What They Said Then: How the Liberal Media Savaged Reagan

Thursday (June 5) marks the 10th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s passing and a look through the MRC’s archives shows that during his presidency many in the liberal media couldn’t withhold their contempt of the conservative icon.

Special Report from 2011 (PDF):
Rewriting Ronald Reagan: How the Media Have Worked to Distort, Dismantle and Destroy His Legacy”

From depicting Reagan as a puppet of the rich whose economic policies were cruel towards the poor and minorities, to denying his foreign policy vision helped lead to the downfall of the Soviet Union, the media did their best to trash the 40th President.

The following is a look at the many ways the liberal media attempted to distort Reagan’s record.  

Helping the Rich, Hurting the Poor


“At the end of his presidency, a great many people thought he’d made the wealthy wealthier and had not improved life particularly for the middle class.”
— Peter Jennings talking to co-host Charles Gibson on ABC’s Good Morning America, June 10, 2004.

“Despite the accolades lavished upon Reagan since his death Saturday -- for ending the Cold War, for restoring the nation’s optimism -- his many detractors remember him as a right-wing ideologue beholden to monied interests and insensitive to the needs of the most vulnerable Americans.”
“Elected on a promise to slash taxes and crack down on freeloading ‘welfare queens,’ Reagan depicted government as wasteful and minimized its capacity to help people, ideas that survive today. Reagan also dealt a blow to organized labor by firing the striking air traffic controllers, and appointed Antonin Scalia, still the Supreme Court’s most conservative jurist.”
“Reagan’s weakening of the social safety net by dismantling longtime Democratic ‘Great Society’ programs arguably vexes his critics the most. By persuading Congress to approve sweeping tax cuts for the wealthy while slashing welfare benefits and other social services like the federal housing assistance program, Reagan was blamed for a huge surge in the nation’s poor and homeless population.”
— Beth Fouhy in an AP story headlined: “Many Still Troubled by Reagan’s Legacy,” June 9, 2004.


CBS’s Morley Safer: “You talk about a vision, and it’s some kind of abstract, vague idea. Did his [Ronald Reagan’s] vision include extraordinary deficits? Did his vision include cutting of the budgets for education and a back of the hand in terms of public education?”
Larry King: “History will not be kind to him?”
Safer: “No, I don’t think history particularly will be kind....I don’t think history has any reason to be kind to him.”
— CNN’s Larry King Live, June 14, 2004.

“Most of those who are physically, economically or otherwise disadvantaged, deeply resented and still resent his insistence that government is the problem, not the solution. Severe and continuing cutbacks in government services to the poor and vulnerable resulted, and the gulf dividing rich from poor widened.”
— Former New York Times Washington Bureau Chief R. W. “Johnny” Apple in a June 11 “news analysis.”    


“After eight years of what many saw as the Reagan administration’s benign neglect of the poor and studied indifference to civil rights, a lot of those who lived through this week in Overtown seemed to think the best thing about George Bush is that he is not Ronald Reagan....There is an Overtown in every big city in America. Pockets of misery made even meaner and more desperate the past eight years.”
— ABC’s Richard Threlkeld reporting from a section of Miami where there had been riots, on World News Tonight, January 20, 1989.

 “Senator, don’t you believe, a lot of people do think that the ‘80s were an excess, which a lot of people got richer and people got poorer, and it’s now fair to redress that balance?”
— Sam Donaldson to Robert Dole on This Week with David Brinkley, Feb. 21, 1993.

 “In the greedy excesses of the Reagan years, the mean income of the average physician nearly doubled, from $88,000 to $170,000. Was that warranted?”
— Bryant Gumbel to Dr. Richard Corlin of the American Medical Association, March 31, 1993 Today.

Homeless Because of Reagan

“Before Reagan, people sleeping in the street were so rare that, outside of skid rows, they were almost a curiosity. After eight years of Reaganomics - and the slashes in low-income housing and social welfare programs that went along with it - they were seemingly everywhere. And America had a new household term: ‘The homeless.’”
— Reporter Kevin Fagan in the June 10, 2004 San Francisco Chronicle.

