Jonathan Freedland chairs a discussion on John F Kennedy, while producer Joel Surnow talks about the mini-series The Kennedys and the controversy that engulfed it.
Browse content similar to The Kennedys: A Culture Show Special. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
The energy, the faith, the devotion... Hello and welcome to
this special edition of the Culture Show. Our subject is the Kennedys.
That remarkable dynasty whose influence and legacy can still be
felt today in America and elsewhere too. It's 50 years since John F
Kennedy was sworn in as 35th President of the United States. But
the family can still make the news, as the History Channel in America
discovered to its cost. Its $30 million mini series dramatising the
Kennedy story was axed following accusations of historical
distortion, political bias, and Jackie muster a figure, if it's
inevitable, she may as well make it convenient. So, please join us now
for an exploration of the myths and the realities of that fascinating
place that will be known forever as John F Kennedy was the shortest
serving elected President of the post-war years. Just 1,036 days in
all. When he was assassinated in Dallas on the 22nd November 1963,
he was already campaigning for a second term. Had it not been for
the lone gunman, he probably would have won. But in the so-called
1,000 Days of his presidency, JFK, his wife Jackie, and the Kennedy
administration set a style of politics that would prove to be
unforgettable. We'll be exploring that later with a panel of experts.
But before the drama of politics, the politics of a drama. An eight
hour, $30 million mini series made for the History Channel in America.
But not shown there following a campaign that accused the makers of
character assassination. Defenders of the series, which is now being
shown on BBC Two, claim that the Kennedy family itself exerted
pressure on the History Channel to drop the series. So here's the
story behind the making and the In the long history of the world,
only a few generations have been granted the role of defending
freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this
responsibility. I welcome it! APPLAUSE That was John F Kennedy in
1961. Here he is in at 2011, played by
Greg Kinnear. The energy we bring to this end ever will like our
country and all who serve it. But country relight the world. Here is
Jackie, played by Katie Holmes. Jackie, you are going to be the
first lady of United States. I can hardly think about it. It's all so
unreal. Come on. Shearer is Bobby Kennedy, played by Barry Pepper.
This is a new era, a new world order. I sincerely hope you can
adapt yourself to it. And here's the Kennedy patriarch, Joe Senior,
played by Tom Wilkinson. It's not what you are, it's what people
think you are and with the right amount of money, you can make them
think what ever you want. We are on our way, boys. This country is ours
for the taking. A Yes, they are here, including that lone gunman,
lurking in episode seven, to fulfil his predestined role. Lee, we are
going down to have a look at Kennedy. Save me a spot. And so, my
fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what
But the miniseries has sparked a bitter war of words between its
creators and those who regard it as an attack on the legacy of the
Kennedy family. And that is part of what I believe they were attempting
to do. I think there are people who just wanted a Valentine and I think
the Valentines have been done. Kennedys, originated with the team
behind the by whatever means necessary' TV thriller 24 executive
producer Joel Surnow and writer Steven Kronish. As a family, they
probably have the greatest collection of glamour, intellect,
charisma, drama, flaws and gifts. It was a canvas on which you
couldn't help, I think, but come up with a compelling personal story.
Touchdown! What compelled us as storytellers was the idea of a
father living out his ambition through his sons. I can't believe
you did it. We did it! You think I was going to pay for a landslide? I
love you boys. And then we had the dynamics changing from episode to
episode, as we won't vote the story. I think his memory is a failing.
You have got be as Attorney-General. Because that is what you are going
to be. I'm going to Boston. Jack need someone he can trust and
I needed to keep an eye on Jack. believe they elected me President.
Not you. That is very true, some. They did. We decided early on, the
foreground of the story was going to be the personal story. And the
background was going to be the political story. So the events like
the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Election all
supported the show. They almost became the plot. President
Eisenhower approve this training and the ultimate purpose, the
elimination of Fidel Castro. I just questioned whether or not to this
would work. Yes, it will, Mr President. Without a direct
involvement... The goal was to create the best drama we could make
Castro's intelligence services must have been tipped off. His men were
waiting on the beach. I don't understand. He had a clear view as
we approached. It was in the middle of the night. It was the conditions.
