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Some Journalists Don't Refrain from Liberal Shots at Reagan --6/7/2004


1. Some Journalists Don't Refrain from Liberal Shots at Reagan
Virtually all of the broadcast and cable network coverage, in the hours after the late Saturday afternoon EDT announcement of President Ronald Reagan's passing, forwarded praise and admiration. There were, however, several exceptions where journalists incorporated liberal, anti-conservative spin to denounce Reagan's policies. CNN on-screen text: "BY-PRODUCT OF 'REAGANOMICS': HUGE BUDGET DEFICITS." ABC's Sam Donaldson blamed the big deficit on Reagan for "stubbornly" refusing to raise taxes; CBS's Jerry Bowen highlighted "the nagging perception" that in their post-White House years "the Reagans were cashing in on their Washington years;" MSNBC.com's obituary raised the Bitburg cemetery incident and blamed Reagan for the S&L scandal. The New York Times obituary ran through a litany of liberal spin points against Reagan: Ketchup as a vegetable, how cutting Social Security disability benefits "furthered the perception that the administration was heartless," how the October of 1987 stock market plunge meant "economists' warnings that the administration was mortgaging the country's future were finally heeded." Plus, thanks to Reagan, "more people were living below the poverty line, and homelessness became a national concern."

2. Rather's Tribute: "Think of Him Always When the West Wind Blows"
Dan Rather wrapped up his Saturday evening CBS News prime time special, on Ronald Reagan's passing, with an emotional tribute to the former President which choked up the CBS anchor: "May we share his optimism and may his steed hold steady as he completes his journey. We will think of him always when the West wind blows."

3. FNC & MSNBC Go Ad-Free, Not CNN; ABC & NBC Bring in Top Anchors
Two quick observations: FNC and MSNBC went commercial-free until midnight, but not CNN; and ABC and NBC put their first teams on the air on Sunday morning.


Some Journalists Don't Refrain from Liberal
Shots at Reagan

CBS's Dan Rather Virtually all of the broadcast and cable network coverage, in the hours after the late Saturday afternoon EDT announcement of President Ronald Reagan's passing, focused mainly on praise for how he inspired Americans, relayed positive anecdotes from those who worked with him, recounted the achievements in his life and recalled the love story of Ronald and Nancy. Alzheimers and the assassination attempt were also frequent topics. Not so pleasant policy-related developments from his presidency were highlighted, such as the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut and Iran-Contra, and many reviews of his presidency pointed out how the deficit soared during his tenure but, with only a few notable exceptions, journalists who cited negative events did not incorporate liberal, anti-conservative spin to denounce Reagan's policies.

So, for instance, most reporters did not explicitly blame the tax cuts for causing the deficit or claim Reagan's tax and budget policies helped the rich while hurting the poor.

There were, however, several exceptions that I noticed from scanning the channels Saturday afternoon and night. The themes of those exceptions probably point to the flavor of media attacks on Reagan which will inevitably grow as the hours pass since his death.

The exceptions in Saturday coverage:

# On-screen text on CNN at 6:53pm EDT, but repeated later:
"BY-PRODUCT OF 'REAGANOMICS'
HUGE BUDGET DEFICITS"

# ABC's Sam Donaldson blamed the big deficit on Reagan for "stubbornly" refusing to raise taxes to pay for defense spending and he featured a soundbite of David Stockman denouncing Reagan for ignoring "facts."

# Barely 15 minutes after the announcement of Reagan's death, CBS's Jerry Bowen was on the air highlighting "the nagging perception" that in their post-White House years "the Reagans were cashing in on their Washington years." He cited how "their California retirement home...was a gift from twenty wealthy friends. The Reagans paid them back, but the appearance of impropriety lingered." He also brought up the controversy over how much Ronald Reagan was paid for some 1989 speeches in Japan.

# CBS's Bill Plante ludicrously claimed that he "succeeded, beyond conservatives' wildest dreams, in shrinking the size of government," but then Plante contradicted himself by asserting that Reagan managed the big budget cuts "by spending so much there was no money left."

# Bitburg and the S&L scandal. In a posting on MSNBC.com, MSNBC's Tom Curry cited three "costly miscalculations" Reagan made in the White House. In addition to Iran-Contra, Curry brought up the Bitburg cemetery incident and how "he signed into law the Garn-St. Germain Act, which deregulated the savings and loan industry and ended up costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars." Curry showcased how "economist Paul Krugman called it the 'biggest single economic policy disaster of the 1980s.'" That would be the same Krugman who is a far-left columnist for the New York Times.

