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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Profiles' shows courage is still key in politics

On the eve of the anniversaries of Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the country is filled with talk about which politicians did and did not take a proper stand.

Stepping away from the blame game, NBC tonight is airing a thought-provoking documentary, ``Profiles in Courage: A Kennedy Legacy," that reminds viewers of the true meaning and consequences of civic responsibility.

The one-hour film, which airs on WHDH-TV (Channel 7) at 7 p.m., is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's book of the same name. That book, which won a Pulitzer Prize, traced the story of eight politicians throughout American history, including John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster, who risked their popularity for the sake of their integrity.

Kennedy, a junior US senator at the time, wrote the book while recovering from back surgery in 1954-55. It was published in 1956.

The documentary, co-produced by Al Roker, is not a dramatization of the book, but rather a reflection on how political courage became a theme for Kennedy throughout his career. The first half of the film is a history lesson in many ways, with lots of familiar taped images of Kennedy giving campaign speeches and meeting with people in the Oval Office. There are still photos we've all seen: Kennedy throwing a football; Kennedy hugging his young children; Kennedy in a Navy uniform. Even more predictably, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin weighs in, along with Caroline Kennedy and Senator Edward Kennedy.

None of this territory is disappointing, just well trod.

The film takes a sharp turn for the better when it jumps forward to honor political courage in modern times. Congressman John Murtha, a former Marine, called for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2005. Former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora took a stand against the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay from 2002 to 2005. Congresswoman Hilda Solis fought against environmental abuses by businesses in her California district in the late 1990s.

All three people were given John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Awards, an honor bestowed on elected public officials by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

Their stories alone make the film worth watching. But the clips of Kennedy's famous speeches -- however familiar -- are also a priceless reminder that public service and personal sacrifice aren't easy, but, in the end, they are traits that will define us as a nation.

Suzanne Ryan can be reached at sryan@globe.com.

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