What? A full moon. There is a record of what was said in the
cabinet meetings and in the Oval Office. Jack Kennedy kept a tape
system. Nixon was not the first. And so what we used were those
records to construct a scene. said that the invasion force would
land without resistance. You told me that Castro and the people of
Cuba would rise up. You've been wrong about everything so far.
support is the only way to stop this from becoming an unmitigated
disaster. It already is. In scenes where there is no literal record of
what was said, we only used, what I would call, historic licence.
you're going to be president and things are going to be different.
That's probably true. Between us. We know enough about the attitudes
of the characters to be able to create something that probably
comes reasonably close to probably what was said. Our marriage works
because I decided several years ago to accept certain things about you.
And I have dealt with it. I have had my private humiliations. But I
won't have them in front of the American people. You take the facts
that you know. The facts that we knew, for instance, were that Jack
Kennedy had a tendency to be unfaithful. And that Jack and
Jackie stayed married. Hi, Toots. Those are two facts that we know.
Now, knowing those two things, what conversations would likely happen
to support those facts? We know that there were periods where
Jackie had to get away. We know that there were periods where she
suffered deep depression. We know that there were periods where she
drank. That stuff is irrefutable. And so that's what we used to
construct these scenes. But the road to Dealey Plaza has not been a
smooth one. Even before the miniseries had been cast, it was
engulfed in controversy. February 2010, a film maker named
Robert Greenwald, who is a well known liberal, reached out to
several historians. People who knew the history of the Kennedys. In
fact, some who were close to President Kennedy and worked in his
administration, because Greenwald, who used to work in the TV film
business, had been sent early copies of the Kennedys scripts and
was concerned about what he read. Its essential core, it's essential
heart, it's essential DNA, says over and over again, sex and power,
power and sex. Boy, there must be easier ways to get laid than to
become President of the United States. They were very early drafts
that this filmmaker Robert Greenwald had received. He objected
to it. He put together a YouTube video, and had people like Ted
Sorensen, who was the speech writer for JFK, as well as a collection of
other historians, basically just trashing the scripts. Every single
conversation between the President and the Oval Office, in which I,
according to the script, participated, never happened.
reached out to five historians including one or two who have been
very critical of President Kennedy on a policy basis. But every single
one of them responded quickly to say that they would participate and
would go on camera because this was in fact a political hack job.
you are an historian and you care about the truth, this is very hard
stuff to read. And if it's filmed the way it's written it will be
just heart-breaking. Greenwald certainly was not just presenting
the film as an act of journalism but also an act of advocacy. That
he regarded the film as a smear on the Kennedy administration. And was
asking people to come to the website, sign an online petition or
get involved otherwise to help, as he said, to stop the smears. We had
a very high engagement to the Kennedy smears very quickly, and
the numerical result was I think that 50,000 people in a week signed
a petition. That's a serious amount of people. And that helped to get
the History Channel's attention. haven't finished writing the
scripts when that happened. We had not even begun to Vetter the script
historically, for fine. Accuracy. We were just getting first drafts
down, so we could look at it and see if the blueprint was right.
channel actually spent several months having established
historians review the scripts and review the finished films. And
determine whether this was as historically correct as it could be
portrayed. There had been compensations of time lines and
telescoping of events which still concerned historians that even
though this is the kind of thing maybe you see in a film like the
King's Speech, the social network, if you look at the History Channel,
can you show this mini-series? January of this year, the History
Channel in America announced that it would not be showing the series
it had invested $30 million in. Now it is being shown on the BBC.
they had said the reason they were cancelling this is that this level
of historical fiction didn't live up to the brand of the network.
