Must-See TV: Sarah Palin Unplugged Competes with the Kennedys, the Popes, and Robert E. Lee

Tonight, Sunday April 8, promises some interesting viewing options on two of the three major cable television news channels, Fox News and CNN. In recent weeks, Sunday has been the most successful night of the week for the ratings-challenged CNN. The channel’s new six part docu-series on the Kennedys and the Popes, which debuted on March 11, have both been consistent winners in their time slots (Sundays at 9 and 10 P.M. E.T. respectively), unlike CNN’s weeknight prime time marquee shows which have been struggling to attract viewers. Tonight, episodes 5 of both The Kennedys and Pope will debut on CNN.

According to zap2it dot com, part 5 of Pope, “The Wartime Popes,” will examine “the pope who bore witness to the Nazi party's rise and the actions of the Catholic Church during one of the most tumultuous times in modern history.” Pope has been a fairly conventional documentary, tracing the 2,000-year history of the “the most powerful man in history” (CNN’s subtitle for the series), although it has come under criticism from many Catholics. At, for example, David Ives has written a critical  article titled “CNN’s new series, ‘Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History,’ commits sins of omission.”

In the latest episode of American Dynasties: The Kennedys that airs tonight, “The Legend of the Camelot,” Jacqueline Kennedy, again according to zap2it, “Numbed by grief after the assassination of her husband, crafts JFK's legacy, while Bobby becomes a champion of the dispossessed and the family's next great political hope.” The first four parts of The Kennedys have been a major disappointment. Mixing up – often confusingly – newly filmed dramatic re-enactments of past events with actual archival films from the period. CNN’s The Kennedys has continued the fifty-year-long trend of most of mainstream TV that glosses over the considerable warts of the Kennedy family dynasty and perpetuates the absurd myth that a modern Camelot took root during JFK’s approximately 1,000 days as president.

John F. Kennedy

Recently, as a counterpoint, I watched the amazing 1997 independently produced documentary “Dangerous World: The Kennedy Years,” narrated by Peter Jennings and reported by Seymour Hersh, based on the latter’s groundbreaking book The Dark Side of Camelot. A 67-minute-long version of the original show, which ran 86 minutes not including commercials, can be streamed here. The Jennings-hosted program that aired only once on Dec. 4, 1997 on the ABC television network in prime time stands virtually alone in the history of broadcast television as a probing, no-holds-barred review of the Kennedys – Joseph, Sr., John, and Robert – and their notorious but seldom reported by the MSM “darker sides.”

The ABC program broke new ground by interviewing on camera and on the record for the first time a number of primary sources, including four Secret Service agents who protected President Kennedy and, shortly before her death, one of JFK’s mistresses, Judith Campbell Exner, who was simultaneously intimately involved with notorious Mafia boss Sam Giancana. Exner, in fact, asserts that she was a courier who carried secret messages and cash payoffs between JFK and Giancana. In its 1997 review of the program, the New York Times labeled it “a seriously misguided journey.” Most of the MSM totally ignored the program. Twenty years later, CNN’s new and highly promoted series on the Kennedys represents a predictable return to the hagiographic whitewashed stereotype that has defined most JFK docs since the president’s assassination in 1963.

And not only that. In recent weeks, CNN has devoted scores of hours of airtime to salacious reporting about and criticism of President Donald Trump for his alleged consensual affairs more than a decade ago with two adult women. Meanwhile, the text of a tweet from an official CNN account on March 31 promoting its series The Kennedys read “JFK had a legendary love life. Did one of his affairs connect him with the mob?” An article in Western Journal, titled “CNN Hails JFK’s ‘Legendary Love Life’ After Hammering Trump as Womanizer,” took note of the hypocrisy:

Far from “legendary,” Kennedy’s alleged sexual encounters with 19-year-old intern Mimi Alford were lewd and predatory.  . . While CNN described Kennedy’s “love life” in glamorous terms, the same verbiage was not afforded to Trump.

The Fox News Channel has some interesting fare on its schedule tonight. At 8 P.M. E.T., with a replay three hours later (The Kennedys and Pope also repeat three hours after their initial showings), Fox News presents part 3 of 12 of Legends & Lies: Civil War. The series – seasons 1 and 2 were closely associated with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly – relies largely on dramatic re-enactments of historical events. I am not a great fan of this new convention that has largely replaced traditional documentaries that used real historic footage, still photos, and other documentation. That said, Legends & Lies stages the re-enactments from early historic periods very well and overall it is entertaining and often informative. Host Brian Kilmeade and several historians occasionally appear on camera to move the story along and add some current perspective.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee


Tonight’s episode, “Robert E. Lee: Choosing Sides,” was not available for preview. An email from Fox News on April 6 described the episode:

On the third episode of FOX News Channel’s Legends & Lies: The Civil War host Brian Kilmeade examines the story of how General Robert E. Lee turned down command of the Union forces and decided to lead the Army of Northern Virginia. Additionally, this episode will spotlight how Lee’s leadership in the Peninsula Campaign had the Federal Army on the run.

It will be interesting to see how the Lee episode handles the subject of a decorated commanding Union officer who flipped to the Confederacy and, despite some major battlefield victories, ultimately led his troops to defeat. In subsequent histories of the conflict, Robert E. Lee emerged as the most prominent name associated with the short-lived breakaway Confederate States of America. Recent efforts around the country to remove statues of Confederate heroes, including Lee’s, from their places in towns and cities where many have stood prominently for a century or more, have provoked heated debate and a growing effort to cleanse public spaces of reminders of the past that some find offensive.

Sarah Palin campaigns in North Carolina, October 2008 Source: Wikipedia

Also on Fox News at 10 P.M. E.T. with a replay three hours later, Life, Liberty & Levin, Mark Levin’s weekly program in which he interviews one noteworthy conservative guest for the entire hour, will present Sarah Palin. It was ten years ago this coming summer that Palin, then the governor of Alaska, burst onto the national scene when she was selected by John McCain to be his running mate against the Democrats’ nominees for president and vice president, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Palin emerged from her ticket’s defeat in November 2008 as a prominent and popular voice of the Republican Party. Her star shined brightly for a time, especially as her rise coincided with the emergence of the grassroots conservative Tea Party movement in 2009 that Palin helped to lead. For several years starting in 2009, Palin appeared as an occasional Fox News contributor for $1 million a year. After the re-election of President Obama in 2012, Palin, who had decided not to run for higher elective office, largely retreated to her home base of Wasilla, Alaska, although she emerged to campaign occasionally for Donald J. Trump in 2016.

Interestingly, after a recent period of quiescence on social media (she was an early adopter of Facebook and Twitter), Palin, who is 54, is now actively posting again on her verified Twitter and Facebook accounts. Presumably, Levin will ask her about what plans she may have for the future in politics and public life.

The third major cable news channel, MSNBC, which has been doing very well in challenging the #1 cable news channel Fox News on weeknights in recent months, typically offers weak, replay-dominated, and ultimately non-competitive programming on weekend nights.

Tonight Sunday April 8

8 P.M. E.T. and P.T. Fox News Channel. Legends & Lies Part 3: “Robert E. Lee: Choosing Sides” –  recommended

9 P.M. E.T. and P.T. CNN. American Dysnasties: The Kennedys Part 5: “The Legend of the Camelot” –  recommended for the purposes of entertainment and eye candy only

10 P.M. E.T. and P.T. CNN. Pope Part 5: “The Wartime Popes” – mildly recommended

10 P.M. E.T. and P.T. Fox News Channel. Life, Liberty & Levin: Sarah Palin, guest – highly recommended


Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture.  He is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.  Follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.

If you experience technical problems, please write to