"The Kennedys Censor 'The Kennedys'"
February 2nd, 2011
Throughout the 20th century, the Kennedy family was accused of and linked
to numerous dirty dealings. First it was Old Man Joe Kennedy who
manipulated stocks, and traded on insider information so he could liquidate his
holdings before the market crashed in 1929. And it was Joe who arranged for the
mob to deliver the union vote for son John in the 1960 West Virginia
presidential primary. Then it was JFK who got help from secret service and
celebrity pals to hide his extra marital affairs. Later, Bobby managed to cover
his tracks after a clandestine visit with Marilyn Monroe who died shortly
thereafter. And, of course, there was Teddy who paid off the Kopechne family
to keep them from suing him for the drowning death of their daughter. Now,
just in time for America to celebrate the 50th anniversary of JFK's
inaugural, his daughter Caroline and her cousin Maria Shriver have used their
influence to make a TV mini series disappear from sight.
The Kennedys are historically a family of fixers who can make just about
anything or anyone go away by flexing their political and financial muscle.
And while Caroline's scheme pales in comparison to, say, stealing an
election, her maneuvering was vintage Kennedy, worthy of old Joe himself.
Here's what happened. The History Channel commissioned an eight part mini
series on the Kennedys, starring Greg Kinnear as JFK and Katie Holmes as
Jackie. But after the film was completed, Princess Caroline got wind that it
was going to make her father look like a philanderer and her grandfather
appear power hungry. I guess she doesn't think bears defecate in the woods
As luck would have it, Caroline has a book deal in place with Hyperion.
She also has agreed to give ABC's Good Morning America an exclusive on
Jackie's unpublished interviews. Hyperion is a subsidiary of the Disney/ABC
empire, same as the History channel. So Caroline allegedly persuaded Disney
chief Anne Sweeney to scrap the mini series, or else say goodbye to the book
and interviews. Meanwhile, cousin Maria double teamed Sweeney who sits on the
board of Special Olympics, which Maria's mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver
founded. Shriver also has ties to NBC/Universal, whose President sits on the
board of A&E, which is also under Disney control. And so, in addition to
not airing on the History Channel, "The Kennedys" will not air on A&E,
Lifetime, the Biography channel, NBC, ABC, or USA. Even Showtime, who rescued
the Reagan biopic when CBS shelved it back in 2003, has been frightened
away. For now, though, the mini is still scheduled to air in Canada on March 6,
unless one of the Kennedy's can buy off the Mounted Police before then.
This disturbing tale of politics and power is nothing new to television.
Programs and performers have been censored numerous times in the past, most
famously when the White House put pressure on CBS to cancel the Smothers
Brothers Comedy Hour because of Tom and Dick's opposition to the Viet Nam
war. But this is 2011, and we live in a 500 channel universe where anybody can
broadcast just about anything somewhere. So how did the Kennedys get away
with censoring "The Kennedys" so thoroughly? The reason is vertical
integration, which emerged when the FCC relaxed ownership caps and merger regs,
thus allowing a handful of corporations to own all of the broadcast
properties in America. That's why Caroline and Maria only had to lobby a single
executive to make sure that numerous TV and Cable networks passed on the
As we wait to see if the mini series's producers sue the History Channel,
I would also like to see the federal government investigate Disney for
restraint of trade and collusion. If so, it would be the first major legal
challenge to the evils of vertical integration. In the meantime, as we pause to
honor the presidency of John Kennedy this month, we should remember that,
despite his personal flaws, he held a deep belief in individual freedom,
including that of expression. And so, in using censorship to protect her
father's legacy, Caroline instead does it a disservice.
Ironically, in trying to keep people from seeing "The Kennedys" now,
Caroline's power play will actually peak viewer interest in the film when it
eventually airs and goes to DVD. In other words, Caroline's scheme will fail
in the long run. Maybe she's not a Kennedy after all.
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