Oliver North's Tiff With the Smithsonian

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Smithsonian Institution rejected a request from Oliver North to film a stand-up in front of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb. This is the latest flap in the Smithsonian's development of programming for a cable television network.

North, who hosts a Fox News Channel series called "War Stories," returned fire, condemning the Smithsonian's decision. He said in an opinion column that the museum's action raises questions about the propriety of the contract between Showtime Networks and the Smithsonian, which limits access of film crews.

Claire Brown, a spokeswoman for the National Air and Space Museum, which displays the Enola Gay at its Northern Virginia annex, said she held a series of discussions with North's producers and thought the door was open to more talks. "We were surprised to read the column because we consider the request to be pending," Brown said. She said she received the request Jan. 22.

North's column first appeared on Fox's Web site and was reprinted by the Washington Times on Sunday. North, a retired U.S. Marine and a key figure in the Iran-contra episode during the Reagan administration, is now a highly successful commentator and author.

"In a series of written, e-mail, telephone and personal exchanges with Smithsonian officials we explained what we wanted to do, how we would do it and offered to compensate the museum for any expenses incurred," North wrote in his column. "What we didn't know was that the institution's management had concocted a secret, backroom deal with Showtime -- granting the premium cable TV channel, owned by media giant Viacom, exclusive rights to control all but 'incidental usage' of all video footage shot at the Smithsonian."

The museum did turn down the request initially, Brown said, explaining that the application was asking for "more than incidental use" of the site and the plane. The Showtime contract, which limits such use, has angered many independent filmmakers.

After North's producers appealed the first decision, Brown said she "offered the producer the alternative of shooting film at Air & Space's Udvar-Hazy Center [near Dulles Airport]. We also asked the producer to contact us in writing with any questions. We have not heard back."

In essence, the Smithsonian was telling the show they could film the plane but couldn't film a commentator talking in front of it.

"We were commencing production of a documentary on nuclear weapons tentatively titled, 'From the Manhattan Project to Tehran' and wanted to shoot a few minutes of the videotape of the Enola Gay . . . . Our requests fell into a bureaucratic black hole," North wrote.

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