Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

JFK Grave-Robbing and Other Free Speech

In the brouhaha over a forthcoming movie by a conservative filmmaker, we are once again on the dark side of free speech, which the Supreme Court visited last month in its decision that validated "Hillary: the Movie," an election-year smear of Mrs. Clinton

A dramatization of John F. Kennedy's flaws for the History Channel is evoking high emotion even before it has been filmed as defenders of the Kennedy faith denounce the script as "political character assassination...sexist titillation and pandering...cheap soap opera of the worst kind.”

The sad part of all this is what it reflects about our age of rampant nastiness, in which there is a market for yet another retelling of what has been done over and over again in decades of documentaries and dramas.

JFK's legend will certainly survive one more hatchet job, but another disturbing symptom of 21st century discourse is the attempt to censor it with a preemptive attack video and website that urges viewers to “Tell the History Channel I refuse to watch right-wing character assassination masquerading as 'history.'"

With all respect to Robert Greenwald, an estimable First Amendment defender, it's hard not to see this as attempted censorship. Denouncing the proposed film is one thing, pressuring the medium that is planning to show it is another.

In an era when Limbaughs, Olbermanns, Mahers and Becks pour hot sauce over political food for thought to stimulate the appetite of an enraged public, the last thing we need is a rancid rehash of the distant past.

As a journalist who covered and admired JFK, I won't be watching this new movie, but neither will I be signing any petitions to stop it.

Update: A new poll delivers good news about the Supreme Court decision in favor of the Hillary movie that gives corporations broad political freedom-of-speech rights. An overwhelming majority across the political spectrum--Democrats (85 percent), Republicans (76) and independents (81)--want Congress to reinstate limits on such activities.

With all the Kennedys gone from public life, the JFK movie won't be used for such purposes, but it's heartening to see so much support for setting limits in one area of the politics of personal destruction.

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