Mainstreaming "What If" History: CNN's "Counterfactual Files"

In yet another example of how counterfactual history is gaining mainstream status, CNN.Politics has launched a new series of short web articles and videos, entitled “Counterfactual Files.”

There are currently six videos in the “Counterfactual Files.”

  • What we can learn from Counterfactual History
  • What if FDR had lived through his fourth term?
  • What if Lincoln had lived?
  • What if Alexander Hamilton had lived?
  • What if the Cuban Missile Crisis led to war?
  • What if Richard Nixon never resigned?

All the videos feature “expert historians” (in the main, journalists and established scholars) opining about how history might have been different.  They include Carl Bernstein, Harold Holzer, Beverly Gage, Thomas Fleming, and Timothy Naftali.

The videos’ brevity (they average around two minutes in length) prevents them from delving very deeply into substantive matters.  But then again, the series seems intended to introduce the genre of counterfactual history to a general audience.  Indeed, the series is sponsored by Amazon.Prime, which is clearly eager to increase viewership for its hit series, The Man in the High Castle, the second season of which begins in January.  This is made clear by the fact that each video is preceded by a short trailer for The Man in the High Castle). 

Even if Counterfactual Files proves to be merely a short-lived marketing ploy (we’ll see whether the number of videos goes beyond the present half-dozen), it is notable that a major news organization is lending such credibility to “what if” thinking.