Spielberg’s Sovietization of U.S. History: The Bait-and-Switch Game of ‘Historical Docudrama’

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When Steve Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” came out Time magazine featured interviews with him and his historical advisor on the film, Doris Kearns-Goodwin. Spielberg said the movie is based on part of Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals, because he was so impressed with her scholarship and the great detail and abundance of historical facts in the book. Goodwin herself wrote in Timethat she spent ten years researching and writing the book to assure audiences that the movie was in fact very, very well researched. (This project was commenced shortly after she was kicked off the Pulitzer Prize committee and PBS for confessing to plagiarism related to an earlier book of hers).

Time’s cover story included another article by another historian, in order to further persuade Americans that the movie portrays The True Story about the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that ended slavery. Another major theme of the movie, one which is accurate but not developed nearly enough, is how much of a political conniver, liar and manipulator Lincoln was, and how he ignored the law and the Constitution in myriad ways. This was brought out in the movie so that the punditry could then editorialize about how President Obama should be “more like Lincoln” and ignore any and all constitutional constraints on presidential powers. The punditry did indeed behave in exactly that way before and after the November election.

A couple of years before the movie came out Goodwin was a pervasive presence on various news programs proclaiming how brilliant and magnanimous Lincoln was to have appointed several former political rivals to his cabinet and praising Obama for doing the same (keeping Bush’s Defense Secretary, for instance). In an LRC article entitled “Team of Liars” I pointed out that numerous presidents had done exactly the same thing for generations prior to the Lincoln presidency; the main theme of Goodwin’s Team of Rivals is therefore trivial and false. Nevertheless, these instances are examples of how dishonest “historians” like Doris Kearns-Goodwin attempt to twist and manipulate history in service of the state.

Yours truly recognized the Spielberg movie as fraudulent from the beginning. In another LRC article entitled “Spielberg’s Upside-Down History” I pointed out that Harvard’s Pulitzer prize-winning historian David Donald, the preeminent mainstream Lincoln historian of our time, wrote in his biography of Lincoln (page 545) that Abe in fact had almost nothing whatsoever to do with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, contrary to the main story line of Spielberg’s movie. In fact, as Donald wrote, when asked by genuine abolitionists in Congress if he would assist them in getting the Amendment passed, Lincoln refused. (He did struggle mightily, however, to try to get a first Thirteenth Amendment, known as the Corwin Amendment, passed in 1861 that would have enshrined slavery explicitly in the U.S Constitution).

To my surprise, a member of Congress recently noticed a glaring falsehood in Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and called him out on it. Congressman Joe Courtney of Connecticut was sitting in the movie theater when he was informed by the film that Connecticut congressmen voted against the Thirteenth Amendment. He smelled a rat, and contacted the Congressional Research Service, which informed him that the “facts” portrayed in the movie are false; the entire Connecticut delegation voted FOR the Thirteenth Amendment.

Congressman Courtney wrote to Spielberg asking him to correct the inaccuracy in the DVD version of the movie but was ignored. Spielberg was painted into a corner: If he did what the congressman requested he would be admitting that his film contained a heavy dose of propaganda, contrary to the great effort that had been made to assure audiences of the movie’s historical accuracy. If he ignored the Congressman he risked having him make a big deal of the issue with further press releases. So Spielberg’s screenwriter, Tony Kushner, eventually came out with a feeble defense of the falsehood by writing in USA Today that the purpose of the now-admitted falsehood was “to clarify to the audience the historical reality” of how the Thirteenth Amendment was passed. There you have it in the words of a famous left-wing Hollywood screenwriter (is there any other kind?) –clarifying historical “reality” for the public requires lying about historical reality.

This is the kind of bait-and-switch game that is played by Hollywood leftists with their statist propaganda films. They trot out “distinguished presidential historians” like the disgraced, confessed plagiarist Doris Kearns-Goodwin to assure audiences of the movie’s historical accuracy, but then when they are caught red handed in a pack of lies they plead “poetic license” and argue that “it’s only a movie, after all, and not a portrayal of reality.” No wonder some people believe that the word “cinema” is a combination of “sin” and “enema.”

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