reported $15 million on its production. The Times had been running articles on the miniseries for a year, detailing — and to a significant degree, stoking — the controversy swirling around the project. But as I read reporter Dave Itzkoff’s story “Dramatizing Camelot,” I began to suspect that it had very little to do with The Kennedys and quite a lot to do with the Kennedys.

The History Channel, Itzkoff reported, had spiked the drama “after an unsuccessful yearlong effort to bring the miniseries in line with the historical record.” Unnamed sources described The Kennedys as inaccurate and sordid. Soon the show would be painted as a right-wing hatchet job — co-created, as it was, by Joel Surnow, one of Hollywood’s most prominent conservatives. (There’s not a lot of competition.) Surnow is buddies with Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, and Ann Coulter, and his most famous work, the long-running drama 24, depicted torture as an effective antiterrorism tool. Now, according to an emerging narrative, his new show was out to take down America’s most iconic liberal family.

A few weeks later, I managed to get an advance copy of The Kennedys, and what I watched was no conservative hit job. Yes, the miniseries presented patriarch Joseph Kennedy, the main character, as massively ambitious, philandering, a bit corrupt, and a Hitler sympathizer — but it also detailed his deep devotion to his sons, and the almost unbearable pain he suffered from the tragedies that befell them. It wasn’t a flattering portrayal, but it was certainly a defensible one. Add in the depiction of JFK as a man whose idealism was blended with more base desires, and what you had were characters that seemed influenced more by Oprah Winfrey than Rush Limbaugh.

I was starting to get the feeling that the story in the Times had actually been part of a smear campaign, something planted by anonymous sources who didn’t want the show to ever see the light of day. And that felt like a story I knew firsthand.

A little more than 10 years ago, I decided to write a book about John F. Kennedy Jr., my boss at the political magazine George. I admired John, and wanted to write something that would reflect that. But within weeks, sleazy, false, and untraceable rumors started popping up in mainstream media outlets, while behind-closed-door efforts were launched to sabotage a book that hadn’t even been written. Within months, both my career and my reputation were in tatters.

I’ve never talked much about that time in my life; it’s a hard story to tell, and I don’t like to discuss it. But reading about the miniseries made me think that the time had come. I wanted to know: What happened to The Kennedys, and was it the same thing that had happened to me?

  • Dave

    Excellent piece, Richard.

    I am proud to say that I was a George subscriber since day one. I thought the magazine you and John created was fresh, exciting, and way ahead of its time.

    I miss George and wish we had a magazine like that today. Often wonder what kind of coverage George would have given our post-9/11 world.

    Hope you are well. Thanks for this article and keep up the good work!

  • Joyce

    I WAS 16 YRS OLD DURING THE BAY OF PIGS. AT THE TIME, I THOUGHT JFK WAS ODIOUS>. TODAY, I WOULD HAVE VOTED FOR HIM. I FOUND THE MINI-SERIES TO HAVE OFFERED A COMPLES AND SYMPATHETIC PORTRAYAL OF ALL THE MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY, SEPECIALLY JOE, ROSE, AND ETHEL. I FELL IN LOVE , ALL OVER AGAIN, WITH JACKIE. AND I THINK KINNEAR CAPTURED EXACTLY THE ESSENCE OF JFK, THOUGHTFUL ENERGETIC, A CREDIT TO HIS COUNTRY. THEY WERE BOTH SO FULL OF HOPE AND PROMISE AS I ARRIVED IN DALLAS. OUR WORLD CHANGED IN 2 SHORT HRS. I BELIEVE THIS FILM WOULD BE OUTSTANDING FOR YOUNG PEOPLE TO SEE SO THEY COULD SEE WHAT A PRESIDENT OF PRINCIPLE IS REALLY LIKE. WE HAVE NOT HAD ONE IN A LONG TIME!!

  • Robbins

    Why would anybody expect anything else from this bunch?….here in flyover country,we don’t see Nazi Joe’s brood as ‘royalty’…we see them as ‘Anerica’s Mick dog$h!t’..and they have acted accordingly for the last half century or so

  • JeffW

    I thought the series was excellent,a good historical peek into the Kennedys.

  • Judy

    Run the series!! Thanks for a great artical! I will never understand the “powerful and infulencueal” people in charge think Americans can’t handle the truth! Big deal Jackie smoked! Or JFK ran around, and had a potty mouth….So What! He’s still bigger than life and we still love them! They were our First Family and nothing can change that.