Rewriting Ronald Reagan

How the Media Have Worked to Distort, Dismantle and Destroy His Legacy

III. Reagan and National Defense

    Ronald Reagan may have won the Cold War by forcing the Soviet Union to realize that it could not compete financially or technologically with a revitalized United States. But to the American media, the Reagan defense buildup seemed like a plot designed to deny government aid to poor and hungry people. It was seemingly the only spending that caused the budget deficit, even bankrupted the country. Cranking up spending on supposedly unworkable new ideas like a national missile defense system was “absolute nonsense,” as ABC’s Ted Koppel told Phil Donahue in 1987.

    A 1985
Los Angeles Times survey of reporters found out how McGovernite liberalism dominated the press: 84 percent of reporters and editors supported a so-called “nuclear freeze” to ban all future nuclear missile deployment; 80 percent were opposed to increased defense spending; and 76 percent objected to aid to the Contra rebels fighting for democracy in Nicaragua. One side of this debate had an eye on permanent “peaceful coexistence.” The other side had an eye on victory.

■ “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.

■ “Reagan, as commander-in-chief, was the military’s best friend. He gave the Pentagon almost everything it wanted. That spending, combined with a broad tax cut, contributed to a trillion-dollar deficit...Social programs? They suffered under Reagan. But he refused to see the cause and effect.”
— Tom Brokaw over video of homeless people on December 27, 1989 NBC News special, The Eighties.
■ “The [Reagan] administration spun the nation out of its torpor with such fantasies as supply side economics, the nuclear weapons ‘window of vulnerability,’ and the Strategic Defense Initiative.”
U.S. News & World Report Senior Editor Harrison Rainie, January 1, 1990.

■ “Ah yes. The dreaded federal deficit, created, for the most part, by the most massive peacetime military buildup in America’s history.”
— Reporter Jim Wooten on ABC’s Nightline, January 29, 1990.

■ “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. [MP3 Audio]

■ “When you talk about the spending during the Reagan years on defense, you’re talking about absolute abdication of responsibility to domestic policy and issues in this country, and it’s totally without regard to the fact that these people were spending hundreds of dollars on toilet seats, not even this advanced technology.”
Washington Post reporter Juan Williams on Inside Washington, January 19, 1991.

■ “The Reagan-Bush years took America from the heights of a rich creditor nation down to a pit of the world’s worst debtor nation. The reason was weapons purchases. No other expense came close.”
— ABC 20/20 co-host Hugh Downs in an ABC Radio commentary, March 18, 1991.

■ “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.

Thomas Friedman, New York Times reporter and columnist: “Governor, I’m kind of a foreign policy wonk, and it scares the bejesus out of me to have someone as President of the United States, Commander-in-Chief, and finger on the nuclear button who is such an outsider to Washington and American foreign policy.”
Lamar Alexander: “Well, did Ronald Reagan scare you, Tom?”
Friedman: “He sure did.”
Alexander: “Did he? He didn’t scare me. I thought he was the best national defense and Commander-in-Chief and foreign policy President we’ve had since Eisenhower.”
Friedman: “Ask 245 Marines in Beirut about that.”
— Exchange on CBS’s Face the Nation, March 5, 1995. [MP3 Audio]