That was fiction. That press release was fictional and had
nothing to do with it. Historical inaccuracy had zero to do with the
cancellation. This statement was The motives behind the decision of
the History Channel remain unclear. It is thought the Kennedys precious
-- pressured the board of the Channel. Joel Surnow out is a proud,
right-wing Conservative. He advocates the positions that come
with being a right-wing Conservative. Nothing wrong with
that. If this had been called Joel Surnow out's view of President
Kennedy with would not have seen anything. The idea that a
Conservative cannot tell the story of the Kennedys is stupid. It is
like Oliver Stone, a pretty known liberal, told the story about
Richard Nixon. It is narrow-minded thinking. I have said this before
that if Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg produced this mini-series,
frame by frame, exactly as it is, it would be showing at the White
House and heralded by the Kennedys. It would be trumpeted as a
reverential, patriotic look at the Here to discuss some of the issues
are and McAvoy, Tony Badger, Air leading historian, Sarah Bradford,
historian and biographer among others Jackie Kennedy and John
Sergeant. Reverential and patriotic says Joel Surnow owl, the producer
of the programme but it is a character assassination says the
critic. Is it fair or foul? I spent an enjoyable time watching it. I
thought it could have been replaced by Dallas and Bobby Ewing could
have come on and we could have had Sue Ellen instead of Jackie Ewing.
The politics is pushed so much into the background that what you're
getting is a family supper of power, last, betrayal. -- saga. There is a
problem which is, where is the politics? What makes the Kennedys
the great political dynasty as opposed to a family who have a more
than usually interesting life? could have gone in much harder.
There was criticism that it was besmirching the reputation of the
Kennedys. It could have worked with the womanising, the hidden health
problems. They could have gone darker. The signs are they were
ready to go. They were determined to bring out the sex and horrible
things behind the scenes. They had second thoughts and were under
enormous pressure not to do that. I thought it was an inspired and an
inspiring. We do see JFK grapple with the Cuban missile crisis.
Politics is not completely absent quite is it? What is absent is what
a difficult period Mrs. You have an enormous nuclear arsenal. -- period
this is. Can't you show American power? This mild is only 90 miles
off the coast. They get to that but they do not build up any sense of
what the public mood is in this young President and the feeling of
the time and the fact he is endlessly put upon by his father
and brother. For people like me, it is so depressing. Joe Kennedy is
the puppet master and his boys do his bidding. You have written a
series of American lives, is that borne out by the series?
Kennedy is powerful and unpleasant. If I do not do it myself, it never
gets done. I do not think there is much evidence that, had it not been
for him, Kennedy might not have a regime won -- ran for office. His
father tries to influence him left, right and centre. Sarah Bradford,
you have written an acclaimed biography of Jackie Kennedy. What
do you think of the portrayal of her and the relationship between
her and her husband? Did you find it convincing? No, actually. I felt
very sorry for Katie Holmes. Jackie had no need for her, no background
to her. She portrayed a suffering and particularly by the
infidelities of her husband. What is the answer to the question about
why she put up with it? There were two reasons. She really did love
him. There was a great deal of money and power involved. She got a
kick out of there. She looks good there. Though she look the part?
Yes, she looks good. When I looked back to the original Jackie Kennedy,
I remembered how absolutely irritating she was. She was a
simpering, over bread woman. We know she did go off and are
ostensibly look for security in marrying Onassis. She was looking
for money and looking for power. She was asking her husband for an
expensive piece of jewellery. I'm sure she felt this very deeply.
There was no one better at acquisition and Jackie Kennedy.
That did come through. We always see her being made up. I think
there is an under estimation of Jackie. In a spell? She is
extremely intelligent. -- in this film? She was a cultured woman. She
had this extraordinary obsession about money. It is perfectly true,
she did. This programme is being attacked for being so harsh and
critical. In some ways the historical records might have been
more damaging than the programme. That is what makes it all so
strange. You think, up they ever going to have a real discussion?