# The lengthy New York Times obituary in Sunday's paper ran through a litany of liberal spin points against Reagan: Ketchup as a vegetable, how cutting off Social Security disability benefits for 500,000 people "furthered the perception that the administration was heartless," how the October of 1987 stock market plunge "highlighted the administration's failure to deal with the budget and trade deficits and the failure of supply-side economics to encourage investment and productivity." On the up side, at least from the Times' view, that meant "economists' warnings that the administration was mortgaging the country's future were finally heeded, and the President and Congress agreed to a deficit-reduction package." Plus, thanks to Reagan, "more people were living below the poverty line, and homelessness became a national concern."

Now, more complete quotations for the instances cited above:

-- Sam Donaldson, in a taped piece reviewing Reagan's presidency, aired during ABC's 7pm EDT hour-long special anchored by Peter Jennings, ignored the role of soaring non-Defense spending during the 1980s, much of it pushed by the Democratic-controlled House:
"Reagan was convinced the U.S. had fallen badly behind the Soviets through a decade of military neglect, so he initiated the biggest military build-up in peacetime history, at a cost of more than a trillion and a half dollars. But after pushing through the largest tax cut in U.S. history, he was stubbornly opposed to raising taxes to pay for the increased defense spending."
David Stockman, former OMB Director: "His convictions on certain matters are so powerful and so deeply rooted that it just blanks out his willingness to consider facts."
Donaldson: "The fact is, that the man who sold himself as an enemy of big government -- and big government spending -- ran up what was then the largest debt in the nation's history: $2.6 trillion. It took $2 billion a week just to pay the interest."

As Donaldson spoke, an on-screen graphic, labeled "National Debt," showed a red line rising from $1 trillion in 1980 to 2.6 trillion in 1988.

-- CBS News, just past 5pm EDT, barely 15 minutes after CBS News broke into golf coverage, reporter Jerry Bowen in Los Angeles narrated a look at Reagan's post-White House years. Referring to the Reagans returning to California, Bowen reminded viewers:
"The homecoming would prove bittersweet. There was a problem that first year back: The nagging perception the Reagans were cashing in on their Washington years. Their California retirement home, a two-and-a-half million dollar hilltop ranch house in exclusive Bel Air, was a gift from twenty wealthy friends. The Reagans paid them back, but the appearance of impropriety lingered."
Reagan in a broadcast booth with Vin Scully: "I've been out of work for six months and maybe there's a future here."
Bowen: "As the former sportscaster joked about his job prospects at the 1989 All Star Game, he was already well into a lucrative public speaking career -- $50,000 per appearance. But it was a trip to Japan in October of 1989 that provoked the most stinging comments. For two 20-minute speeches, and a few public appearances, Mr. Reagan was paid $2 million by a Japanese conglomerate."

-- A few minutes after Bowen's piece, at about 5:15pm EDT, anchor Dan Rather went to Bill Plante, live in Paris. Plante covered the White House for CBS during the Reagan years. Though Reagan only managed to slow the growth rate of non-Defense spending, not cut it, Plante asserted:
"Ronald Reagan was a guy who came to government to shrink it. He wanted less government. But the face that he presented to the public didn't appear to be that of a cost-cutter or a radical conservative, it was a friendly face. And he succeeded beyond conservatives' wildest dreams in shrinking the size of government, partly by spending so much there was no money left."

So conservatives aren't "friendly"?

-- "Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004: An indefatigable optimist who set America on a conservative course," read the innocuous headline over MSNBC.com's obituary, by national affair writer Tom Curry, posted at 5:02pm EDT on June 5. Curry had a lot positive to say about Reagan, but he blamed Reagan for the S&L scandal and raised the trumped-up controversy over Bitburg, as if it deserves prominence in an initial obituary posted less than an hour after Reagan died.

An excerpt:

Bitburg, S&L mishaps

During his eight years in the White House, Reagan made some costly miscalculations:

* In 1982, he signed into law the Garn-St. Germain Act, which deregulated the savings and loan industry and ended up costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars as S&L owners plunged into speculative investments. Economist Paul Krugman called it the "biggest single economic policy disaster of the 1980s."

* Reagan drew criticism from Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and others in 1985 when he attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Bitburg cemetery in West Germany, gravesite of 2,000 German soldiers, including 49 Nazi members of Hitler's SS.

* According to a panel of investigators headed by Sen. John Tower, R-Texas, Reagan allowed Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North and others to operate an extra-constitutional shadow government that diverted Iranian arms sales profits to Nicaraguan rebels.

