The Ridiculous Criticisms of "The Reagans"





Mr. Troy is Professor of History at McGill University. His book, Morning In America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s, will be published next year by Princeton University Press. Mr. Troy is a member of the advisory board of HNN.

The criticisms that forced CBS to abandon “The Reagans” miniseries range from the disingenuous to the ridiculous. Complaining about manufactured quotations in a television “biopic” makes as much sense as complaining about gas mileage when test-driving an SUV. To insist – as the Republican National Chairman did – that CBS run a disclaimer every 10 minutes that the film is fictional, assumes that the American people are too foolish to distinguish between James Brolin the actor cast to play Ronald Reagan and “The Gipper” himself. And to accuse an entire production of liberal bias because the main star is married to Barbra Streisand would be considered sexist if the star in question were female rather than male. Instead, it is just silly, imputing extraordinary power to the wrong diva. In this tale, the woman who emerges as being powerful enough to intimidate a network and shape the script is Nancy Reagan not Ms. Streisand.

I had a peripheral role in the miniseries. I was the historian-on-call when the film shot in Montreal. The script had already been written. The actors had already been cast. I was the verisimilitude-police, trying to ward off historical howlers, especially during the two days I was on location, when Reagan was rushed to the hospital after being shot, and when he was shot. In true Hollywood style, the staged events occurred in reverse order, separated by three weeks.

Having long railed against the Oliver-Stonization of history, I had my qualms about sleeping with the enemy, as it were. I resent the way Stone and others blur fact and fiction, especially by injecting seemingly documentary style footage in JFK, among others. I also resent the Stone Sidestep, wherein he and others pronounce authoritatively on historical events, yet yell “it’s only a movie” when questioned. I agreed to help because I knew the production would proceed anyway, and I thought it was better to help them make as accurate a film as possible. Besides, I had just finished a manuscript about Ronald Reagan, to be published next fall, and was curious about how they would film the Reagans’ love story.

In fairness, the actors, the director, and all the production people worked diligently to follow the historical record as closely as possible, spending much time poring over photos, videotapes, and books to create that verisimilitude so essential to such biopics. Earnestness not animus was the tone on the set. I was floored by the way James Brolin transformed into Ronald Reagan, replete with broad shoulders, warm, crinkly eyes, and that telltale Reagan pompadour of uncertain hair color, while Judy Davis effectively captured Nancy Reagan’s fascinating mix of charm, vulnerability, brittleness and style. Both Brolin and Judy Davis had read widely and were trying to evoke the complex characters of two famous Americans without descending into caricature.

The scriptwriter inevitably compressed, interpreted, and took liberties – as do all storytellers. Writing history has been compared to nailing jello to the wall – it is elusive, shapeless. We all are selective. After reading the script I realized that there are three levels of truth in story telling. There is the essential truth, what historians call the interpretation, what Hollywood types call the spin. There are the nitty gritty truths, the little historical details “The Reagans” crew tried to capture, the color of Reagan’s suit the day he was shot (blue), the weather (rainy), the sequence of who was hit first (a bit unclear but we assumed that the bullets arced from the president then further away from the target). However, in order to do what historians strive to do, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, there is also the narrative truth. That is where the miniseries folks took some liberties, because that is what miniseries folks do. Inevitably, certain scenes were conflated, certain lines of dialogue were improvised.

The Reaganites seem most upset about the broader truth, the spin the miniseries might put on the Reagans’ story, but they have focused on the narrative inaccuracies. They have objected to video Reagan saying something the real Reagan never said regarding AIDS: “They that live in sin shall die in sin.” This complaint is doubly ironic. A mountain of evidence in the Ronald Reagan Library shows that the president – like so many others including many gay leaders – responded slowly to the AIDS crisis, and in his case it was because he abhorred homosexuality. If he did not speak so pithily, his actions – and inactions – certainly spoke more powerfully.

Moreover, Reagan brought to the White House a healthy appreciation of the storyteller’s need to improvise. Ronald Reagan was a preacher. Infuriating his critics and inspiring the masses, he spoke in parables. In 1982, Reagan would tell Chicago schoolchildren that the British used to hang criminals for possessing guns. Reporters complained to Deputy Press Secretary Larry Speakes that what the president said was not true. Echoing his boss’s approach, Speakes replied: “Well, it’s a good story, though. It made the point, didn’t it?”

The most blatant “bias” in the script was the typical bias in all Hollywood projects – toward telling as entertaining and human a story as possible. It remains to be seen how the script will be realized on videotape. Until then, it is better to postpone judgment about the miniseries. For those who wish to continue the important and vigorous debate about Ronald Reagan’s legacy, we should do what Mr. Brolin, Ms. Davis, and the others on “The Reagans” set did – turn off the TV and read from the growing catalogue of actual biographies and history books about the Reagans, their times, and their legacy.