Are they ever going to discuss the art of politics and presentation?
We all know the power they had of manipulation and the power they had
of real media skill. That is what made them such a terrific political
asset. They did not want to make another West Wing. That is perfect.
It reached the very small number of American viewers. That is why they
went this way. They did not seem to be exceptional people, did they?
do not think they came across as Dahl. The politics is blended so
far back that it is distorted. You are just asked to focus on the
person. If you take politics and of the drama, you do not get more
drama, you get less. Perhaps the makers were worried about that.
What do you think of the human/political balance? Bobby
Kennedy is shown as being a very strong figure. He has this very
snarling relationship with the vice-president, Lyndon Johnson. Are
they getting that right? certainly hated Johnson and the
feeling is mutual. Your tremendous grasp of the obvious is
contributing nothing. He was certainly his brother's enforcer.
That was his role in government. You should be out there looking for
John is exactly what he was doing. What you do not get from him very
often is the sense of passion for politics and for issues. Issues are
not what he is in this programme at all. Once you have decided it is a
family drama, it is a family drama. It is a presidential drama. They
are not in love with the Kennedys. Nobody thinks, how wonderful!
Bobby shown like that? He is so weak. You seem to have been more
taken with him than the rest of us. I thought he came off really badly.
Gordon Brand says, he is my hero. Ed Miliband says, he is my
favourite politician in history. The idea he could run for President
in the last episode, it is about that. Before that, you do not think
he could cut it. The answer to the political problem is, we will opt
out of this. We're not in love with the Kennedys, why should we be?
That is the history we are making at the moment. They are in love
with the story, the drama is so wonderful. That is where it works
best. You think, there is a story. A brother is the assassinated,
elections and it raised issues. The daughter it is lobotomised. --
racist issues. They have been raised the central part of it all,
which is, why were these characters moving mountains politically? Why
were they so exciting? Give us a feel for their power. I think
political motive is a big gap was dug we have talked about Jackie
Kennedy in the posters. There are other strong women in the stories.
There is Rose, the matriarch and the wife of Bobby, Ethel. How do
you think they are depicted? Ethel is much too pretty. Also she was
tough as well. She comes across as sweet and nice. Always ready to
produce another baby. Also I thought Rose was OK at times but
she was a much more powerful person than she is depicted in this.
behaviour is an embarrassment. also thought to be was not made
plain that she was a bad mother. She had no relationship with Jack.
The parents are the most interesting people in it. I enjoyed
those performances. I thought the weird brutality did come through.
You say she had no relationship but when she comes to it, she used to
smack them with a ruler. There's talk about some of the broader
issues this raises a bad dramas like this and the obligation to be
faithful to the historical record. There are many averse out there.
The King's Speech bad or the Oscars. -- many others. There is the story
about the creation of Facebook. Or so Margaret Thatcher coming up in
the Iron Lady. -- also. Tony Badger, you are a professional historian, a
scholar. We heard Stephen talking about hysterical licence whether
Renault transcripts or records. -- where there are no transcripts.
think you have to recognise that by choosing to make it a family drama,
where it focuses on private relationships, there is not going
to be a record. Quite a bit is barely plausible. Some they make up.
On things like the womanising, the medication, the relationship with
Hoover, that is all there. People have written about it for years.
