reagan debacle

A few years ago, I took a job writing for a daily paper in Morocco. It was the sort of position where you had to be able to write about anything from politics to theatre, and, due to the occupational hazards of publishing in Morocco, you had to be careful what you printed. I remember well what our editor used to drill in us: “Use facts, because facts are the arguments of everybody.”
I thought about him again when a controversy started about The Reagans, the CBS miniseries. Facts are a bit trickier when you’re dealing with movies, which are not a mirror but a rendition of reality. When CBS pulled the movie from its schedule, it said that the miniseries wasn’t a fair portrayal of the former president. But, what, specifically, was unfair about it? CBS president Les Moonves only repeats the charge that the movie was “quite biased against the Reagans” without offering any examples. One of the Republican senators quoted in the article offers no help either:

“This CBS portrayal was vicious, cruel and dishonest toward a great president, and a wonderful former first lady,” said Scott, who has been a Reagan follower since he was in high school. “There are several things that bother me about it,” said Scott, who was basing his comments on what he has read about the mini-series.

Yet Scott doesn’t offer a single, testable proposition regarding the movie’s portrayal of the Reagans. This article however, gives a bit of a nibble. It says that Reagan supporters were upset that a quote attributed to the president in the miniseries (“That they live in sin shall die in sin”) was never in fact uttered. Another quote put in question (“I never called anybody a Commie that wasn’t a Commie”) appears during a portion of the script which supposedly portrays Reagan as informing on fellow actors during the McCarthy era.
The Reagan miniseries is not a documentary, it’s a movie. It’s supposed to reflect what happened, not string together press conference footage. So, the real question should be: do these quotes reflect Reagan’s record?
Reagan did take a while to act on AIDS. In fact, his first speech about the epidemic wasn’t until 1987, and even then, it focused on the need to test heterosexuals, and didn’t mention gay men, the group most at risk. Here’s a useful timeline on AIDS. With regard to the Commie business, it turns out Reagan testified before the House Unamerican Activities Committee as a friendly witness. An exerpt is available here.
Do the scenes in which these quotes appear provide a fair portrayal of Reagan? We’ll never know. One thing I do know: the Republicans aren’t protesting Saving Jessica Lynch the new movie about the “dramatic” “rescue” of Private Lynch, even if the facts don’t quite fit.


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