The Times Barely Touches Reagan's 100th; Unflattering When It Does

Not exactly a commemoration: The Times' sparse coverage is highlighted by a friendly interview with a Reagan-hostile HBO documentary filmmaker and a column from Reagan's liberal biographer Edmund Morris that emphasized Reagan's post-presidential mental deterioration.
New York Times coverage on the weekend of President Ronald Reagan's centennial (he would have turned 100 on Sunday) was both modest and hostile, considering the 40th president was one of the most successful presidents of the 20th century, one who re-invigorated the American economy and hastened the defeat of the Soviet Union. The few gestures the Times did make confessed to Reagan's personal sunniness, while portraying his policies as harmful to the poor and middle class.

The paper did run a preview of the year of Reagan on Thursday - Jennifer Medina's slightly irreverent story began:

Ronald Reagan would have turned 100 this Sunday, and nearly seven years after his death, one might think he were still alive and leading the Republican Party.

Otherwise, the Times marked Reagan's 100th with a column by his liberal biographer Edmund Morris, author of "Dutch," about accompanying Reagan on a visit to his hometown. It began: "Back in 1992, when Ronald Reagan first began to be strange...." Morris celebrated the former president's inherent sense of good manners while emphasizing his well-documented mental deterioration. This excerpt encapsulates Morris's piece:

...he was once again an old man in retreat - withdrawn, halting and perplexed. Yet I noted that he remained standing until every woman in our party had sat down. Of all Ronald Reagan's innate qualities, his gentlemanliness was the last to atrophy.

Departing reporter Deborah Solomon had a Q&A with liberal documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, whose "Reagan" doc will premiere on HBO Monday night. Some of her unusually friendly questions to the Reagan-hostile "Eisenhower Republican" are below.

Solomon: Your new documentary, "Reagan," which makes its premiere on HBO on Feb. 7 in honor of the president's 100th birthday, includes some wonderful footage of Reagan as a small-town lifeguard, a handsome figure in his swimming trunks who happened to be severely nearsighted. Did you intend that as some kind of metaphor?

Jarceki: That's exactly right. He had certain blind spots in his priorities but an absolutely genuine desire to be a person who could save people's lives. No question.

Solomon: He is right up there with Walt Disney or Norman Rockwell as the creator of a mythic America characterized by the goodness of its citizens.

Jarecki: Yes. He presented himself as the friend to Main Street America, and yet that aw-shucks persona ended up packaging policies and programs that were at times deeply injurious to the very people he swore to serve. After all, Reaganomics set in motion one of the largest wealth redistributions in American history, away from the poor and toward the rich.

Solomon: Are you a Republican?

Jarecki: You can call me an Eisenhower Republican. There is a gigantic gulf between an Eisenhower Republican and the kind of fringe brand of Republicanism that is being so vocally promoted today.

Later Solomon ludicrously classified two of Jarecki's documentaries as "evenhanded."

Solomon: As a filmmaker whose documentaries include "Why We Fight" and "The Trials of Henry Kissinger," you are known for being evenhanded, which makes you something of an anomaly. Who ever imagined that editorial neutrality would one day be seen as a challenge to the status quo?

Jarecki: It's funny, I think that all the time. We've reached the point of such hysteria and the stupidification of the American discourse that to simply approach a subject in a measured fashion is to totally jam the circuits that currently exist for that kind of communication. There are just so few channels for moderation. There are only channels for the radio-static noise of hyperbole on all sides.

New York Post movie critic Kyle Smith wasn't nearly as impressed with Jarecki's work:

Knowing that painting devil's horns on Reagan won't work, Jarecki tries to seduce Reagan fans with a relatively friendly opening 45 minutes, making use of fond memories from aides, showing clips of Reagan's many hilarious quips....Then "Reagan," like Carter, falls under the spell of its own malaise. It first harrumphs that Reaganomics only worked for the richest 2% (that the middle and even working classes never believed this continues to wound the pundits' sense of expertise), then segues to a tired 12-minute rant on the supposed all-consuming importance of the Iran-Contra affair, which never really alarmed Americans.

Predictably, the Times' television reporter Alessandra Stanley liked Jarecki's work.

Let's close with a last Reagan-hating Times quote from the archive, courtesy of MRC's Tim Graham, who has compiled a great collection of Reagan-hating quotes from the mainstream media over the years, showing how reporters, anchors and editors despised the 40th president even after he left office.

Here's one from Howell Raines in 1993, who served as Times executive editor for nine turbulent months between September 2001 and June 2002:

"I don't shield my politics in this book, as I do in much of my journalism, as I've been disciplined to do. The Reagan years oppressed me because of the callousness and the greed and the hard-hearted attitude toward people who have very little in this society, so all of that came together at around age 40 for me." - New York Times editorial page editor and former Washington bureau chief Howell Raines on the PBS talk show Charlie Rose, November 17, 1993. []

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