The History Channel's Standards Are too LooseRoundup: Talking About History
Dorothy Rabinowitz, in the WSJ (Feb. 19, 2004):
Can there be a way to prepare one's mind for the spectacle now before us, in which the History Channel explains its worthy reasons for airing a film back in November -- part of the 40th anniversary of JFK's assassination -- identifying Lyndon B. Johnson as the criminal responsible for John Kennedy's murder? We can but try.
Start with a different theory put forward in 1997 by Jim Marrs, a former Texas newspaper reporter, which holds that the president's murder might well have taken place because President Kennedy had full knowledge of alien landings on earth -- and there were those who didn't want him spreading the news to the American people.
Hugh Aynesworth, a former reporter for The Dallas Morning News, tells us in his fascinating "JFK: Breaking the News" (International Focus Press) that at a debate after the publication of Mr. Marrs's book, which boasts confidences from the president about his deep wish to tell the public about the extraterrestrial visitations, Mr. Aynesworth had a question. Did he really believe, he asked the author, that JFK's alleged comments -- ascribed to sources like a former steward and the "loadmaster" for Air Force One -- constituted, as the book said, "tantalizing" evidence that the president had been killed to keep him from sharing news of alien visitations? To which he received the reply, "What should I have done, ignored it?"
The History Channel management would understand; its own explanation for the LBJ documentary reflects roughly the same point of view -- if one it put less forthrightly. The History Channel has, of course, plenty to be less forthright about. After all, claims about JFK and alien visitations aren't in the same league of offenses as the Johnson documentary, conceivably the most malignant assault on sanity and truth -- not to mention history -- in memory. Titled "The Guilty Men," the film is based in part on a book of the same name by one Barr McClellan, who provides a grand assortment of testaments from the fever swamps. Still, the documentary's ever deepening mess of charges and motives is never less than clear about its main point -- that Lyndon Johnson personally arranged the murder not only of the president, but also seven other people, including his own sister.
The work of British producer Nigel Turner, this story -- described by British journalists who looked into its claims as total nonsense when it aired in England -- didn't make much news when it appeared here in November. Though it did cause an appalled Tom Johnson, former head of CNN and now chairman of the LBJ Foundation in Austin, Texas, to try -- unsuccessfully, it would turn out -- to get through to the president of A&E, parent company of the History Channel, to ask for a rebuttal. For months there was silence from A&E, the History Channel. Not, however, from viewers who had, it seems, begun besieging the LBJ Foundation with threats to tear the place apart. They had, after all, seen the documentary on a network named the History Channel -- which would not, they assumed, present a story so horrendous in its implications if there was nothing to it. And indeed, after "The Guilty Men" first aired, the network seemed to defend the program with a statement saying it was "presenting a point of view that has been meticulously researched."
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