In the last two years of his presidency Reagan was hobbled both by the Iran-Contra fiasco and by the Republicans' loss of the Senate in the 1986 elections, before Iran-Contra was revealed.

This in turn led to the Senate's rejection of the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987, which was Reagan's most stinging ideological defeat - and the one with perhaps the most lasting consequences.

But to many conservatives Reagan was -- and remains -- a heroic inspiration, as much for what he said as for what he accomplished.

END of Excerpt

For MSNBC's obit in full: www.msnbc.msn.com

-- An excerpt from Marilyn Berger's 7,600-word obituary for Reagan published in the June 6 New York Times:

....Reaganomics, as his economic program became known, was based on the theory that a cut in taxes would stimulate economic growth, generating higher revenues and making the deficit disappear. In the 1980 Republican primaries Mr. Bush called this supply-side plan "voodoo economics." And Mr. Reagan's own director of the budget, David A. Stockman, suggested that the president was simply proposing a repackaging of economics intended to favor the rich, whose gains would ultimately trickle down through the rest of the economy.

Despite widespread criticism of the idea, Mr. Reagan was able to sell the program to Congress, both a tax cut and a $28 billion increase in the military budget.

The administration had to fight harder to cut federal spending programs created to help the needy, but it had some notable successes. CETA, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, under which more than 300,000 of the poor were employed in 1980 and 1981, was eliminated. Eligibility standards were tightened for food stamps and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Medicaid rolls were reduced, and limits were put on Medicare payments.

In the first years of the Reagan administration, when unemployment was rising, insurance for workers who lost their jobs because of foreign competition was scaled back. Middle-income college students became ineligible for government-backed loans and more than a million people lost their food stamps. In 1981, the Department of Agriculture proposed that ketchup be considered a vegetable in calculating the nutritional values of school lunches. The suggestion caused such an uproar that the rule was never instituted.

When Social Security disability benefits were cut off for 500,000 people, the federal courts restored payments to 200,000, but the cuts furthered the perception that the administration was heartless.

Despite the many budget cuts, the deficit kept growing. After he left government, Mr. Stockman wrote a book, "The Triumph of Politics" (Harper & Row), in which he described how, on behalf of Mr. Reagan's programs, he had exaggerated the administration's success in reducing spending and minimized the projected deficit. He said he invented the "rosy scenario," making optimistic assumptions about future growth, inflation and interest rates.

"If the Securities and Exchange Commission had jurisdiction over the White House," Mr. Stockman wrote, "we might have all had time for a course in remedial economics at Allenwood penitentiary."

Within six years the deficit more than doubled, from $79 billion in Mr. Reagan's first year in office to $173 billion. In the 1987 fiscal year it dropped back to $150.4 billion but edged up again in 1988.

Still, Mr. Reagan repeatedly refused to consider tax increases. "I don't want to hear any more talk about taxes," Mr. Stockman quoted him as saying. "The problem is deficit spending."

He repeatedly called for a constitutional amendment to require that the budget be balanced, and for the authority to veto individual items in budgets passed by Congress.

But by the middle of 1982, with a recession continuing and deficit projections soaring, Mr. Reagan grudgingly agreed to a $98.6 billion increase in excise and other taxes. But he refused to call them taxes, insisting on the term "revenue enhancers."

After the 1981-82 recession, Mr. Reagan presided over the longest economic expansion in history, one that saw the creation of 16 million jobs. By his seventh year in office the stock market was reaching an all-time high. Inflation had dropped and the prime interest rate was down, partly a result of the collapse of oil prices and partly from the policies of the Federal Reserve.

But Mr. Reagan got the credit, just as he had gotten the blame for the recession and the deficit. Economists noted that foreign capital pouring into the country had shielded the United States from the consequences of the deficit, but warned that it would be only a matter of time before that buffer disappeared.

Mr. Reagan also got much of the credit for the 1986 overhaul of the federal tax code, hammered together by a bipartisan coalition in Congress. The changes, among the most sweeping ever, reduced the rates for most taxpayers and curbed or eliminated many exemptions that enabled people to shelter income from taxation.

"Had Reagan not moved up front, it would have gone nowhere," said the economist Alan Greenspan, whom Mr. Reagan later named to head the Federal Reserve. "He was the first president to succeed in doing it."

On Oct. 16, 1987, The Wall Street Journal reported that the economy was one of the two bright spots in a Reagan administration that was increasingly paralyzed by its Iran-contra troubles. Then, on Oct. 19, the stock market suffered the most severe single-day decline up to that point in its history, dropping 508 points.

