Which story about Abraham Lincoln does our Society choose to tell on primetime TV?

There’s so much to say about Abraham Lincoln and so many stories to tell — enough to inspire more than 15,000 books.

One book — Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin — inspired this film by Steven Spielberg:

Another book —  Killing Lincolnby Bill O’Reilly of Fox News — is the basis for this new film from National Geographic:

National Geographic’s mission:
To inspire people to care about the planet.


  • I don’t know what story “Killing Lincoln” will tell. It’s probable that the simplistic “history book” assassination fable will be upgraded to HD – saintly, humble Abe slain by an evil zealot, John Oswald Booth – and this would be a disservice. But there is an essential mystery around his death: Lincoln is an icon of intelligent understanding and compassion to us, yet he was among the most hated men of his day, and not just by slavers. Lincoln had suspended basic legal rights in his desperate drive to save the Union. Lincoln had offended businessmen and Congress. He had fired General McClellan, popular with press and with the armed forces establishment. He had (as in Spielberg’s Lincoln) armed and emancipated a “savage race” to uncomfortable political equality. He had repeatedly meddled with the “progress” of the war, and then threatened to dilute the victory by pushing generous reconciliation after Appomattox. No one in his cabinet saw him as a buffoon, a common political image, but several powerful men in his cabinet (of rivals) saw him as a loose cannon and a danger to the re-established Union. Many cabinet members saw his death as a regrettable plus. The real mystery of Lincoln’s killing is whether is was an accidental or a planned coup. Several attempts had been made on his life. That one succeeded was not exactly a surprise or even (to many of his closest political colleagues) unwelcome. Will tabloid NGS TV tell the real story or simply a more Tarentino myth of Lincoln the Martyr? Well, we might hope to be surprised by excellence but Murdoch’s shadow is discouraging.

    • You outline the historic details beautifully, Jan. And I have no doubt there are many nuanced documentaries that might be made about Lincoln’s assassination.

      But that NGC video teaser is a 30-second distillation about what the producers want to tell you, what they want you to be anticipating. And the one for “Killing Lincoln” is pretty much: Bullet to the back of the head. The only thing the teaser is missing is Lincoln’s blood splattered on the wooden floor.

      I’d trust you to produce a documentary on Lincoln’s death. But I don’t trust David Lyle.

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