Morris's Imaginary Friends Spawned by Acorn; Reagan's "Empty Mind"
1) 60 Minutes revealed an
"electric shock" from an acorn led Edmund Morris to invent
imaginary characters. Lesley Stahl cited Reagan's lack of compassion for
the homeless as a character flaw, pleading with Morris: "You can't
have admired him for that."
2) Time's Jack White tore into
Reagan's "empty mind" and near "treason," while
Newsweek's Evan Thomas dismissed the idea Reagan knew what he was doing,
crediting his "intuitive idiot genius."
3) The President of ABC News
promised George Stephanopoulos would not be the "beat reporter"
on Gore, but Sunday's World News Tonight aired his story about the battle
between Gore and Bradley.
4) Bias blast from the past.
Back in 1980 two Washington Week in Review panelists clearly hoped Carter
would beat Reagan.
5) After a network blackout,
MSNBC's Brian Williams finally asked a Clinton aide about the propriety of
McAuliffe's house gift.
6) Today ABC News launches
SamDonaldson@ABCNEWS.com, "a live, Internet-only news program."
Sunday's 60 Minutes interview by Lesley Stahl of Reagan biographer Edmund
Morris revealed a bizarre-sounding event behind Morris's decision to
describe experiences through a fictional character and that Stahl can't
resist hitting Reagan from the left as she pressed Morris about how
Reagan's lack of compassion for the homeless demonstrated a character
that an "electric shock" from an acorn powered a
"voice" in Edmund Morris's head which gave him the idea to
create a fictional character. Actually, he also created second imaginary
character, a son named "Gavin," to, as Stahl put it,
"represent the young people of the 1960s and to vilify Reagan for his
role in putting down the student protests at Berkeley in 1969."
Before 60 Minutes
aired, Sunday's Meet the Press brought aboard former Reagan aides Michael
Deaver, Ed Meese, Lyn Nofziger and Marlin Fitzwater to assess the
assessments in Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. Newsweek's Evan Thomas
also appeared since the magazine this week excerpts the book. The This
Week roundtable on ABC also looked at the book, but stuck to analyzing
Morris's fictional character device which the panel found wanting, with
George Will especially troubled by the dedication to Christine Reagan, the
short-lived baby of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman.
Now back to 60
Minutes, which devoted two of three segments to Morris. That's too much to
fully summarize here so I'll stick to what I found most interesting. (As a
brief background note, Morris had unique access to Reagan as from 1985 on
he was allowed to stay at the White House all day and sit in on meetings.
The book was expected to be published in 1991 but since Morris found him
so "inscrutable" the book is just now being published with
controversy about how Morris describes events through imaginary characters
in inserts into situations.)
-- Acorn gave
Morris idea to overcome his problem understanding Reagan by talking
through an imaginary voice. In a portion of the piece recalling Reagan's
days at Eureka College, Stahl relayed:
"It was here at Eureka that Morris, stepping
on an acorn, finally figured out how to write his book."
Morris: "As I stepped on this particular
acorn I felt myself wishing that I could have been there in the fall of
1928. I got this electric shock and a voice in my head said, 'but you were
But there's not
just one imaginary person in the book, as Stahl added:
"And there's yet another fictional
character, Gavin Morris, Edmund's imaginary son. Morris created Gavin to
represent the young people of the 1960s and to vilify Reagan for his role
in putting down the student protests at Berkeley in 1969. As Governor of
California Reagan called out the state troopers who opened fire and killed
a young man."
How nice of Stahl
to seemingly blame Reagan for the killing.
-- Reagan just an
empty-headed performer. Morris recounted how just before Reagan's 1989
farewell address he seemed listless until just before he went on TV when
he saw his face in the monitor, at which point he said, "ah, there he
is," and came to life for the performance.