The market meltdown highlighted the administration's failure to deal with the budget and trade deficits and the failure of supply-side economics to encourage investment and productivity. Economists' warnings that the administration was mortgaging the country's future were finally heeded, and the president and Congress agreed to a deficit-reduction package.

Unemployment declined, but more people were living below the poverty line, and homelessness became a national concern. When Mr. Reagan was asked about the problem in 1984, he replied that some needy people might be "homeless by choice."...

END of Excerpt

For the 7,600-word New York Times obituary in full, as posted in 16 parts: www.nytimes.com

For the printer-friendly version with the whole article in one unit: www.nytimes.com

For a much less hostile review of Ronald Reagan's life, which does a much better job of balancing the claims of his supporters and critics and provides a lot more interesting anecdotes about events in Reagan's life, instead read Lou Cannon's 7,100-word obituary posted by the Washington Post in five parts: www.washingtonpost.com

For the printer-friendly version with the whole article as one unit: www.washingtonpost.com

Cannon is a lot more respectful than the Times' biographer.

Rather's Tribute: "Think of Him Always
When the West Wind Blows"

Dan Rather wrapped up his Saturday evening CBS News prime time special, on Ronald Reagan's passing, with an emotional tribute to the former President which choked up the CBS anchor: "May we share his optimism and may his steed hold steady as he completes his journey. We will think of him always when the West wind blows."

At the end his June 5 8pm EDT half hour special on Reagan, Rather observed:
"President Reagan led the West in a decisive hour of the long battle for the survival of the Western culture, Western ideas and ideals. He was a son of the West. Born in the American Midwest, he grew to full manhood and died in its far West. All of his life he favored the West wind. He dressed the part, acted it, spoke it and lived it. The Reagan presidency started on the front steps of the Capitol. His inaugural ceremony the first in history facing West, toward the Mall and its monuments. His letter of November 5th 1994 announcing his Alzheimers, poignant yet devoid of self-pity, tells us he was once again looking West. But Ronald Wilson Reagan also could not resist one more look back over his shoulder. He now makes his final ride confident in the knowledge that, as he wrote, for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. May we share his optimism and may his steed hold steady as he completes his journey. We will think of him always when the West wind blows. [smacks lips, swings tongue inside mouth, chokes up] I'm Dan Rather. Good night."

FNC & MSNBC Go Ad-Free, Not CNN; ABC
& NBC Bring in Top Anchors

Two quick observations: FNC and MSNBC went commercial-free until midnight Saturday, but not CNN; and ABC and NBC put their first teams on the air on Sunday morning.

ABC News aired no ads during its coverage from 4:45pm to 8pm EDT on Saturday (when they went to NHL hockey) and neither did CBS or NBC during their briefer coverage. CBS News was on from about 4:45 EDT until returning to golf at 5:20pm and then aired a CBS Evening News (with ads) as well as an ad-free 30-minute special at 8pm EDT (I assume first half hour of prime time in all time zones). NBC News did a couple of special reports before and after 5pm before sticking with horse racing until an ad-free special report from about 7:20pm to 8pm EDT, followed at 10pm EDT by a special edition of Dateline. (I didn't see much of the Dateline, so don't know if it had ads.)

Fox did not seem to offer any coverage beyond providing a feed of FNC to affiliates, which Washington, DC's WTTG-TV carried until Seinfeld at 7:30pm EDT. In prime time, it was the regular line up of Cops and America's Most Wanted.

FNC and MSNBC did not air any ads until sometime past midnight EDT, and both stayed live all night, starting D-Day commemoration coverage at 3am. CNN had ads running by the 7pm EDT hour, maybe earlier, and went to re-runs at midnight, with a Larry King Live and a two-hour NewsNight, and went live again at 3am fo D-Day.

Starting at 3:45am EDT or so ABC News provided live D-Day coverage until 5am and CBS News provided a half hour at 4:30am EDT.

(Hey, I was up and so might as well share what I saw.)

This morning, Sunday, from 7 to 9am EDT, ABC put on a live special Good Morning America with regular weekday co-hosts Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer. Because of the French Open tennis tournament starting at 9am EDT, NBC had already scheduled the one-hour Today to begin at 7am EDT. But Katie Couric and Matt Lauer came in to handle it.

# One more possibly interesting thing I noticed: Time magazine has posted images of every Time cover which has featured Ronald Reagan: www.time.com

-- Brent Baker