Propaganda at the Lincoln Memorial? Conservatives Rally Park Service To Film Alternate History
Conservatives are trying to change history.
Led by Rev. Louis Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition, conservatives have pushed the National Park Service to spend $20,000 buying video footage to restore "balance" to a historical film shown at the Lincoln Memorial.
The film in question is an eight-minute video, produced in 1994 with the help of high school students nationwide, that showcases Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, presidential visits and glimpses of dozens of protest marches at the memorial on the National Mall.
The video includes several montages of modern-day rallies and protests, including ones for workers' rights, women's rights and gay rights. Although it includes footage of priests and nuns, as well as a 1948 clip of a rally in favor of creation of the State of Israel, it lacks footage of more recent, conservative rallies, such as ones for gun owners' rights or supporting the Iraq War.
And if Sheldon and his fellow protesters were merely trying to create "balance," there wouldn't be a problem. For one, the video is dated, relying almost entirely on pre-1980 footage. Given its educational pursuit, lengthening the video to include President Bush and some conservative rally footage seems not only in the best interest of balance, but a reflection of our modern world.
But Sheldon and his fellow protesters are not seeking "balance." They're seeking propaganda, through the forced substitution of "liberal" footage with "conservative" footage.
And apparently, the conservative protesters have the blessing of the Bush Administration.
In February, 2003, Sheldon said in a broadcast transcript that was distributed among Park Service executives: "If Bush is in office, let's have it our way. Let's make it fair now."
It also orchestrated petitions and e-mail campaigns filled with hyperbole. "The video gave the impression that Lincoln would have supported abortion and homosexuality," reads the Traditional Values Coalition web site.
Sheldon's group reasoning? The video -- which again almost entirely features pre-1980 footage -- lacked any mention of marches held by the revivalist group Promise Keepers (founded in 1990), or Marches for Jesus (founded in 1987).
But when the religious right says "Jump," the Bush Administration says "How high?" Within a few weeks of Sheldon's original comments, the Park Service reacted to make the video "fair," putting its Harpers Ferry, W.Va., design center to work on revisions.
Park Service documents, released recently under the Freedom of Information Act, show that it bought video footage of President Bush and his father walking down the Lincoln Memorial steps, protesters carrying signs opposing gun control, a rally supporting the war in Iraq and a vigil supporting the war in Afghanistan.
"This is yet another example of the Bush administration's efforts to turn the federal government into a right-wing propaganda machine," People For the American Way Foundation president Ralph G. Neas told the AP.
And how do the original high school film-makers feel? Jaime L. Marquez of Scottsdale, Ariz., told the AP that she and her cohorts "had support from liberals and conservatives in Congress and we had students who were both. It was not a political platform." Marquez considers herself a Republican.
All the revisions might be for nought. Vikki Keys, superintendent of Mall parks and monuments, told the AP that all Lincoln Memorial exhibits are being reassessed. One theme being discussed would remove partisanship from the equation: a look at how Lincoln "pulled himself up by his own bootstraps from backwoods frontiersman to president."
Given a choice between that and the "balance" being pushed by conservatives, I'm rooting for Lincoln's bootstraps.