Not that any real historian would take the History Channel as a reliable source, but they are populizers of history to the masses. One very egregious instance of them rewriting history is in their miniseries Hatfields & McCoys.
In this mini-series, they depict a child-like mentally handicap child (“Cotton Top”) who engages in murder of a little girl. The girl’s father screams out, after the mentally handicap boy gets the death penalty, that he was the only one who did not deserve it. The handicap boy is turned into a martyr character, innocent yet sacrificed for the greater good.
Predicably, “Cotton Top” in real life was actually criminally insane, murderous, and much older than the miniseries portrays. Everyone wanted him hanged, not to keep the peace, but because he was “crazy as hell“:
I got lots and lots of questions about Cottontop Mounts as well. The miniseries portrays Cotton as mentally retarded and very childlike, and that was a major part of the storyline. In reality, though, he was neither. Cotton was, however, what we call in these parts crazy as hell, meaning that he was mentally ill in a dangerous way…
…What I found most disturbing about the miniseries is that Devil Anse was portrayed as someone monstrous enough to sacrifice his own mentally retarded and childlike nephew. That could not be further from the truth. In reality, he allowed Cotton to hang without even trying to intervene because he believed Cotton killed the McCoy child in cold blood, and Anse believed in blood for blood. Remember, Cotton was neither mentally retarded nor childlike, but he was crazy. Cotton had actually been in on the planning of that bloody raid with Johnse, so there was no reason for anyone in their right mind to believe he shot that poor child by accident.
Of course, portraying a cold blooded killer being executed for killing a little girl goes against the “death penalty is immoral” meme, so one would never expect them to add an interesting “psychopath” angle to a story about a bloody feud.