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From the April 1999 MediaWatch

Blame Reagan First

CNN's Cold War Rewrites the '80s

CNNís 24-part weekly Cold War series got to Ronald Reagan late this winter, arguing that he "crushed Latin American revolutionary dreams" and that his use of civilian-looking aircraft for spying confused the Soviets, thus leading to the shootdown of KAL-007.

The February 21 episode on Central America blamed Reagan for driving the Sandinistas to communism. Noting how the U.S. mined its harbors, narrator Kenneth Branagh asserted: "Nicaraguaís precious stock of oil went up in smoke; the economy was reeling. And, all the while, ways had to be found to contain the U.S.-backed Contra invasion. The Sandinistas asked the Soviets for help." Later Branagh insisted that "to help pay for the continuing bloodshed in Nicaragua, Reaganís men secretly sold arms to Iran. The American dollar, and the failures of the armed left, crushed Latin American revolutionary dreams."

A month later, Cold War got to U.S.-Soviet relations through the 1980s and the misguided Strategic Defense Initiative. "Many American politicians and scientists campaigned against what they saw as Reaganís expensive folly," Branagh declared on the March 21 episode, adding: "Reaganís critics said that SDI was hugely expensive and would never work. They were appalled by the deep cuts in welfare programs that would be needed to pay for it." In reality, social spending soared in the Ď80s.

Instead of painting the Soviet shootdown of the KAL-007 passenger jet in 1983 as an example of Soviet brutality, CNN managed to implicate Reagan. Branagh charged: "The Americans stepped up spy flights in sensitive areas along the Soviet Unionís long borders. Aircraft packed with electronic surveillance gear looked like civilian airliners and often flew close to passenger routes." That led to confusion when "KAL- 007, with 269 people on board, deviated into Soviet air space, more than 300 miles from its normal route."

Gorbachev soon came to power and wanted peace. But Reaganís Star Wars stood in the way at their first summit: "Gorbachev left Geneva without agreement on his main objective: curbing the arms race." CNN let Gorbachev explain his agenda for the second summit in Iceland: "The nuclear arms race should never be taken into space." Eventually, the Soviets rose above Reaganís stubbornness before their third meeting: "Ronald Reagan still pursued his Star Wars vision. The Kremlin now believed that it would never happen and therefore should not delay agreement on arms reduction."




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