An appalled Stahl demanded of Morris: "Did
it scare you as you came to realize that when he wasn't performing that
there wasn't much there and he was leading the free world at that
that he had no fears since he saw how secure and strong Reagan was when he
met Gorbachev in Geneva.
rejected Reagan as a "flake." Morris seems to admire Reagan in
many ways, but he didn't hesitate to relay a cheap shot anecdote. He told
Stahl how in 1938 Reagan wanted to join the Communist Party but the
party's leader in Southern California said he didn't want him because
"he's a flake."
shows Reagan's lack of character. Bringing back memories of TV news from
he 1980s, Stahl asserted:
"In his first term he faced a recession with
severe unemployment, food lines and a dramatic increase in
Stahl to Morris: "Reagan had such difficulty
with the homeless. When he was President the country felt he was
dismissive of the homeless."
media were disturbed by his non left-wing views on the topic. Homelessness
hasn't decreased under Clinton, but you don't hear about it anymore.
"About the only time I ever got through his epidermis was in the last
month of his presidency when I said to him, 'Is there anything about your
presidency you regret Mr. President?' 'Oh no, I've been very happy here.'
But I said, 'you know the homeless for example, they're all over the
place.' And he said 'I don't think that's such a serious problem.' I said
'did you ever consider the possibility that your own father might have
become a bum?' And he reacted with anger. He said, 'no, no, no.' I could
see he didn't like that for me to suggest that homelessness could have
come as close to his own home as I was suggesting."
Stahl: "Was he compassionate. Did he care
Morris: "No, I do not think he was
Stahl, pouncing on the idea that she discovered
the true Reagan which Morris missed, argued: "This is character. This
Morris: "It is important. I think Reagan
regarded misfortune as weakness. There was something undignified about
poverty. He did not think it was the duty of the state to do anything
about poverty, but he didn't like it, he didn't want to see it and felt
the community should take care of it."
Stahl: "You can't have admired him for
Morris: "No I did not."
To Stahl's dismay,
however, Morris did go on to call Reagan a "great President" for
winning the Cold War and leading a "moral regeneration" of
"Inscrutable" or consistent and open? Early in the 60 Minutes
piece Morris sulked about how he found Reagan "inscrutable" and
"one of the strangest men who ever lived." But on Meet the
Press, Ed Meese offered a simpler explanation for Morris's befuddlement,
telling Tim Russert:
"As far as getting to him, I think most all
of us here had the opportunity to know him well and to work closely with
him. But he didn't emote about his personal feelings endlessly, or
anything like that. Things about his feelings would come out over time, as
you were with him, in casual circumstances particularly, traveling on the
plane or traveling in a car some place. But, you know, the thing about
Ronald Reagan is, he was essentially the same person if he was sitting
around with three or four of us as he was talking to 10,000 people. I
think what probably confused Edmund Morris was he was the same person. He
did not have a private persona and a public persona. What you see was what
you got. And I think that was one of the unusual things for a political
Next stop for
Morris: He'll be on NBC's Today on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Time's Jack White used the Edmund Morris biography as a chance to denounce
Ronald Reagan, referring to his "empty mind," his near
"treason" and terrible civil rights record, while Newsweek's
Evan Thomas dismissively referred to Reagan's "intuitive idiot
It all happened
over the weekend on Inside Washington, the show carried by many PBS
stations. After columnist Charles Krauthammer praised Reagan, Jack White
of Time magazine shot back: "It's a fictional book about an empty
mind and you want to put this guy's face on Mount Rushmore?"
declared: "And he was extraordinarily lucky in that he wasn't brought
down by the Iran-Contra scandal."
Krauthammer: "Oh, come on."
White: "Come on. It verged on treason. He
was extraordinarily lucky on that. He tried to turn the clock back on
civil rights. There's a whole history of problems with this guy that some
of us don't join you in the view that he's the most successful
Krauthammer: "People say he only had a
single idea, he hated communism etcetera. Here's a man who had the
subtlety, late in his presidency, to understand Gorbachev and the
opportunity he offered. Many of us on the right attacked Reagan for being
seduced by Gorbachev and we were wrong and he was right. He ushered in the
collapse of the Soviet empire which is the greatest achievement of the
last fifty years."
Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas:
"He had kind of an intuitive idiot genius."
It depends on what "beat reporter" means. As noted in three
previous CyberAlerts, back on August 23 the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz
quoted ABC News President David Westin as assuring him that while ABC News
is turning George Stephanopoulos into a regular correspondent, "we
wouldn't have him be the beat reporter on the Gore campaign."
Sunday morning the
former Clinton enabler, who worked to twice elect Gore the Vice President,
narrated a taped piece for This Week about a focus group session conducted
by a Democratic pollster with New Hampshire Democrats about their feelings
toward Gore and Bradley. Sunday night World News Tonight aired a taped
story by Stephanopoulos about Bradley's challenge in the polls to Gore.
This all follows
Stephanopoulos serving many mornings as he sole political analyst on GMA
and conducting GMA's interview with Bradley.
Bias blast from the past. This Friday Gwen Ifill assumes the moderator
slot on PBS's Washington Week in Review. To close this past Friday's show
moderator Paul Duke marked the end of his days filling in, since WETA-TV
canned Ken Bode, by playing highlights from the past 25 plus years.
One clip showed
three panelists in 1980 predicting who would win the presidential
election. The replies from two of the three strongly suggested that they
hoped Carter would pull it out:
Al Hunt: "I would guess that Ronald Reagan
is going to win."
Jack Nelson: "Carter probably will
Haynes Johnson: "All my bones tell me
Reagan's going to win but I think, somehow, that Carter's going to slip
It didn't work out
for Nelson or Johnson. Nelson is still with the Los Angeles Times and
though Johnson has left the Washington Post, hoping the conservative would
lose is still being rewarded by PBS where he appears occasionally on the
Brian Williams actually raised the issue of the propriety of Terry
McAuliffe's gift of $1.3 million to the Clintons to allow them to get a
mortgage for the house in Chappaqua New York. As noted in the September 13
CyberAlert, the broadcast networks all ignored any questions about the
deal, with CBS This Morning host Thalia Assuras wondering if the Clinton
will attend bake sales in town.
But on last
Thursday's The News with Brian Williams on MSNBC, the anchor of the same
name raised the issue during an interview with White House Press Secretary
Joe Lockhart. MRC analyst Mark Drake caught this question from Williams on
the September 23 show:
"Joe, the other matter these days is the
house for the first family and true or false, be honest here, if someone
had put up the money for George W. Bush to purchase a home in upstate New
York the way it was put up in this deal, wouldn't the White House be all
over them and at minimum, crying foul, crying gift in kind?"
Sam live online. Sam Donaldson is off the White House beat and off 20/20,
though he will remain on This Week, but you can still see him on weekdays
-- via computer. Starting today Sam Donaldson will host a three times per
week news show on abcnews.com. Here's how ABC News plugs it on their Web
"Starting Monday, Donaldson will host
SamDonaldson@ABCNEWS.com, a live, Internet-only news program, on
ABCNEWS.com -- the Internet's fastest-growing news site. This is the first
regularly scheduled, live, television-quality produced Webcast offered by
a broadcast network. It will feature news reports on a variety of issues
ranging from politics to business, with special features, debate, analysis
and occasional newsmaker interviews.
"You can see SamDonaldson@ABCNEWS.com on
this site Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 12:30p.m. ET. It will run 15
minutes and will be streamed live at 28.8k, 56k and 100k so that you will
be able to view the program at the highest quality possible....
"All SamDonaldson@ABCNEWS.com programs will
be archived on ABCNEWS.com so that you can access them at your
convenience, outside the regular live Webcast times."
Just when it
became safe to turn on ABC News all but one hour a week and be assured you
wouldn't see Sam, ABC makes him available 24 hours a day via streaming
video. Actually, Sam is a lot fairer than his reputation so maybe he'll
produce a show more balanced than World News Tonight. Maybe. --
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