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Aaron - 11/19/2003

Boy "Professor" Gil, remind me to avoid your history book, if this is the sort of demented view of reality you propound in it.
Your diatribe brings to mind an old saying, "If you can't do, teach."


Barbara Cornett - 11/17/2003

You won't believe what happens next

BY MICHAEL VENTURA

11/15/03: (Austin Chronicle ) James Baldwin said that Nazism thrived not because most Germans were evil but because most were spineless. One cowardly compromise after another, succumbing to the bluster of bullies, quickly created a climate in which the rare act of courage, however splendid, became futile. Cowardice proved infectious, contagious. Taking a stand against the dark storm, individuals might have redeemed themselves, but their nobility disappeared with barely a trace; the Nazi anti-culture created a kind of collective immunity to anything redemptive. Only rampant destruction and total collapse would finally cleanse that corrosive atmosphere, so that new beginnings could be made and genuine values could again take root.

Is that what is happening to us? Perhaps.

Or let's just say my fillings itch when a television network takes orders from a political party: a TV miniseries, probably as second-rate as most, canceled out of fear. Fear of what? Of nothing specific. Yet of something pervasive. That's the nature of the disease.

CBS canceled The Reagans because of an unspecific fear of a pervasive meanness, a nastiness, a mercilessness toward anything that contradicts one faction's image of itself. It is not enough anymore for the far-right Republican Party to be in power; now they demand the right to control how others see them. The CBS answer could have been: Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Truman, Ike, the Kennedys, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and even George W. Bush have been depicted, flatteringly and unflatteringly, in many TV and feature films; what makes Ronald Reagan so special? But the far right has sanctified Reagan, and will not have his sainthood questioned. Intolerance is the right's mode of operation, rage is its engine, fear is its weapon -- a weapon that only works on cowards. What fundamental insecurity, what virulent anxiety, what holy terror, makes rightists such braying bullies? Cowards don't ask such questions.

Especially cowards in high places. CBS Chairman Les Moonves made the decision to pull The Reagans. Moonves is in charge not only of the network's entertainment division, but of CBS News, CBS Sports, UPN, King World syndications (which distributes Oprah), and the 39 TV stations owned by Viacom (CBS's parent company). That seems a lot of power. Yet Moonves couldn't say No to the Republican Party. That is an enormous political and cultural fact.

Political: Off-the-record comments indicate Viacom didn't want to jeopardize relations with state and federal lawmakers, from whom Viacom constantly seeks favors; so, contrary to the notion of corporate-run politics, the Republicans now have a major corporation running scared.

Cultural: We may be entering an era in which mass culture is directly the servant of politics -- a first for the United States.

Put the two together: What happens if corporations, in order to achieve their agenda of profit and dominance, take on the cultural agenda of the far right in order to please Republicans? Until now only Rupert Murdoch's Fox empire has openly taken sides in our culture wars. If this becomes standard corporate practice ("the price of doing business," as they say) our atmosphere could resemble Germany's in the early 1930s, when, one by one, the major cultural venues gradually kowtowed to the Nazi Party, allowing no other visions to reach mass circulation. Then think of the far right's cultural agenda: a fundamentalist Christian state; the rights of women, gays, and nonwhites severely curtailed and controlled; creationism taught as fact in public schools; history, science, and art subject to ideological whims. What if that also becomes the corporate agenda? Most people in America, after all, work directly or indirectly for corporations that demand economic obedience; what happens if they begin also to demand right-wing ideological purity, in order to curry favor with the dominant party?

Nothing less is at stake when, for the first time, a political party is allowed to dictate what may be broadcast on the public airwaves.

The Reagans was first commissioned by ABC. ABC let it go because, they said, "It was very soft, not controversial in the least." CBS picked it up. Anybody who's worked in television knows that not a single script gets the green light until it's been pawed over by a coven of executives, network censors, and sponsors' reps. CBS Chairman Les Moonves is a micromanager famous for reading every script for show under his command, though he now claims to have known nothing of the production that was to have been his sweeps-month centerpiece. No one in the industry believes him. Thus The Reagans went through the usual exhaustive TV vetting process, and was deemed ready and fit for public consumption. Then The New York Times ran a piece that focused on the show's portrayal of Nancy as a control freak and Ronald as an aging president showing the first symptoms of Alzheimer's. Republican flacks on talk radio and Rupert Murdoch's Fox News banshees took to the warpath -- though not a single one of them has, as of this writing, seen the film or read a complete script. Their uproar made its way to the desk of Les Moonves. Calling the film "unbalanced" -- as opposed to all the "balanced" material on CBS -- he canceled the broadcast. Yet in his official statement of cancellation Moonves admitted that "the producers have sources to verify each scene in the script."

