WASHINGTON -- Last summer we went to Vietnam to shoot several "War Stories" episodes for FOX News Channel. As one might expect in a communist country where they take red tape very seriously, my producers spent weeks before our trip filling out forms, questionnaires and documents required by numerous government bureaucracies. In the process it became evident that not all the folks in Hanoi were on the same sheet of music -- but after several weeks of negotiation we were able to accomplish all that we set out to do and more, thanks to their cooperation. As it turns out, it was easier to deal with Ho Chi Minh's proteges than our own Smithsonian Institution. At least the commies kept their word. Not so with the Smithsonian.
A month ago I described how our award-winning "War Stories" unit had been denied permission to shoot footage of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. In that column I suggested that the reason for the rejection was "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."
Three days later, on Feb. 12, the Smithsonian hierarchy "reconsidered" our request and on Feb. 13 Claire Brown, the National Air and Space Museum's spokeswoman, informed my producers that "On review by our senior management it became clear that the program that you propose to film is not a program substantially about the Smithsonian and therefore not in conflict with policy. There is no reason under our policy that you cannot film if we can work out timing and details."
In a later message, Brown advised that, "We will accommodate your filming request on March 12. The exact timing, logistics can be worked out tomorrow after we talk with the folks in that building."
Over the course of the next several days, arrangements for our shoot were consummated with Retired Maj. Gen. Joe Anderson, the center's deputy director; Frank McNally, his public affairs officer and curator Dik Daso. On March 1, my producers, cameramen and I conducted a site survey at the Udvar-Hazy Center and were cordially received by the staff, who made several useful suggestions about logistics. Afterward, Daso sent me an e-mail: "I look forward to the filming on the evening of March 12." Unfortunately, it was not to be.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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