Jack Valenti: When Filmmakers Grossly Distory History

Jack Valenti, in the Wash Post (March 20, 2004):

The blending of a fragment of fact into a volume of fiction is becoming a staple of so-called docudramas. Recently the History Channel ran a "documentary" wherein the author of a book from which the film was taken, in full close-up, says without ambiguity that Lyndon Johnson killed President Kennedy and ordered the murder of eight others, including his own sister!

I joined other former aides to LBJ -- Bill Moyers, Tom Johnson and Larry Temple -- to ask the History Channel how this monstrous piece of film was allowed to air without even a cursory fact-checking. To the History Channel's credit, it has now appointed three distinguished historians to examine these direct accusations and present their findings on the History Channel.

Which takes me back to what was arguably the most unrepentant distortion of truth ever imprisoned on film, Oliver Stone's "JFK," his 1991 movie account of the murder of President John F. Kennedy....

Within a day of seeing "JFK," I called Bob Daly, then co-chairman of Warner Bros. studio, a movie chieftain of great integrity and one of the wisest men in the film industry. I told him I was ready to publicly denounce the film. I said, "Does any sane human truly believe that President Johnson, the Warren Commission, the CIA, the FBI, the Secret Service, local law enforcement officers, assorted thugs, weirdos, all conspired together as plotters in Stone's wacky sightings?"

Bob was calm. He instructed me in a further reality. Because I was the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, was I not in a conflict of interest? Yes, I replied, and I said I was willing to resign my post so that conflict would be dissolved. Finally Bob and I agreed that I would be silent until all voting for Academy Awards had been concluded and announced. Then I would go public.

Newspapers on April 2, 1992, carried my assault on Stone's film. I said, among other comments: "Young German girls and boys in 1941 were mesmerized by Leni Riefenstahl's 'Triumph of the Will,' in which Adolf Hitler is pictured as a new-born God. Both 'JFK' and 'Triumph of the Will' are equally a propaganda masterpiece and equally a hoax."

Oliver Stone issued a retort to my statement saying in part that he hoped I would join him "in urging that all government files on the assassination of President Kennedy be opened to the public so that the American people can have a fuller understanding of that tragedy." I and others did just that. The files were opened in their entirety. Not a whimper of corroboration of Stone's infamous indictments was found. Like with Jim Garrison's bleatings, there was no there there. Yet, whenever and wherever "JFK" is shown today, Stone's mastery of plastering together the true and the false and manufacturing from them something that seems plausible still causes viewers to see it as "real and true."

That's why we took our case to the History Channel. Maybe a look at this fact-less concoction will make future viewers hesitate a bit before they believe. But I wonder. No matter what the historians report about this "documentary," it will keep reappearing on-screen somewhere as "the truth." Evidence of how baseless its accusations are will not be known to a new generation of viewers. They will see it and say, "Is that the way it really was?"

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