Ken Burns' Ernest Hemingway documentary is drawing fire for neglecting the FBI's surveillance of the writer.
Journalists David Talbot on his web site and David Masciotra in a Salon article berated Burns and Lynn Novick for ignoring longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's vendetta against Hemingway, which worsened the anguish that led to the author's suicide.
The Hemingway series' avoidance of the FBI harassment is all the more glaring when several Academy Award-nominated films examined the FBI's surveillance of black civil rights leaders and entertainers and white leaders of the antiwar movement during the 1960s.
Hemingway attracted the FBI's attention with his support of Republican anti-fascist forces while reporting on the Spanish Civil War. Never a communist, Hemingway also sympathized with Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution.
Burns and Novick have been accused of distorting and even falsifying history in their PBS documentaries.
Critics claimed their Civil War series romanticized the Confederacy, especially historian Shelby Foote's glorification of Nathan Bedford Forrest and other Southern leaders.
The film-makers' Vietnam series was condemned for its rosy view of the American escalation of the war.
Burns and Novick’s series on baseball, jazz, country music and World War II were marred by broad, sanctimonious generalizations, which I found less prominent in the Hemingway series, also written by longtime Burns and Novick collaborator Geoffrey C. Ward.
Avoidance of the FBI's persecution of Hemingway is puzzling for film-makers known for exhaustive research. The FBI campaign to destroy the writer's reputation is well-documented in several books.
Masciotra cites more than 100 pages of FBI documents, 15 of them redacted, that were released in the 1980s after a Freedom of Information request by Hemingway biographer Jeffrey Meyers.
The file included Hoover's orders to monitor Hemingway, plans to tap his phones, and even the disclosure that Hemingway's Mayo Clinic doctor gave the agency reports on the writer's deteriorating physical and mental condition during his final years.
Masciotra also faults Burns and Novick for discounting mental illness as the cause of Hemingway's worsening abusive behavior.
While the series cites Hemingway's multiple concussions, Masciotra blasts Burns and Novick for not interviewing a neurologist about how such injuries affect personality changes, such as occur with pro football players.
The last episode of the series cites a vignette in which Hemingway says he is being watched by two men in a Ketchum, Idaho restaurant. Hemingway also believes that bank employees are working after hours to alter his account. Hemingway's wife, Mary, rejects Hemingway's beliefs as paranoid delusions. Masciotra and Talbot demonstrate that Hemingway's suspicions were plausible.
Burns gave several publicity interviews before the program's broadcast, but has not been asked about why the FBI's Hemingway probe was not included.
Whatever justification Burns might eventually give, the absence is another of his serious violations of history.