Saturday, February 14, 2009

Review of Looking for Lincoln

By J. A. Davis
SCV Public Relations and Media Committee

After purposely waiting a couple of days for reports and reactions to the initial showing of "Looking For Lincoln" on PBS, we have now been able to put a critique together. Much of what is incorporated herein results from a combination of comments received from friends and SCV members, as well as pouring over more than a hundred newspapers and broadcast operations. These include major market high circulation dailies such as stories in the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Denver Post, and the Associated Press.

All of these media sources referred to the Sons of Confederate Veterans in a positive way. Perhaps the SCV participation is best summed up by the venerable retired magazine editor and author of The South Under Siege, Frank Conner. In his message to me, he said: "I watched the show last night, and was surprised and impressed. I thought the flavor of the show's presentation of the SCV was spot-on. I can't remember ever seeing anything else on TV that presented the organization in such a favorable light."

Here is a summary of some of the important milestones we reached in our quest to build the best public image of the SCV possible.

We not only appeared on our first nationwide network style documentary. We participated in the planning of the overall project beginning almost a year ago.

Complete audience ratings are not in yet however, it is safe to say it is in the millions. The newspaper, radio and TV coverage was nationwide, covering many millions of readers and viewers. Far more by many times than any project in our history.

For the first time in memory, almost all the coverage was positive. In the rare worst case it was neutral and not negative. Our flags and symbols were prominent. If every one of us went out flagging for a whole day we couldn't have nearly shown our colors to as many as the millions watching.

Our people were shown were well dressed, with attractive personalities and articulate messages including delegates in the scenes at the reunion.

The program was originally scheduled for four hours in two parts. Because of the economy it was scaled back to two hours. Our original plans were based on much longer segments with adequate time to develop positions. We shot our interviews for about five hours, realizing they would be edited. Note that Dr. Skip Gates, the host-producer, kept his agreement with us to let our spokes people go without a lot of interruption or argument. When we added the coverage of the presentation to the Weary Clyburn family at the reunion, which cut further into our interview time, meaning for one meaningful feature we sacrificed some great commentary by Jim Dean, Brag Bowling and Don Shelton. Still, they did well though editing for the time squeeze negated some of their best lines.

Another important element of this event is the possibility that other producers will now realize the Sons of Confederate Veterans have an important place in public discussion. A brick wall of quasi-censorship may have been cracked.

For those who might believe we didn't get enough interview time, you may have a point. Keep in mind, this was not an exclusive SCV program and we were there on a shared time basis with many others. One other point to consider is that during our interview time, we got in some good licks.

If you think about it, some of the best quotes of all time are about ten seconds - this is very true of television. Think also what the cost of a 30 second spot to a premiere national audience would be.

By proper planning and coordination the SCV, developed certain understandings that were faithfully observed by the producers, Ark Productions of Brooklyn, NY. This resulted in a spirit of cooperative management of who, what, when, where and how we would be included.

The bottom line is the program attacked the Lincoln myth and presented so many of the negatives in Lincoln's life that have been avoided by historians for years. This includes some who appeared on the program and now exposed by having to admit there is a Lincoln “myth”. They also chide each other for not viewing history in light of the times, rather than viewing it, as they often do, as if the events were today.

The program further gives us an opportunity to see to it that it is and used by schools throughout the country to help overcome the problem of children being misled on the life of Lincoln and the causes of the War Between the States. Is also serves as an introduction to the Sons of Confederate Veterans by the SCV being portrayed in a favorable light. Dr. Gates has assured me he wholeheartedly endorses this idea. In his case, he has convinced me he is interested in the truth as defined in the program, though he continues as a devoted Lincoln fan, blemishes and all.

Who would have believed that the SCV would have so advanced The Charge on the occasion of Lincoln's 200th birthday? I think General S. D. Lee would be proud of us. Who would believe that our entire budget was zero?

Finally, our committee would like to thank the SCV executive leadership covering two administrations for the constant support and encouragement we have been given. We continue to welcome the input our compatriots.


NOTE: "Looking for Lincoln" will air in the coming weeks also. If you missed its initial showing on PBS consult for the times of subsequent airings.