KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Filmmakers at the University of Tennessee are working to offer a look at the life of the late Sen. Howard H. Baker (R-Tennessee) and in the process share a message about the unique brand of politics he espoused; at times a stark contrast to the clashing extremism so common today.
UT revealed Friday that Land Grant Films, a production company within the School of Journalism and Electronic media, is in the process of making a documentary with the working title “Howard Baker’s America.”
Land Grant Films and its leader associate professor Nick Geidner got national press attention in 2020 for its documentary “The Library That Dolly Built,” spotlighting Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program.
The upcoming film is a partnership with UT’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. In its announcement Friday, UT gave a projected premiere of summer 2023.
Baker is perhaps best known for his question during the Watergate hearings: “What did the President know and when did he know it?” Baker Center Associate Director Dr. Katie Cahill said Friday the line of questioning resulted in White House aide John Dean revealing “that the president was not only knowledgeable about the planned break-in, but in part had orchestrated it.”
That damaging turn of events came from a fellow Republican and a man whom President Richard Nixon regarded as a friend. It is also an example of the do-the-right-thing spirit which guided Baker’s political career. Cahill describes it as one of several “touchpoints” in Baker’s life that “reveal Senator Baker’s character and his leadership, his courageous leadership.”
Baker, dubbed ‘the Great Conciliator’ was also, Cahill says “known for his partnering with President Carter for the Panama Canal to ensure the Panama Canal Treaty was passed, even against his own party.”
Despite that and other examples of bipartisanship, Cahill says Sen. Baker never pretended he was not partisan. Rather, she describes him as: “a master of partisan politics.”
And therein lies a core value of the Baker’s America that the film aims to document — In Cahill’s words: “he focused on what he believed was the right thing to do and how to achieve that with members of other ideologies because he understood that that was necessary for accomplishing big things.”
Sharing those traits revealed in Baker’s life, with future generations, Cahill explains, are part of the mission of the center which now bears his name: “we teach our students civility, integrity, a respect for public service, to be honest, and forthright in their dealings with others, to search for common ground and to seek out diverse perspectives before making decisions.”