The problem is putting it on the History Channel. Americans are more
literal than we are. If you say it is historical, the Kennedys are the
equivalent to royalty in the American Psyche and imagination,
you have -- you are going to have people saying, it is not how
history, what are you doing? number of people who are now ready
to play Osama Bin Laden and Colonel Gaddafi, there are going to be
these films being made. Dr idea, it does not matter, it is the
entertainment industry, it is naive. For lots of young people, they
cannot take the Kennedy thing in unless it is dramatised. The
obligation and the demand is extremely high. This was precisely
the theatre. Caroline Kennedy was worried about this drama. She
thought these people would not mean anything to the younger generation
unless it was acted out. If they concentrate on failings, they were
not that good after all, were they? For a Kennedy and anyone on that
site of American politics is awful. It is treason. A really serious
business. Part of the campaign built up against this is
contemporary liberals who think they Kennedy is such an iconic
figure that if you take him down, suddenly the standing of the
It's an over the top of motives for saying he took some painkillers and
was unfaithful. I think it's an over-reaction. It certainly exists
in America. I can see why the Kennedy's were upset by early draft.
It's not about the womanising, the drug taking. It's just given such
enormous weight, and, if you read about the biography of Kennedy,
most of the material is about womanising and drugs and it takes
up about 10 pages of a 900 page biography. The Kennedy is
understood that this is how history will be conveyed these days. The
History Channel, I don't think, has ever done anything like this before.
They were going into new territory and they don't think they
understood quite what they were letting themselves in for.
Now it's time to put the drama of the Kennedy's to one side and to
consider the realities of the Kennedy years. I was a
Correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. I was young, in my
middle twenties, an idealist. And here was Kennedy, saying. Ask not
what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your
country. I can remember the Correspondent a 4th Le Monde,
cynical Frenchman. He was scornful. He saw this as a frank Capper movie.
A tree the media loved Kennedy. They would follow him around in
this entourage. He had this aura. Music, football, sexual rumour,
You give us your rationale as to this shift in our defence? We
become part of the play. And you lose some of the distance. You lose
the old idea of the press speaking I believe that this nation should
commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of
landing a man on the moon and The Kennedy was very Catholic in
Hollywood, as well as of the arts. So he could have Robert Frost read
at the inauguration. He could have Pablo Casals play the cello at the
White House. But he also brought in Frank Sinatra. And Marilyn Monroe
and Angie Dickinson. And then also the criminal element with Judith
Exner and God knows who else. The administration had something of the
feel of a royal or criminal family, where they were dependent upon each
other. And it was the family that mattered. Then around that circle
would be the hangers-on and the close friends and the old college
pals and the whomever. And then the outer circle would be the beau
monde. The celebrity. I only saw Kennedy close once, which was at a
party that was being given. A birthday party for his younger
brother Teddy. I had the impression of a man who was vulnerable and
subject to all kinds of influences. Flatterers, camp followers, picking
at him. Toward the end of the evening, I had the impression of a
Mrs Kennedy, I want to thank you for letting his visit your official
home. Thanks, Mr President, for all the things you've done. The battles
that you've won. The way you deal with US Steel. And problems by the
ton. Thank you so much. 14 February 1962. Jackie Kennedy invites CBS
Television into the White House to show off the restoration work that
she has overseen. The hour-long programme is watched by 56 million
viewers. Mrs Kennedy, I want to thank you for letting us visit your
official home. This is obviously the room from which much of your
work on it is directed? Yes, it's attic and cellar all in one. Jackie
is the perfect princess and she played the part beautifully. I mean,
she had a little baby girl voice and she moved well. And she knew
the names of French impressionist painters as well as names of
American great presidents. I rather love this hall. It has all the
colours one thinks of when one thinks of the White House. Red and
white and blue and gold. She could tell the difference between good
silver and cheap silver. It is gold. I wanted a very simple design so
that the china and silver and glass would show up. It's a lesson in
manners that she's teaching the 22nd October 1962. Presidential
broadcast on the Cuban Missile Within the past week, unmistakable
evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile
sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of
these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike
capability against the Western Hemisphere. To halt this offensive
build-up, a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment
under shipment to Cuba is being initiated. All ships of any kind
bound for Cuba from whatever nation or port will, if found to contain
cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back. It shall be the policy
of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba
against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the
Soviet Union on the United States. Requiring a full retaliatory
16th December 1962. Two months after the Cuban Missile Crisis,
President Kennedy records a TV interview in the Oval Office.
