Should CBS have pulled the Reagan docudrama?

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by ARogueTrader, Nov 11, 2003.

  1. Posted on Sun, Nov. 09, 2003

    An imminent distraction threat
    By Molly Ivins
    Creators Syndicate

    What a great country. We've just had a fierce public debate over a docudrama no one has seen, culminating in a form of censorship.

    Not having seen the biopic about the Reagans was no bar to the punditry, which held forth ferociously.

    Indeed, many of our fellow citizens, who also hadn't seen the docudrama, were egged on by the Republican National Committee and right-wing talk shows to write CBS, demanding that the unseen film not be aired. It has now been banished to cable, presumably to the cultural deprivation of the citizenry.

    Fortunately, this exercise in fatuity served to take our minds off grim news about mutual fund trading and even grimmer news from Iraq.

    Good thing we've all got our eyes on the prize here. Unable as I am to speak to the merits of this particular biopic, not a genre widely admired to begin with, I would like to point out that lese majeste (French for the old crime of dissing the king) is not yet against the law -- and anyone who wants to argue against bad taste on television is welcome to try.

    It is an odd feature of our national life that Ronald Reagan, of all people, is now considered by some to be above criticism.

    I assume the historians will take care of most of these questions, though I did once draw the odd journalistic assignment of reviewing the book by Nancy Reagan's astrologer, Joan Quigley. It did not persuade me that life in the Reagan White House was the avatar of normalcy. (Some fairly weird stuff in there. Just the kind of dish they love to put in biopics.)

    And obviously historians will argue for years over when and how seriously Reagan's Alzheimer's set in. Those who remember the tape of his deposition in the Iran-contra case immediately after he left office will recall the horrifying total impact of all those, "I'm sorry, I can't remembers," as we slowly realized he actually couldn't.

    Right-wing commentators have ignited yet another pointless debate, this one on the burning topic of whether the administration actually told us we were going to war because Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction posed an "imminent threat."

    The right-wing choir is suddenly singing, "He never said imminent, he never said imminent." (They are so very good at all singing off the same page.)

    Here, fallible human memory (this was less than a year ago) reasserts itself, and you find yourself saying: "They damn well did say Saddam was an imminent threat. I was there. I heard it, again and again."

    The excellent blogger and journalist Josh Marshall, in a column for The Hill, points out that it may be true that no member of the administration ever used the words threat and imminent in conjunction.

    True, when asked if Iraq were an imminent threat, various spokesman really did say, "Yes," with varying degrees of emphasis. They said the threat was "mortal," that it was "urgent," that there was "clear evidence of peril." They said that we could not wait -- but they did not say "imminent threat." That sure reassures me that we we're not dealing with delusional leaders.

    Now why exactly did they tell us we were going to war?

    Having devoted much of this column to the very piffle I am deploring -- in addition to watching the right for sophistry, misinformation and lying, one must keep a sharp eye for misdirection -- may I bring us back to some stuff that actually matters?

    On Iraq, we are now in a weird new political configuration in which the professional patriots who so nastily accused those who opposed this venture of being "unpatriotic" and insisted that we must "support the troops" at any price are now sort of dismissing dead soldiers. Dead soldiers are not a big story -- a big story is all the progress we're making in Iraq.

    Dead soldiers worry me. Here's something that may be even worse: It's not that one or two convoys or patrols are attacked every day -- it's that after each successful attack, Iraqis gather around the site and cheer.

    If that doesn't worry you, you aren't old enough to remember Vietnam. (I have no hesitation about using the Vietnam analogy. Of course, Iraq is not Vietnam, and a million facts on the ground are different. But there it is.)

    So far, President Bush is sustaining this effort in large part on the desire of Democrats to be "responsible." But it is time to ask another question: What if we really have gotten ourselves into a no-win situation? To whom do we owe responsibility then?

    Sorry that's not as easy or as peppy a debate as the new Reagan biopic or who did or did not use the word imminent. But it looks as though it's time to raise the question.

    ----Molly Ivins----
  2. "Should CBS have pulled the Reagan docudrama? "

  3. I love it when people cry censorship when individuals and corporations use their first amendment right to free speech by choosing not to support speech they disagree with by not broadcasting it, not printing it, not airing it, not speaking it, not reporting it. Of course when people exercise their first amendment rights, those who were in favor of the speech that was not broadcast are first to cry "censorship". If they really feel that way, they can pay to publish, broadcast, print etc., it in the venue of their choosing. But they shouldn't be surprised if controversial speech isn't universally embraced, just because it is controversial. There is no inherent virtue in controversial speech that gives one the right to be heard. It is called free speech, not forced hearing.
  4. I think I am on solid ground in saying that CBS does not cower before right wing threats. They are among the worst when it comes to liberal bias. Dan Rather's appalling suck-up to the Clintons is evidence enough. Watching the CBS nightly news will spoil the average Republican's dinner and put his blood pressure in the danger zone. It has been biased since the days of Walter Cronkite, old Mr. Objective who proudly came out of the closet and revealed himself as a flaming lefty upon retirement.

    They pulled the Reagan docutrash for a very simple reason. It was crap, and they knew it. There is a difference between editorial control and censorship. They exercised editorial control when they realized they had a public relations disaster on their hands. I am quite confident if they remotely thought the historical record supported the docugarbage, they would have run with it. The more controversy, the more viewers, the more buzz, and I somehow doubt that the big ad agencies are filled with Reagan supporters. But if the product was demonstrably wrong, meanspirited, biased and unfair, then the taint to the network was not worth it.

    In the old days before the "New Media" of bloggers and Matt Drudge, they would have just run it and brazened out any criticism. The NY Times, Newsweek and Time reviewers would have said it was a tough but fair portrayal of Reagan, and that would have been that. No more.

    And I have to ask, where were all these liberal handwringers when Dr. Laura's TV show was forced off the air by the gay pressure groups? I don't recall any outraged editorials over censorship and media timidity. And what about Rush's ill-fated ESPN tenure? I guess the rules are different when it's a conservative voice being silenced.