On March 7, Karen DeThomas in the Smithsonian's Office of Communications sent my producers their 10-page "Access/Filming/Broadcast Agreement," which, among other things, required FOX News to pay $2,657 in access fees and additional expenses for overtime, security and electricity. On March 9, FOX News' attorneys responded, noting that their proposed agreement would unfairly permit the Smithsonian to "own and control" every second of videotape shot by FOX News in their facility. Nonetheless, Brown informed our producers that "we are confident we can produce an agreement in time for the scheduled shoot Monday afternoon."
It didn't happen. In a series of last-ditch phone calls all day March 12, it became apparent that the "hang-up" had nothing to do with artful phrases in a contract. In a phone call at 5:45 p.m., a Smithsonian representative told our FOX News attorney and my executive producer that, "your shoot would be a violation of our third-party agreement." Though they never mentioned the name of the "third party," it's now apparent: It is none other than Showtime/Viacom -- the new "owner" of America's history and heritage.
Last Jan. 29 at the Real Screen Summit in Washington, representatives of the Smithsonian Networks were questioned about their secret deal with Showtime/Viacom. Thomas Hayden, David Royle and Gary Beer assured the audience of documentary filmmakers that the Government Accountability Office had "reviewed and approved the deal and all public policy questions have been resolved."
But that doesn't seem to be true, either. This week I called Sen. Charles Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, with oversight responsibility for the Smithsonian. He responded: "This raises serious concerns about any contracts that the Smithsonian may have entered into that limit people's contact with America's treasures. The American people have entrusted the Smithsonian to keep watch over some of our most valued possessions and no one should be locking out the public."
He's right. This isn't just a slight to FOX News, our great "War Stories" team or to me. It's an insult to Steven Udvar-Hazy, the Hungarian refugee who fled communism to become a successful American entrepreneur -- and who donated $65 million to build this magnificent museum. The secret deal with Showtime/Viacom gives exclusive control over images of historic artifacts in more than 150 Smithsonian facilities to a single company. This is an injustice to every citizen whose taxes support these magnificent museums. Worst of all, it's an affront to the courage, perseverance and ingenuity of all who made our nation's history worthy of preservation.
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.