Associated Press
Gregory Peck plays attorney Atticus Finch in the 1962 movie, "To Kill a Mockingbird," which the White House screened for schoolchildren this week in honor of the film's 50th anniversary.

President Barack Obama hosted a special screening on Thursday at the White House Family Theater of the Academy Award-winning film "To Kill a Mockingbird," in honor of the film's 50th anniversary.

"And with the president perhaps cast as 'teacher in chief,' the White House (invited) schoolchildren from the area to attend," the Christian Science Monitor reported on Thursday. "The film, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Harper Lee, tells the story of a white Southern lawyer, Atticus Finch, who defends a black man, Tom Robinson, wrongly accused of rape.

"Obama has also recorded a new introduction to the film, which has been digitally re-mastered and will be shown on Saturday night on the USA Network."

The president's strong endorsement of the film flies in stark contrast to the chorus of complaints the liberal media suddenly raised in 2009-2010 about Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" in advance of the book's anniversary. (The novel was published in 1960, with the movie released in 1962.)

For most of its existence, the "Mockingbird" book was widely admired by critics, schoolchildren and librarians. A quick check of its Amazon.com page reveals such lavish critical praise. Library Journal declares, "Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning first (and last) novel of racial injustice in a small Southern town ranks among just about everyone's favorite books" and Harper's Magazine describes the book as "a novel of great sweetness, humor, compassion and of mystery carefully sustained."

But by July 2010, Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker reluctantly noted, "Lately, Lee's famous and only novel has earned special scorn as critics opine about the way things should have been, not only in real life but also in the artistic treatment of the era."

One of the most damning critiques of "Mockingbird" to emerge in recent years is the New Yorker article Malcolm Gladwell penned in August 2009.

"Finch will stand up to racists," Gladwell wrote. "He’ll use his moral authority to shame them into silence. He will leave the judge standing on the sidewalk while he shakes hands with negroes. What he will not do is look at the problem of racism outside the immediate context of … the island community of Maycomb, Alabama. …

"A book that we thought instructed us about the world tells us, instead, about the limitations of Jim Crow liberalism in Maycomb, Alabama."