Howard Kurtz in the June 9 Washington Post analyzed a new survey by the Pew Center for the People and the Press: “Only about half as many Republicans as Democrats find the usual media suspects credible, says the Pew Research Center.”
Well, of course. I wouldn’t trust those usual media suspects either — just look at the blatant liberal bias on display just the day before. CNN (found credible by only 26 percent of Republicans surveyed) put former Reagan Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist (also director of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project) on “Inside Politics.” The raucous “Crossfire” set up an undoubtedly left-leaning debate among former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese, former Reagan adviser Ken Adelman and Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.). MSNBC (found credible by only 22 percent of Republicans surveyed) featured former Reagan advisers Richard Allen and Martin Anderson, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), former Nancy Reagan spokeswoman Sheila Tate and former Reagan adviser Ed Rollins. As for Fox, found credible by 29 percent: The fair and balanced network had to make do with another former Reagan chief of staff, Michael Deaver.
What with Reagan having just died, this is exactly the kind of behavior you’d expect from those contemptuous media elites. Couldn’t even wait until he was in the ground before they started savaging his legacy.
Television news during that week bore a strange resemblance to VH1’s seemingly endless “I Love the ’80s” series, in which comedians and B-list celebs indulge in ironic appreciation of such vintage cheesy trends as legwarmers and Cabbage Patch Kids. The show’s underlying joke is hyperbolic nostalgia over things that were clearly lame to begin with. And coverage of Reagan’s funeral fit right in, except the news networks’ version was mind-numbingly earnest.
Any flaw of Reagan or his presidency was, in this universe, transformed into either a harmless anecdote or a personality quirk. On CNN, morals czar Bill Bennett made even inattention to detail a virtue. Bennett admitted that Reagan did “occasionally” sleep during cabinet meetings. “But,” he continued, “always with good reason. Always when it was so boring and so tedious and so off-point. You know, there was an awful lot of charts and graphs and data.” And it wasn’t like he dozed through the whole thing! He would wake up when “the person would begin to tell a real-life story about a human being who was suffering because of a health problem, or a kid who wasn’t able to learn something or someone trying to start a business.”
That the president of the United States would fall asleep during only the part of the meeting that contained, you know, information does not seem particularly comforting. But it does explain a lot.
When speakers weren’t busy glossing over his faults they were just misinterpreting history. Take Arnold Schwarzenegger’s panegyric on “Hannity and Colmes” (imagine it said in the Gropinator’s theatrically Teutonic accent):
[Reagan] made everyone in — proud again to be an American, and not only as American but also overseas what he has done was just extraordinary. …
As a matter of fact, I remember when I was away in Spain doing Conan the Barbarian. This was in early ’81, and even during that short period of time, I mean, people’s opinions about America changed right there. I saw it in front of my very eyes.
Of course, Bennett and Schwarzenegger eulogized as commentators, not as members of the liberal media elite. Surely anchors and reporters could be counted on to shine the harsh light of truth on Reagan’s divisive and disastrous presidency. You can practically hear CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Judy Woodruff channeling Noam Chomsky in this exchange:
COOPER “There was a quote that [Reagan] wrote in his high school yearbook … his high school motto, it said, ‘Life is just one sweet song, so let the music begin.’ And I think he had that spirit, that sense really throughout his days.”
WOODRUFF “And Americans want that. … Americans want a president who can give them a reason to look up, no matter how tough times are. And Ronald Reagan gave them that.”
For those of us who do remember the ’80s, these fawning tributes to Reagan’s ability to “make Americans feel good about themselves,” seem improbable at best. At worst, their jingoistic feel (Is it really the job of any elected official to make us feel good about ourselves?) reminds us that however much Reagan symbolized American democracy, he didn’t really do much for it.