Nice Man, Cruel Policies



“I used to say I thought if you were down on your luck and you got through the Secret Service, got in the Oval Office and said, Mr. President, ‘I’m down on my luck,’ he would literally give you the shirt off his back. And then he’d sit down in his undershirt and he’d sign legislation throwing your kids off school lunch program, maybe your parents off Social Security, and of course the Welfare Queen off of welfare.”
— ABC’s Sam Donaldson, who covered the White House during the 1980s, on Good Morning America, June 11, 2004.

“All of us who covered the Reagans agreed that President Reagan was personable and charming, but I’m not so certain he was nice. It’s hard for me to think of anyone as nice when I hear him say ‘The homeless are homeless because they want to be homeless.’ To my mind, a President should care about all people, and he didn’t, which is why I will always feel Reagan lacked soul.”
UPI White House reporter Helen Thomas in the July 1993 Good Housekeeping.


Reagan’s Real Legacy = Abandoning AIDS Victims and Blacks

“AIDS activists said Reagan did too little to combat the epidemic, and criticized the president for waiting until 1987 -- six years after the discovery of AIDS -- to deliver his first major speech on the subject. Reagan’s philosophy made political enemies among African Americans, who recalled the federal government’s role in ending segregation. Reagan also angered blacks when he refused to support harsh sanctions against apartheid South Africa -- though he denounced apartheid itself -- and flirted with the idea of weakening the Voting Rights Act.”
— Richard Fausset in a Los Angeles Times story headlined “For Some, Unpleasant Memories: Blacks, gays remember Reagan with bitterness, saying he neglected the poor and lacked leadership as the AIDS epidemic exploded.” June 9, 2004.

“There is still, of course, much anger in many communities. Joining me from Savannah, Georgia, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Fauci, thanks for being with us tonight. Dr. Fauci, the San Francisco Chronicle said that Ronald Reagan was guilty, and I quote, of a ‘shameful abdication of leadership in the fight against AIDS.’ If he had been more vocal and compassionate early on would it have made a difference?”
— CNN’s Anderson Cooper during a segment on the Reagan administration’s handling of AIDS aired on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 June 8, 2004.

“Despite Ronald Reagan’s personal popularity, his domestic agenda was in many ways bitterly polarizing. Then, as now, conservatives hailed his tax cuts, his stirring defense of traditional values and his commitment to getting government ‘off the backs’ of the American people. But many liberals and progressives see his domestic legacy very differently, particularly on AIDS, civil rights, reproductive rights and poverty. Though clearly sympathetic to Mr. Reagan’s family, they are still angry over his policies, which they assert reflected the unbridled influence of social conservatives...But Julian Bond, chairman of the N.A.A.C.P., said, ‘Everyone wants to extend sympathy to his family, but when you remember the actual record, it’s a very, very different story.’”
— Robert Pear and Robin Toner in a June 9, 2004 New York Times article headlined: “Critics See a Reagan Legacy Tainted by AIDS, Civil Rights and Union Policies.”    


“In the plague years of the 1980s — that low decade of denial, indifference, hostility, opportunism, and idiocy — government fiddled and medicine diddled, and the media were silent or hysterical. A gerontocratic Ronald Reagan took this [AIDS] plague less seriously than Gerald Ford had taken swine flu. After all, he didn’t need the ghettos and he didn’t want the gays.”
CBS Sunday Morning TV critic John Leonard, September 5, 1993.

 “At the same time, some experts said, years in which the Reagan administration questioned the value of racial quotas and affirmative action made speaking out against such programs acceptable. This, they contend, made it easier for racists to openly express their attitudes. Groups like the Klan and the Skinheads have both begun targeting the young for recruitment.”
— Kirk Johnson in The New York Times, August 27, 1989.


