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American Experience: 1964 Not As Biased As Expected, But…

Watch it, certainly. But brace yourself for a couple of historical whoppers.

by
Kathy Shaidle

Bio

January 15, 2014 - 2:00 pm

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Since that was the year I was born, I watched PBS’s newest American Experience production, 1964, last night. (You can watch it online free here.)

I braced myself for two hours of received liberal wisdom and stale faux history.

So I was pleasantly surprised at how much respectable attention was paid to, say, Barry Goldwater’s doomed-from-the-start presidential campaign.

Two actual contemporaneous conservatives — Richard A. Viguerie and Phyllis Schlafly -- performed more than ably as designated “right wing” talking heads.

Kudos to the creative team for selecting plenty of rarely seen footage, such as young Goldwater volunteers at work and play, and lengthy film of the Berkeley free speech protests.

Some of this film was startling: those thousands of New Year’s Eve celebrants in Times Square looked awfully cheerful for people whose president had just been assassinated.

And how odd to see only two or three obese people, at most.

A few quibbles:

No mention that Betty Friedan was a communist whose book The Feminine Mystique was a tissue of junk social science and autobiographical blarney.

LBJ is portrayed as a noble, even saintly figure, if a bit of a bully — but hey, that was for a good cause, right? Hell, not even many liberals and leftists at the time thought about him this way. (Language/content warnings.)

The program’s biggest error, however, is egregious and obviously intentional.

Again and again, opponents to the Civil Rights Act are described as “Southerners.” They are not, however, referred to as Democrats, which they most certainly were as well.

The dubious “Southern strategy” chestnut also gets an airing, unquestioned.

I received much of my early education about world history from programs like this. We should praise them when they’re worthwhile, no matter who makes them.

However, bad-faith bias in such documentaries, especially those produced in part with taxpayer funding and later used in the classroom, always needs to be called out, quickly and repeatedly.

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(KATHY SHAIDLE is a blogging pioneer who runs FiveFeetOfFury, now in its 14th year. She's been called "one of the great virtuoso polemicists of our time," by MARK STEYN. Her NEW book is Confessions of A Failed Slut (Thought Catalog, 2014).

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All Comments   (6)
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Just watching the promos, you could get a pretty good idea of where the show was going to come from just by the graphic design, which screams out "Summer of Love" 1967 and not the more formal '64 (we may be coming up on the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' U.S. debut, but the Fab Four who showed up on Ed Sullivan were far more restrained than just a few years later -- it was late 1965 and 1966 when the most common images of the 60s really came into focus, and are the ones progressives to this day nostalgically obsess about).
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree about the anachronistic 'poster' design. It had me anticipating a train wreck so I was pleasantly surprised by the doc itself, with the reservations (and others) I cited.

I liked that they went after less familiar stories like the Beatles meeting Casius Clay. It reminded me of (hopeless liberal) Linda Ellerbee's old "Our World" series in that sense.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
It may be that the people doing the documentary had a better grasp on the year they were profiling that those promoting it, who may be too young to actually remember the era and just opted to lump any date after 11/22/63 into one stereotypical graphic image of the late 60s, gleamed from too many viewings of Peter Max or Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Kennedy was a seriously flawed individual and was not looked upon as a sure presidential winner in the upcoming 1964 elections. That was why he was in Dallas, to shore up a base of support in wildly unpredictable Texas. Despite cover from a liberal press corps (corpse), his dalliances and foibles were known to the public that cared to know. It was all somewhat like Obama is today; not too much is a secret, if one wants to know. But those loyalists can refuse to acknowledge any blemish in their hero of the moment.

The man was not by any means a legend in his own time; that came about over the decades - the further from the event, the better he looked.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Some of this film was startling: those thousands of New Year’s Eve celebrants in Times Square looked awfully cheerful for people whose president had just been assassinated.

The incessant coverage of the assassination and the president's family became oppressive. Any excuse to cut loose of that was good.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Leave the mourning to the politician's family. Bet LBJ and his friends and family were celebrating too.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
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