MediaWatch: May 17, 1999

Vol. Thirteen No. 10

Bias of the Century

ABC Book Replays Old Reagan Slurs

As the year 2000 approaches, the networks are seeking to sum up the century, and their review of history is not any fairer than their coverage the first time around.

Anchorman Peter Jennings headed up ABC’s massive undertaking, titled The Century, which began as a best-selling book by Jennings and Todd Brewster. The book was cross-promoted with excerpts on, as well as a 12-hour network special and a 16-hour one on The History Channel.

The mammoth, 600-page volume details the 20th century, decade by decade, examining major figures and events. But the chapter "New Morning: 1981-1989" recycles many of the liberal criticisms degrading the Reagan years as a time of naivete:

"In fact, it would be hard to imagine a time more devoted to historical revisionism than this decade, America, in particular, feelings of nostalgia for less complicated times ran so high it felt occasionally as if the society had been transplanted to the grounds of an elaborate theme park where a tidied-up, even cinematic, version of the past could be lived out in comfort."

The authors cribbed some of the worst diatribes from 1980s newscasts and cast them as history: "Finally, with the deepening of the chasm separating America’s rich and poor, the arrival of AIDS and a drug epidemic in the inner cities, the soaring deficits encouraged by Ronald Reagan’s ambitious defense spending" made it "hard not to feel that the nation was just pretending to be in better times, distracted by the fizz and bubble of its new wealth, tolerating the worst kinds of ethical and moral abuse, pushing aside bad news or, worse, delaying its full impact for future generations."

Toward the end of the chapter, in discussing Iran-Contra, the authors found doom for Reagan’s legacy, insisting the scandal "had portrayed the President as either a figurehead in a rogue government or an impotent and forgetful leader whose lack of attention to detail had finally caught up with him and the nation. To the problems of homelessness, AIDS, the skyrocketing budget deficit, and a frightening arms buildup could now be added a morally suspect foreign policy. And this, from the man who had made a return to an old-fashioned moral ethic central to his national plan."