Announcer: After two years, a conversation with the President of
the United States. As you look back, has your
experience matched your expectations? I would say that the
problems are more difficult than I imagined them to be. The
responsibilities of the United States are greater than I imagined
them to be. And there are greater limitations on our abilities to
bring about a favourable result than I imagined there to be.
He is saying things are much harder than he had supposed. Much more
intractable than he supposed. But on the other hand, the decision
gets left to him. The easy decisions get made at a lower level.
My favourite line was that, "It's one thing to make a speech and
another thing to make a judgement." It's much easier to make the
speeches than it is to finally make the judgments. Because
unfortunately your advisers are frequently divided. If you take the
wrong course, and on occasion I have, the President bears the
burden of responsibility quite rightly. The advisers may move on
As Governor of the state of Alabama, I for bird this unwarranted action
by the central government. -- I for bid. He comes to the office in 1961
without much to say about black civil rights in United States. He
is then presented over the next the necessity to send troops to get a
student in to university in Mississippi. More federal troops to
back down the insurrection of the Governor of Alabama. The heart of
the question is, whether all Americans are to be afforded equal
rights and equal opportunities. he reacts to events. He moves
towards civil rights legislation. If an American, because his skin is
dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if
he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he
cannot vote for the public officials to represent him, then
who amongst us would be content to have the colour of his skin
changed? It doesn't get past but Kennedy does respond. He
understands that the racial In the 1990, your sons, daughters,
grandson's and grandchildren will be applying to the colleges in this
state in a number three times what we do today. Our airports will
serve it five times as many passengers. There is a sense he is
looking forward to his second term. He was growing in office. He was
gaining confidence. That sense he hadn't been defeated. He wasn't
checking out. He entered office as a boy, and, had he been allowed to
serve his two terms, he might have finished as a man. Euro old man
should dream dreams. You're young men it should see visions, the
Bible tells us, and where there is no vision, the people perish.
President Kennedy in Histon last night, alive and vibrant, looking
At night before we would go to sleep, Jack like to play some
records and the song he loved the most came at the very end of the
record. The lines he loved to hear where, don't let it be forgotten
that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known
as Camelot. There will be great presidents again but there will
never be another Camelot. transformed the notion of the
presidency. Presidency suddenly became the man on the White Horse
or the Redeemer. You see the same sort of thing with both Ronald
Reagan and Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama. It is the image they
have to present, the blank state on which the voters are free to
Those are the recollections. We have 1,000 days by which to judge
President Kennedy and his presidency. It's not enough, but
that's all we have got. How do we draw up a lead of what he achieved?
First of all, you have to acknowledge is the cold war
President and he confronted one of the most dangerous crisis in the
cold war, the one which brought us closest to nuclear annihilation.
And yet he also start the process with the Test mandate treaty.
Cuban missile crisis, and the handling of it, it's almost over
everything else, saving the world. Is that good enough, to say,
whatever else is true, it was a successful presidency simply
He was very lucky in the missile crisis. But McNamara remembers, we
were one of the best generation in American politics, we handled it as
best as we could in yet reap almost blew the World Cup. They were so
many things they did not know. -- World Cup. They did not know the
Russians had tactical nuclear weapons. They did not know there
were submarines going and a keeper who might have fired even after the
settlement of the crisis. -- going under Cuba. They raise eight
domestic agenda and issues which come up one after another. -- there
is a domestic agenda. His two books tell us there was a Democratic
Congress. -- history books. It was not all that its move because of
the kind of democrats there were running Congress. He had a narrow
victory. There were no coat tails effect for ordinary congressman. It
was particularly true of southern Democrats. They had control of
Congress in being a blocking force since 1978. Let's not forget they
really were racist. These other Dixie cats. His Democrat party had
all his power in the south but they did not agree with him. That is
where LBJ came in as the running mate. There's always a problem,
what should I do with nutters in the south? There was apartheid in
the south. Was it really as bad as that? It was so. How should we view
Kennedy? Was a leader to challenge the racist Setup or a follow-up?
