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This column was reprinted by permission of L. Brent Bozell and Creators Syndicate. To reprint this or any of his twice weekly syndicated columns, please contact Creators Syndicate at (310) 337-7003 ext. 110





 L. Brent Bozell


PBS Remembers Reagan -- For A Reason
by L. Brent Bozell III
February 26, 1998

With suspiciously great promotional fanfare, PBS stations aired a pair of two-hour documentaries on Ronald Reagan on its series "The American Experience". Before the show hit the airwaves, it had the taste and smell of a highly promoted counterargument to the charge of liberal bias at PBS. Republican leaders of Congress were given a special preview of the film.

The big publicity push signaled two notable nods in Reagan's favor: the Reagan family had cooperated and provided interviews and home movies, which would suggest a sympathetic human portrait, and the show's primary thesis would be that Reagan essentially won the Cold War and hastened the demise of the Soviet Union. The press release might as well have read: "See? No Liberal Agenda Here!"

The actual on-air result was somewhat different than the Reagan-bashing PBS fare of the 1980s. No, it's not a love letter to Reagan, but at least it did treat him with some respect, as a man endowed with faith, optimism, perseverance, and an unbending belief in the moral superiority of freedom. Reaganites, trained to expect the worst in Reagan-bashing from the liberal media, found the contrast a welcome surprise.

But what would have made the show truly stunning would be an apology for all the anti-anti-communist propaganda PBS ran against Reagan in the 1980s. Take the "Frontline" documentaries using Christic Institute crackpot theories about how a U.S. government "secret team" plotted to shoot Contra leader Eden Pastora. (PBS ignored conservative outrage at the suggestion and didn't bother to correct the record - never mind apologize - when the failed assassin turned out to be an Argentine Marxist.)

Then there was the 1989 ten-part series titled "America's Century," in which Lewis Lapham declared Iran-Contra proved that "Reagan sold out his oath of office and subverted the Constitution." He added that Oliver North's "testimony showed him to be a treacherous and lying agent of the national security state, willing to do anything asked of him by a President to whom he granted the powers of an Oriental despot." Walter Russell Mead declared: "The Reagan people seemed to think that American supremacy was like Tinkerbell, that it would live forever if we would all just watch television, clap our hands, and believe."

Unfortunately, and predictably, "The American Experience" show's wadings into domestic politics contained too many of the same old liberal slurs. "The gap between the richest and poorest became a chasm. Donald Trump and the new billionaires of the 1980s recalled the extravagance of the captains of industry in the 1880s. There were losers. Cuts in social programs created a homeless population that grew to exceed that of Atlanta. AIDS became an epidemic in the 1980s Nearly 50,000 died. Reagan largely ignored it." Almost all of that is baloney.

It gets worse. Check out the PBS Web site's "Ideas for the Classroom," which suggest students do things like:

* "Watch the film 'Wall Street,' made in the 1980s. Write an analysis explaining how the film is evocative of the times."

* "Examine the controversy surrounding Reagan's visit to a military cemetery in Bitburg, West Germany. Write your views in a letter to the editor."

* "James Brady, who was shot and badly injured during the assassination attempt on Reagan, went to work for gun control. Research the controversy surrounding gun control and the provisions of the Brady bill."

The irony here is that this film never would have happened if it weren't for... Ronald Reagan. Reagan appointees to the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting pushed for more historical programming to balance the current-affairs shows, which led to "The American Experience." CPB chief Howard Gutin explained: "With public affairs programs, there was no way a viewer could check if what he saw on PBS was true. At least with historical shows, you can look it up."

Perhaps it's no time to be harsh. Since Reagan's slow demise into Alzheimer's disease was announced in 1994, the media by and large have retracted their claws on Reagan and his legacy. PBS, like an hour-long Reagan biography on the new ABC show "Saturday Night" a few weeks ago, is slowly revising the historical portrait of Reagan. Perhaps Reagan's unyielding beliefs, his willingness to court controversy to defend them, his ever-present optimism, and his aura of character look good in contrast to the current mess at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But one show should not, and cannot, erase the war PBS waged on the Reagan administration, including live coverage of the Iran-Contra hearings. Or the softball treatment PBS has given Bill Clinton and friends, including no live coverage of fundraising hearings last summer. Let credit be given where credit is due: "Reagan" was a pleasant departure from business as usual at PBS, but the business of PBS remains a problem, as usual.

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