Liberal News Media Still Rewriting Reagan’s Legacy, Says Media Research Center

February 7, 2011 - 2:35 PM


Ronald Reagan Centennial

Former first lady Nancy Reagan is helped on stage by Frederick J. Ryan Jr., center, Reagan Foundation Chairman, as Marine Lt. Gen. George J. Flynn looks on after a wreath laying ceremony at the memorial of her husband former U.S. President Ronald Reagan during the centennial birthday celebration at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011, in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

(CNSNews.com) -  For the 100th birthday (Feb. 6) of our nation’s 40th president, the Media Research Center (MRC) has published a report preserving Ronald Reagan's legacy and highlighting the liberal media’s resentment and distortion of it.

Rewriting Ronald Reagan: How the Media Have Worked to Distort, Dismantle and Destroy His Legacy” is a 24-page compilation of quotes and headlines from notable liberal personalities and publications ranging from Tom Brokaw and Bryant Gumbel to the Washington Post and Newsweek.

“The media’s first draft of history was more myth than reality: that Reagan only brought the nation poverty, ignorance, bankruptcy, and a dangerously imbalanced foreign and defense policy” the report says.

Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the MRC and co-author of the report, said it is hard for many conservatives to forget just how “intensely disliked” Reagan was by the liberal media.

“What is amazing when you think about it is how little support he had from an alternative media,” Graham told CNSNews.com.  “He had no Internet support. He had no talk radio support. He had no balance in the media from Fox News and yet he succeeded dramatically. So it just makes his political skills a little more impressive.” 

The report examines Reagan’s record in a number of areas, and how the media characterized him. 

CNSNews.com is a division of the Media Research Center.

Reagan the Man

Ronald Reagan had charm. He had likeability. He had popularity. He had optimism. The liberal media acknowledged all of these features about Reagan. But they also thought he wasn’t intelligent, among other things, according to the report.

“The news media would acknowledge, because they were forced to acknowledge, that Reagan was personable, that he was optimistic, that he was popular.” Graham told CNSNews.com. “But usually they would add he was clueless. He was senile. He was dangerously extreme.”

Reagan was, to the media elite, “an airhead living in a fantasy world, a mesmerizing Music Man fooling with the public with a phony bill of goods, a man who was cruel or uncaring to poor people and a puppet for the greedy rich” according to the MRC report.

For instance, NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw, speculating on Reagan’s values in Mother Jones, April 1983, said of Reagan:

“Pretty simplistic. Pretty old-fashioned. And I don’t think they have much application to what’s currently wrong or troubling a lot of people -- nor do I think he really understands the enormous difficulty a lot of people have in just getting through life, because he’s lived in this fantasy land for so long.”

The Reaganomics Recovery

When Reagan entered office he faced high unemployment (9.5 percent) and even higher inflation (13.5 percent). With the assistance of Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Paul Volcker, Reagan brought down inflation to 4.1 percent and unemployment to 5.2 percent.

According to the MRC report, “Under Reagan, the number of jobs increased by almost 20 million; median family income rose every year from 1982 to 1989. It was the greatest peacetime expansion in American history. Charitable giving more than doubled, to more than $100 billion in 1988.”

Despite this achievement, headlines dithered and media pundits grasped for reasons to oppose his success, according to the report. Focus shifted from inflation and jobs to concocted homelessness statistics and trade deficits.

Such discontent with his activities was exemplified in the press in headlines such as this one from Nov. 13, 1988 in the Washington Post: “Underlying Flaws in Economy Mar Legacy of Reagan Years: Despite Successes on Inflation and Jobs, Problems of Deficits, Productivity, Wealth, Savings and Other Indices Cloud Outlook for Future.”

The report quotes, among others, liberal Bill Moyers, who commented on Reagan after PBS re-aired a 1982 CBS  “People Like Us” program on June 20, 1989:

“As this decade comes to a close, the United States has the highest rate of poverty in the
industrial world, 32 million poor people and no one knows exactly how many of them are
hungry and homeless. So that ‘shining city on a hill’ of which President Reagan spoke in
his farewell address remains to these Americans a mirage and will remain so until we
come to see them -- men, women and children -- as people like us.”

Reagan and National Defense

Reagan’s spending on national defense, like the national missile defense system, received much criticism, and was cited as a major contributor to federal deficits. However, Reagan's policies did help bring about the collapse of Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe and the USSR.

“(T)o the American media, the Reagan defense buildup seemed like a plot designed to deny government aid to poor and hungry people," states the MRC report. "It was seemingly the only spending that caused the budget deficit, even bankrupted the country.”

Then-Washington Post reporter Juan Williams, on the Jan. 19, 1991 edition of Inside Washington,  wrote of the defense buildup under Reagan:

“When you talk about the spending during the Reagan years on defense, you’re talking about absolute abdication of responsibility to domestic policy and issues in this country, and it’s totally without regard to the fact that these people were spending hundreds of dollars on toilets seats, not even this advanced technology.”

Reagan and Race

Reagan was criticized for his domestic policy, for supposedly waging a “war on the poor,” a term which implicitly meant a war on black people, although the black middle class prospered during his two terms.

“Even the liberal Joint Center for Political Studies estimated the black middle class grew by one-third from 1980 to 1988, from 3.6 million to 4.8 million,” according to the MRC report.

“In addition, black employment from 1982 to 1987 grew twice as fast (up 24.9 percent) as white employment," reads the report. "Real black median family income rose 12.7 percent from 1981 to 1987, 46 percent faster than whites.”

Yet on Sept. 16, 1991, Time magazine staff writer Christine Gorman wrote an article entitled, “Why Do Blacks Die Young?”  The piece said,  “The gap between white and black [lifespans] has remained stubbornly wide, and it increased sharply during the Reagan years, when many social programs that helped minorities were slashed.”

The Reagan Legacy

At the end of his term, slanted media reports continued to follow Reagan, and biased analysis of his legacy continues to this day.

At Reagan’s death, the MRC authors note, “the most notable omission in all the gracious obituaries and histories is the media’s own aggressive role in attempting to define the Reagan era down.”

“Reporters, editors, and anchormen fought Reagan’s policies tooth and nail, built a scandal industry to taint Reagan with the ‘sleaze factor’ (which they quickly dropped in the 1990s), and often dismissed him personally as a dangerously bellicose and ignorant man still lost in his old movie roles,” the report says.

For example, CBS’s Lesley Stahl on NBC’s Later with Bob Costas, said on Jan. 11, 1989: “I predict historians are going to be totally baffled by how American people fell in love with this man and followed him the way we did.”