he became a leader but he was a follower most of the time. He was
worried about being outflanked by the Republicans - liberal
Republicans from the north-east. They existed in those days. At the
end of the day, these white southerners are not going to be
reasonable. They are not going to be moderate. There is a decent
record. My guess is that people who were watching this President were
not making calculations based on these sorts of the achievements on
the ledger. There was something big about Kennedy. One reason I left
England at that time was adult it was incredibly boring and static. -
- was that it was incredibly boring. With Kennedy it was different.
it the glamour thing? British politics did not look anything like
that, did it? Absolutely not. I went to Paris and Jackie was a
stunning success. She suddenly became the star, the celebrity. I
think people over here began to think, why can't ours be more like
that? You were there in that period, a young student at the time. Yes, a
gap year students. It has all the excitement that was generated by
the Kennedys. It was palpable. I remember going to an Independence
Day party at the Washington memorials. Word was coming round
that the President was coming along. You cannot imagine the excitement.
David Cameron going to Hyde Park is not the same. Everyone was gripped
by the thought he might be amongst us, turned out he was not. That is
what made him so bizarre. Was this to do with the glamour or the big
foreign policy achievements? Cuban missile crisis had frightened
us. That was quite important. Remember his tremendous skill with
the media. When you have a young family in the White House for the
first time and you play it, you see these interviews with him, it looks
good, doesn't it? The key thing is and where he has got the television
trick completely right is that he is not talking down. He is asked
the question and he replies to the question as if, we would all see it
this way, wouldn't we? We were born after the death of Kennedy. Does
this still resonate for you? When you hear the speech, ask not what
your country can do? I hear the voice of almost every one of the
leader coming out of it. He is the playbook for how to communicate.
That eye-level communication, you cannot listen to a Tony Blair
speech. The Age of achievement and what he wanted to do. Getting hold
of the future, that theme was there from Kennedy. They have to look
after you but you must not look down on them. You see it in Barack
Obama as well. You see Gordon Brown desperately trying to do it.
ought to be simple but it is not. I have often asked a politician to
walk in front of a camera and you will be amazed how few of our MPs
can walk in a convincing way. What is striking that all these things
we take for granted, the way a President, to be powerful, must
have television power. He is not on his own in the media. Jackie is a
dead at television. The sort of talk of the White House. -- the
debt. How active was Jackie in the Kennedy household relationship?
think she certainly had this vision of the presidency from the social
celebrity point of view. The house of the sun came Cup making the
White House aide dingy old place but was run by Eisenhower into one
of the most glamourous places. it her idea to bring in poets and
musicians? Absolutely. It was no good doing this behind closed doors,
you have to project it, inviting the cameras in. Also particularly
Life magazine. She had a canny use of that. What is strange about it
is she could be a very private person. She did look down on
journalists, unlike Jack. It was a major part of her role. Camelot is
a really odd idea. It was not a really happy place. What it does
have his mystique and poetic mystique. It is more enshrined
after his death because it has gone. It has gone and can never be
regained and you wanted more. talk about the assassination. It is
central to the Kennedy mythology it. Let's imagine ourselves in 1963, he
is still alive. He seemed to be looking ahead to his second term.
How likely was that he would be re- elected? Where their high hopes
alert his election in 1960? He was certain he was going to get elected
in 60 full. He thought he was going to fight gold water. -- in 1964.
did become the Republican standard- bearer. It was going to be a
genuine battle of ideas. Kennedy was confident he would win and I
think he would have done. The unanswered question, did the
Kennedy administration lead to Vietnam or was there a way out that
Kennedy would have taken? The counterfactual, because of the
lessons he had learned from the Bay of Pigs, and his distrust of some
military advisers, might have taken, in the long run, once elected,
might have been prepared to take the United States at the Vietnam?