“You place the responsibility for the death of your daughter squarely on the feet of the Reagan administration. Do you believe they’re responsible for that?”
— NBC reporter Maria Shriver interviewing AIDS sufferer Elizabeth Glaser, July 14, 1992 Democratic convention coverage.


Reagan Was No Cold War Hero

“The Reagan Administration has made a bad situation worse in two ways: first, by convincing the Soviet leaders that the U.S. no longer accepts military parity as the basis for relations with Moscow; second, by challenging the legitimacy of the Soviet regime, calling the USSR an ‘evil empire’ doomed to fail.”
Time’s Strobe Talbott on pre-Olympics U.S.-Soviet relations, May 21, 1984 issue.


 “Some say Ronald Reagan won the Cold War by spending so much on defense that the Kremlin went bankrupt trying to keep up. That won’t wash. During Reagan’s presidency the United States itself became a bankrupt country.”
— Commentator (and former anchor) John Chancellor on the November 20, 1990 NBC Nightly News.

“The Soviet Union collapsed, the Cold War ended almost overwhelmingly because of internal contradictions and pressures within the Soviet Union and the Soviet system itself. And even if Jimmy Carter had been reelected and been followed by Walter Mondale, something like what we have now seen probably would have happened.”
Time Editor-at-Large Strobe Talbott on Inside Washington, September 21, 1991.

“People who want to give Ronald Reagan the entire credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union ignore the fact that the Soviet economy was collapsing and the Reagan Administration covered it up...The CIA concealed what was happening over there so they could keep the defense budget over here high.”
Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift on The McLaughlin Group, January 15, 1994.


Blame Reagan for Today’s Terror


“The most serious crisis of Ronald Reagan’s two terms, and the lowest point in his popularity, came after the revelation that his administration had secretly sold arms to Iran and turned over the profits to rebels fighting the Marxist government of Nicaragua....The fallout was severe, softened only by the President’s willingness to accept personal responsibility....U.S. efforts to deal with the tough issues in the Middle East went on hold, helping to set the stage for the first Iraq war and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.”
— CBS’s Bill Plante on the June 7, 2004 Evening News.


An Administration of Sleazeballs


“The Reagan presidency also saw....the Iran/Contra affair, the near tripling of the national debt, the fact that 30 - count em 30 - of his administration staffers would serve time in jail for bribery, corruption and influence peddling.”
— Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s Countdown, June 7, 2004.


Reagan Mourners Lack Diversity

“Can you tell, Thelma,...if the crowds really look like America? Are they ethnically diverse - African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans - or is it largely white?”
— CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asking reporter Thelma Gutierrez about the crowds at Reagan’s presidential library during live coverage on June 8, 2004.

Peter Jennings: “It is an appropriate time I think to talk somewhat about the, the differences of opinion that were so strong in the country at the time, and as you alluded a little bit this morning, and we haven’t seen many African-American faces up at the presidential library or this morning, that the black community particularly in America has less time for the President than other constituencies.”
George Stephanopoulos: “That’s right. The black community, the Congressional Black Caucus points out that they were never formally invited to the White House and they felt the President, with his support of Bob Jones University, did not reach out to African-Americans during the time of his presidency. Another community, Peter, that’s quite upset with President Reagan during his time in office: The gay and lesbian community in America. Still very critical of Ronald Reagan for never mentioning the word AIDS as that epidemic started to race through America and the world in the 1980s and those voices now are starting to come out as the days go on.”
— During ABC News’ live coverage on June 9, 2004.


Keep Reagan Off Rushmore


Ted Koppel: “There were some fairly contentious issues and he was a fairly controversial President - we’ve more or less overlooked much of that over the past week. But I suspect as his friends and supporters try to raise to him to the very heights there, and perhaps find a place for him on Mount Rushmore, that some of that controversy and some of the debate will come back.”
Peter Jennings: “No doubt about it.”
— Exchange during ABC’s live coverage of Reagan funeral events on June 11, 2004.

— Geoffrey Dickens is Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center. Follow Geoffrey Dickens on Twitter.