Published June 30, 2005
WASHINGTON – The National Park Service (search) sought out footage of "conservative-right-wing demonstrations" to revise the video shown to visitors at the Lincoln Memorial after being pressured by conservatives who complained the display implied Abraham Lincoln supported abortion, homosexuality and liberal causes.
Park Service documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (search) show officials purchased video of Pent Bush, pro-gun advocates and pro-Iraq war rallies and also considered removing images of Democratic former President Clinton at the memorial.
Park Service officials said they wanted the video to be politically balanced but refused to provide a copy of the revision to The Associated Press, saying it was still being evaluated.
The current eight-minute video, which has been viewed by millions of visitors since 1994, was created by the Park Service in an unprecedented collaboration with high school students around the country. It shows Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, presidential visits and glimpses of dozens of protest marches at the memorial on the Mall.
Students and teachers who collected money to pay for the project and worked with the Park Service a decade ago said they were surprised by the effort to give their display a more conservative touch.
"The Lincoln Memorial is America's soapbox," said Ilene M. Morgan of Los Angeles, who as a Scottsdale, Ariz., high school student helped organize the project. "This was where people have stood to get America's attention. That's what we were trying to capture."
The service has spent about $20,000 revamping the video and buying footage -- including some from The Associated Press -- after conservative political groups criticized the current display and organized a campaign of petitions and e-mails demanding changes.
"The video gave the impression that Lincoln would have supported abortion and homosexuality," said the Web site of Rev. Louis Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition. It cited footage showing events at the memorial staged by abortion and gay rights supporters and war opponents but no similar footage from Christian and conservative interests.
"Absent from the video were any Promise Keepers marches or Marches for Jesus rallies at the capital. The video was totally skewed to present only a leftist viewpoint," the Web site said. Sheldon did not return repeated phone calls to his office seeking comment.
Documents about the revision were released to two liberal advocacy groups, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the People For the American Way Foundation, after they sued under the Freedom of Information Act. Major portions of the 1,500 pages, provided to AP by the groups, were blacked out on grounds they included pre-decision information that did not have to be disclosed.
"This is yet another example of the Bush administration's efforts to turn the federal government into a right-wing propaganda machine," PFAW president Ralph G. Neas said. "Now they're trying to rewrite history on the basis of ideology and abuse FOIA to conceal the evidence."
Park Service Deputy Director Don Murphy disagreed, saying the service has a "responsibility to present a balanced approach. We do not respond solely to any special interest group."
On Feb. 3, 2003, the conservative Web site CNSNews.com criticized the video, particularly a montage of marchers carrying signs that included, "The Lord is my Shepherd and Knows I am Gay," "Ratify the ERA," and "Keep Abortion Legal."
Sheldon said he complained to the White House and 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."
The agency said no one from the White House ever contacted the Park Service or Interior Department about the video.
But within weeks of the first conservative complaints, the Park Service's Harpers Ferry, W.Va., design center was put to work on revisions.
In a Feb. 20, 2003, e-mail, Tim Radford, a Harpers Ferry Center employee, requested a search of video archives "for footage of conservative - `right wing' demonstrations (several lines blacked out) Lincoln Memorial. please 'rush."'
On March 5, 2003, Radford e-mailed his boss: "replacing clinton would require creating a totally new interpretive production. please remember many other presidents, republican and democrat, are shown."
In an Oct. 21, 2003, e-mail, Park Service production assistant Amber Perkins asked CNN for video of a recent ceremony at which a Bush administration political appointee helped unveil a marker at the spot where King gave his famous speech. She also requested "pro-gun rights/NRA events at the Lincoln memorial."
A Feb. 3, 2005, document says the revisions project bought video footage of Bush and his father walking down the Lincoln Memorial steps, protesters carrying signs opposing gun control, a rally supporting the war in Iraq, a vigil supporting the war in Afghanistan and the Million Man March.
In a Dec. 10, 2004, memo, the Harpers Ferry Center said the revisions were the result of "concerns and complaints that the interpretive video in the memorial exhibit space focuses on protests from liberal or special interest groups from one point of view and excludes or minimizes other points of view of a more conservative perspective." Proposed solutions are blacked out.
Vikki Keys, superintendent of parks and monuments on the Mall, said the video work has now been folded into a routine reassessment of the entire memorial exhibit.
She said people today appear more interested in Lincoln's life -- "how he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps from backwoods frontiersman to president" -- than in the memorial's role as a soapbox.
Jaime L. Marquez of Scottsdale, one of the original student organizers, said an exhibit on Lincoln's life would be different from what the students attempted to create a decade ago.
"I hope they don't completely redo it, because a lot of kids hold personal ownership of it. It demonstrates that even if you are a sixth-grader you can still make a difference," she said
Mrs. Marquez said, "We had support from liberals and conservatives in Congress and we had students who were both. It was not a political platform."
Gregg Behr, who as a student in Pittsburgh's suburbs helped design the exhibit, said the protests shown in the video "should move, provoke or charge us and outrage us. That isn't an endorsement of any view.
"I'm glad Rev. Sheldon is outraged," Behr said. "An exhibit so bland that it offends no one would dishonor all our fellow Americans and friends who came to that space for all sorts of different reasons."