But it is his men who have advised Johnson to go into Vietnam. Bobby
Kennedy and Ted Kennedy are late in the day in deciding that the war
was something they would be against. Popular culture blames Lyndon
Johnson for Vietnam. Actually it begins in earnest under Kennedy. If
he wanted to stop that much into war, he could have stopped it.
you are sensing his unfinished business. An unfulfilled promise.
In terms of the great Kennedy myth, very powerful stuff. To have him
cut off as a young man, so he never grows old and never has the
discipline and of a second term, that gives it a great, powerful
drama. There are no images of him as an old man. It is not, here he
goes again. Nothing is done for a second time. Tell us about the
conduct of Jackie stayed after the assassination. It is famous that
she wears the blood stained dress so that people will know what they
have done. I think she meant right- wing Southerners at that time.
is tempting to be slightly cynical about her conduct, thinking she was
even doing her media management then in the days after the
assassination. Particularly the funeral. She choreographs the
extraordinary funeral. She said, it is all in the guidebook. She meant
the White House guidebook, which described the funeral of Abraham
Lincoln. There they had the Template and off they went. She
seemed to follow up every detail, even down to making Littlejohn
salutes his father. Which is the most poignant image of the funeral
- the three-year-old saluting his father. The death had just happened
and she is able to think about the image-making. She talks to jealous
of Life magazine. Straight after the funeral, they were cut the
language together, it is Camelot. She made sure that is the image
that the Kurds in that article. What has been the effect of the
Camelot? In one word, mythology. It claims the past as well as the
present he lived in. That is what gives him universality as a
political figure. What can you say that his beget in the imagination
than Camelot? -- bigger. That is the dream, that is the legacy. It
is stronger than anything he could have delivered had he lived. What
is the narrative? What is the story? How can we understand it?
For the Kennedys it is important to get an agreement with the end and
then preserve it. We know he was a womaniser and he was corrupt and he
was really in the pocket of the Mafia. You want to preserve this
idea that this is one of the great presidencies. It is the case that
if another cousin, a quite obscure nephew all great nephew, if they
were related to Kennedy, there would be huge interest. Journalists
are lazy. If they can repeat a story, they love it. Everybody
knows how to write a Kennedy story. Will it have a tragic end? Might
they be assassinated? It is so much part of what people know about
politics - American politics. if it does not live on, it is in
the minds of all politicians in the back of their minds. They all have
an inner Kennedy they think they can find. Some of them do it and
some of them do not. There is only one JFK. They cannot stop talking
about him. It is part of mythology that it is unobtainable. In the
2008 campaign, the comparison that was made was with JFK and not with
Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson, who had these big legislative records,
what is that? It is about a new generation. Clinton lived in the
shadow of FDR. That is the person you needed to emulate. It has been
terribly difficult. One of the reasons why Kennedy is such a sort
of yearning for Kennedy among Democrats is they have not actually
controlled the White House and controlled Congress and had a
substantial record since Lyndon Johnson. Johnson is tarnished
because of the war. The last one you can look back to his real
confidence like, this is the way democrats ought to do it, was John
Kennedy. Thank you all. That is all we have time for. Thank you and
goodbye. The world is very different now. Nothing has happened
In the 50th anniversary year of the inauguration of John F Kennedy as President of the United States, Jonathan Freedland chairs a discussion on our enduring fascination with the man, his short-lived administration and the extraordinary political family from which he came.
Historian Professor Tony Badger, veteran newsman John Sergeant, political commentator Anne McElvoy and Sarah Bradford, biographer of Jackie Kennedy, debate the myths and the realities of JFK as well as the controversies surrounding the American mini-series The Kennedys.
In an accompanying short film, Joel Surnow, executive producer of The Kennedys, talks about the making the mini-series and the controversy that engulfed it.