Oliver Stone’s Latest Travesty

Culture Watch
tags: Oliver Stone, Hugo Chavez

Ronald Radosh is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at The Hudson Institute, and a Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York's Queensborough Community College. He is a Presidential appointment to the Public Information Declassification Board, for a term extending from 2007 to 2010. He is the author or co-author of 14 books, including The Rosenberg File (1983 and 1997) and Commies: A Journey through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left (2001). This is an excerpt of an article that appeared at Pajamas Media.

This weekend, Oliver Stone’s new documentary, South of the Border, his ode to Hugo Chavez and South and Latin America’s new quasi-Marxist and not so quasi dictators, has opened in New York City and Los Angeles, and will open nationwide in a week.  It had a showing this past Wednesday at the AFI Silverdocs Festival in the Washington, D.C., area, and my article about it  appears today in the weekend edition of  the Wall Street Journal.  I argue therein:  “What Mr. Stone and his writers have presented is a standard far-left narrative that is part of a long line of propaganda films, a modern American version of the old agitprop.  There are no dissenting voices in this film.  Nor is there any mention of the fact that Mr. Chávez has closed down television and radio stations that disagree with him and arrested dissenting political figures.”  The film is what you can expect from the likes of Oliver Stone, a virtual know-nothing who uses his celebrity and acclaim as a film director to spew out hatred for the country that has made him wealthy and influential.

Writing in the New York Times, Larry Rohter came up with many other examples of distortions and omissions in the movie.  He notes that the “78-minute South of the Border is meant to be a documentary, and therefore to be held to different standards.  But it is plagued by the same issues of accuracy that critics have raised about his movies, dating back to JFK.  Taken together, the mistakes, misstatements and missing details could undermine Mr. Stone’s glowing portrait of Mr. Chávez.”  Rohter goes on to pinpoint some of these in stunning detail.


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Javier Ramirez - 7/18/2010

Opposing American empire is one thing (good) aligning oneself with two bit marxists claudillos is another thing (very bad). Please dont put the good name of an Ameircan like General Butler in the same category as that fourth rate former military character Chavez. America will regain its standng in the world by listening to the words of her founding fathers who warned of the foreign quagmire we have brougth ourselves to. Not by listening to intellectually diseased folks like Chavez and his puppets in Bolivia and Ecuador who would create marxist utopias (read "nightmare")

We owe Stone and his ilk no thanks or praise whatsoever. They are useful idiots and mouthpieces for marxists like Castro and now Chavez. No, what we need is to recognize that marxism, whether in its diluted form in neconservativism vis á vis Bush/Cheney, Kristol, etc or pure marxists like Chavez belong in the same boat that should be sunk.

We had useful idiots supporting Bolshevik Russia during the cold war. Its sad that the tradition continues in Stone and Co.

Jon Martens - 7/15/2010

I think it fits right in, then, seeing as so much of HNN's content is purely political axe-grinding from one side or another.

Maarja Krusten - 6/29/2010

Apologies for the typos. Obviously, 19087 should have been 1987 and president's and vice president's should have been presidents' and vice presidents' in the above posting.

I don't know what is the source of the silence of right wing scholars on public access during the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II years. In general, I don't think scholars think tactically and strategically when it comes to the National Archives and the partisan ideological or political views that they hold. They don't know how to help their side, politically. So they leave it to the other side to argue for publlic disclosure. That, as much as anything else, may have led to the impression in archival circles -- or the circles with which I am famililar -- that conservative scholars were not troubled by what happened with Nixon's records during the Reagan and Bush administrations. Yet it is entirely possible to argue for disclosure of the records of Republican presidents and to acknowledge publicly the extent to which non-disclosure enabled Stone to make the types of film he did during the 1980s and early 1990s. I did it, and I had voted for Nixon and Reagan, as well as for Bush in 1988. In 1989, I became an Independent (I choose not to discuss my voting record after that time period.)

Maarja Krusten - 6/29/2010

There are different issues to consider in looking at a documentary and feature films, of course. Oliver Stone's JFK and Nixon films presented views of the two presidents that were so at odds with what unreleased records suggested. Indeed, the films may have pushed presidential families to accept release of some of those files. In the case of the JFK film, it was the passage of the Kennedy records collection act of 1992 and the work of the review board that led to JFK material being released by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in the early 1990s.

Having spent 14 years working with Nixon tapes and files in order to determine what could be released to the public, I approached Stone’s film quite differently than most viewers. I knew the truth about Nixon, although our efforts at the National Archives to start releasing the tapes we had finished reviewing by 19087 had been blocked by Nixon’s opposition to our disclosure standards. In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (February 2, 1996), professor Anna K. Nelson called upon the National Archives to release Nixon’s papers and tapes. She pointed out that if Nixon’s daughters sought emergence of a view different from the one in Stone’s film, the “must stop the two-decade battle to block public access to the records of his Presidency.”

Dr. Nelson mentioned how Nixon’s representatives had challenged NARA by blocking the release of information they regarded “personal.” Dr. Nelson noted that NARA “rarely exhibited the courage needed to stand up to these challenges, acquiescing in the claims that the blocked information was ‘purely personal.’” At issue were files which NARA had tried to release in 1987, the same year in which we finished reviewing all 3,700 hours of Nixon’s tapes. Later in 1996, the National Archives finally acted on Nixon’s claims over the files, which it had been considering for nearly ten years. (Yes, ten years—the claims were filed in 1987. Significantly, Nixon died in 1994.) . Of the documents Nixon’s agents sought to remove from government custody, the National Archives retained 33,199 documents and returned to the Nixon estate 8,992 documents. Of the retained documents, NARA opened to the public 28,035 documents

Disappointingly, I’ve never seen any conservative scholars spend professional capital on these issues of public access, especially as they affect Republican presidents, despite the fact that knowledge gaps due to withheld records gave people such as Stone opportunities to make the types of films they have made. Academics on the right have been largely silent on executive actions which affected NARA’s work, even when President Bush in 2001 issued E.O. 13233. The Bush order gave president’s and vice president’s families (non-office holders) the right to file claims against release of material held by NARA.

For better or worse, you’re more likely to see a progressive scholar such as Jonathan Dresner express concern over the quality of Stone’s work than a right-leaning scholar express concern over presidential prerogatives to control archival records. There is no reason why a right leaning scholar could not have joined Stanley Kutler in lawsuits he filed regarding Nixon's records and Bush-Cheney records. That has created an impression, fairly or not, that the left supports public disclosure while the right is satisfied with executive control and delays in public access. Even with the existence of films such as Stone's Nixon. And I say this as someone who myself once self-identified as a Republican.

Jonathan Dresner - 6/28/2010

Oliver Stone's career as a filmmaker has been lamented by many historians, myself included. I see no reason to change my views on that subject at this point.

Ernest T Spoon - 6/28/2010

This screed has no place on HNN. Little more than a right wing vilification of Oliver Stone, who, yes, has his own political ax to grind, than a movie review. The kind of thing I'd expect to read at Little Green Footballs.

Dag Bj Andersson - 6/28/2010

Funny and sad to see how leaders opposing american imperialism are vilified. You should read som history..start with Smedley Butlers "War is a Racket" and "Confession of an economic hitman" by John Perkins.
Chavez has every reason to rein in some of the "freedoms" we take for granted. US do the same-unwarranted surveillance-extrajudicial assassinations, block of habeas corpus for detainees. a.s.o.

If America is ever to regain its standing among nations it is thanks to people like Oliver Stone..and the best way for that to happen would be if the "neocon's committed collective Harakiri.