July 2004, Featured Article

THE HISTORY CHANNEL: WHITEWASH FOR ALL SEASONS

by Walt Brown Ph.D.


If first generation researcher Harold Weisberg had been alive on April 7, 2004, when the "History" Channel broadcast its "scholarly review" featuring three historians, within a week there would have been a manuscript of roughly 300 pages indicating all the mistakes that were broadcast.

Harold would then have started on Chapter Two....

I write this not as a participant "scorned," but as an historian extremely upset with what amounts to censorship at best and political blackmail at worst.

Quite simply, there was nothing "honest" about the entire event (except, of course, for the material that was suppressed). Something, after all, had to be correct, and if the historians didn't get it right, then someone had to; maybe it was those folks on the original show.

I wrote in the last journal that the verdict for the "review" was preordained, just as the verdict rendered by the Warren Commission had been preordained.

Need proof? The History Channel sold the rights to Part IX, "The Guilty Men," which was part of the long-running series, "The Men Who Killed Kennedy." That particular episode contained a number of serious allegations involving the very real possibility that Vice President Lyndon Johnson had been a serious player in a conspiracy which took JFK's life and put LBJ in the White House.

The History Channel then created a panel of three "experts" to pass judgment on the historical accuracy of the program.

Stop the presses!! Look at the timing--they dumped the show before the review! What if the three historians had found the show to be 100% accurate? Would the History Channel have purchased Part Ix "back" from the mysterious entity who purchased it?

Of course not. They knew what the panel would rule, so it was not a problem to sell off the rights. Even after they sold 50,000 sets of the show--the biggest run on DVDs in their "history."

Historians Kutler (not to be conflised with Cutler, who wrote conspiracy material in the '70s, '80s, and '90s), Sugrue, and Robert Dallek trashed Part IX every imaginable way without addressing any of the issues involved IN any imaginable way. For my dime, Kutler and Sugrue were along for the ride, but Robert Dallek still needs to answer to the bar of history for his involvement in this fraud, as he had already authored a book entitled, LBJ: Flawed Giant. Wasn't the gist of Part IX that LBJ was "flawed"? Maybe he forgot the book he wrote. Or maybe LBJ wasn't a giant....

None of the participants addressed the testimony given to a federal grand jury which named LBJ as a co-conspirator in possibly as many as seventeen murders; no one addressed the Texas grand jury finding which handed up an indictment, in 1984, of LBJ as an unindicted co-conspirator in the murder of Agriculture Department investigator Henry Marshall, killed in June, 1961, while LBJ was the Vice President of the United States. Musta missed that one.

None of the historians addressed the issue of finances: in 1958, LBJ and the now 91 but still volatile Lady Bird were forced, by debts, to borrow $25,000 from her father. They never repaid a penny of the loan and at the time of his death, the father essentially canceled the loan in his will.

Yet a few years later, "President" Lyndon Johnson retired from office with a net worth of almost $40 million. Considering that his salary from 1958 to 1969 was less than $1 million, he must have been one shrewd investor.... but why wasn't he so shrewd before 1958? Perhaps because the White House is the best place to be shrewd.

Historians work from sources, correct? If so, why was there no contact in any way with any of the participants in Part IX to say, "Show us what you've got"? The answer is simple: they didn't want to see "reality" any more than the Warren Commission, now 40 years past. And I'll say again, as the one Ph.D. in history who appeared on that program, I damn sure should have been contacted and asked to put my cards 0n the table, both substantively and methodologically.

Needless to say, I was not.

The historians belched forth more "historical" errors than time and space allow for, but that is to be expected in a hasty, put up job. After all, it would have been very embarrassing for Robert Dallek to have to admit that he had never listened to the LBJ tapes in arriving at his conclusion. Such an admission would call into question every bit of "scholarship" he could ever claim, and maybe that's deserved.

On the other hand, he could also not have admiffed that he DID listen to the LBJ tapes, for if that were the case, he might want to explain why, in many taped phone calls from LBJ, during the week of November 22-29, he spoke to the future members of the Warren Commission, as well as their respective majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate, to do two things: one, call off any other investigation (how very handy....), and two, to "protect my flanks" (LBJ's exact words). Why would an innocent man need his "flanks protected" from an inquiry into the death of his predecessor?

The answer is simple: an innocent man would not need his flanks protected.

Perhaps the most egregious sins committed involved the personal assault on Barr McClellan, who was seen as a convicted forger and felon. At the time of this writing, it is my understanding that McClellan has filed suit in his home state of Mississippi to clear his name. I can assure you that if anyone has cited me as a "convicted anything" I'd have been in court so fast that the History Channel could have run a program about the earth spinning at higher speeds because of it.

The second, and even more egregious sin of the historians was their reliance on "the future." History is the study of the past, pure and simple. In a news release at the time of the 40th anniversary of the assassination, there was a story about the "Sixth Floor Museum" showing where Lee Oswald, all by himself, killed President Kennedy.

The story told how the founders of the Museum wanted to give it "historical status" but were initially rebuffed by persons in Washington. "As a rule of thumb, nothing is historic until it's 50 years old," [Chairwoman of the Dallas County Historical Commission Lindalyn] Adams recalls being told at the 1979 meeting." History IS a study of the past -- it's not science fiction. Yet the "panel" spoke about a not yet published book by "official verdict" joumalist (and NOT an historian) Max Holland. How, in God's name, can a historian have the gall to announce that a television show is wrong, totally, but the truth will be revealed in a book not yet published?

Will the History Channel give me an hour to "critique" Holland's book, and if found wanting, purchase the r;ghts, remove it from shelves, and make sure nobody reads it?

Of course they won't.

While all of this noise and bile was being generated, I viewed a tape of the movie "The Battle of the Bulge," made in 1966 and starring Henry Fonda, Robert Ryan, and many other noted cameos which I had taped from the History Channel. During commercial breaks, two historians commented on the battle, its strategies, its high and low moments --reasonable commentaries. Yet the moderator, at the end of the commentary, concluded that one must still wonder, "How much [of the movie] is history, and how much is Hollywood? If the History Channel can chastise itself in that way, they are proving that what they did with Part IX, "The Guilty Men" IS, in fact, the worst kind of censorship. They admit some of their programming is "Hollywood." Yet Part IX was certainly NOT Hollywood. It was the result of many years of work by many, many researchers and historians.

To find out the exact details or to vent your spleen, (all three new episodes, Parts VII,VIII, and IX, are now "gone forever") you may call the A&E propaganda hotline at 1-. Tell 'em "Walt sent me."