Pause at that. History is, in essence, an evaluation of sources. As any shelf of history books easily proves, the same sources can lead to different conclusions from different historians. There is never "the" truth; there is always "a" truth, a conclusion drawn from sources. It is precisely this eternal condition that the far right abhors. They insist that their conclusions are "the" truth, and there is room for no other. (The far left is guilty of the same syndrome, but, not being in power, they're not worth an argument. Anyway, they're so happy to argue with one another, it would be bad manners to interrupt.) Be that as it may, according to Moonves, his decision to cancel "was based solely on our reaction to seeing the final film, not the controversy that erupted around a draft of the script." But no network has ever canceled a sweeps-month centerpiece two weeks before airtime for any reason, so no one in the industry takes Moonves at his word. He chickened.

Good news: The right has proved that these so-called Chairmen of Everything soil their drawers when faced with human beings who are willing to go the distance for their beliefs. Progressives need to remember that.

Bad news: You can't improve on William Butler Yeats' "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity." Passionate intensity is wonderful in love and art, and disastrous in politics. Politics at its best is the cool art of compromise -- "the art of the possible." The right's passionate political intensity is matched on the left by Ralph Nader and his Greens, who have endangered the welfare of millions of powerless people by an abhorrence of compromise that is a mirror image of the far right's (as Nader's petulant inflexibility mirrors that of Bush). Going the distance for your beliefs doesn't have to mean intolerance for the beliefs of others. If it does, democracy is doomed.

Those who pay for Showtime (another Viacom subsidiary) can see a version of The Reagans early in 2004. Robert Greenblatt, Showtime honcho, promises the version he broadcasts "will contain the essence of [the filmmakers'] vision." Anyone who's worked in film and TV knows those are fighting words. In movie-talk, Greenblatt is promising that he will define "the essence" and edit accordingly.

Put plainly: The Reagans has effectively been banned by the far right -- a victory that has rightists salivating for their next fight, to see just how much mass culture the Republican Party can directly control. That is very different from conservative artists making conservative art, as they have every right to do, be it pop or highbrow. We're seeing with The Reagans the first round of the fight for and against politically controlled culture. It's going to be quite a fight, and, if intolerance wins, then, as Clint Eastwood gets to say in Don Siegel's Coogan's Bluff, "You won't believe what happens next, even while it's happening."

Copyright © 1995-2003 Austin Chronicle Corp
http://www.austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2003-11-14/cols_ventura.html


Ralph E. Luker - 11/15/2003

How about making your point without the name calling?


Barbara C - 11/15/2003

The fact of the matter is that Ronald Reagan is a public figure and is fair game for tv, movies, comics, writers and everyone else regardless of whether he is protrayed in a favorable manner or not. The rightwingers had no right to seek to censor anyone and CBS showed how eaisly they are mugged by the right in their entertainment section just as they are wimps in their news departments.

The rightwingers were able to have their way even though they are a minority in this country and most people do not agree with their agenda. This represents the takeover of our country by the rich and the superrich who steal elections and censor the will of the people.

No one stood up to CBS or to the rightwing as though there is no left wing in the US any more. What else is new? Gore and the democrats wouldn't even fight for the office that he won and allowed the republicans to steal the White House. The democrats barely fought back while Clinton was savaged for 8 years.

Rightwingers are thugs and bullies who trample the rights of everyone else. They impeached Clinton because they claimed he lied under oath about sex after they had ran a well funded campaign of witch hunting and investigated his entire life and could find nothing he and Hillary had ever done that was illegal. Now these same republican thugs support Bush and his lies and no one investigates the corporate crimes of Bush and Cheney that are common knowledge to us all.

Reagan should have been impeached for his high crimes and misdemeanors which makes the rightwingers even more ridiculous as they complain and bitch over some silly made for tv movie or as they righteously proclaim that Clinton was horrible because he lied under oath about a private act that the revolting, sickly looking, unappealing Ken Starr should never have been asking about in the first place. Starr was obsessed with Clinton's sex life and the fact that women fantasized about him.

No one ever talked about Bush Sr's sex life and the fact that he was having an affair while in the White House. No one ever talks about the fact that the Bush White House would not hire Linda Tripp because they hate her too. She nosed around the White House trying to get the goods on the elder Bush and expose his affairs so she could write a book and make money. well she finally got a big paycheck as she recently won a lawsuit because she claimed her privacy was invaded and this after she taped Monica. She and people like her are the unsavory types involved in bringing down Clinton.

We need a movie dipicting the truth about Reagan rather then some Hollywood movie aimed at the entertaining the lowest common demoniator. Then we could all see clearly how he could have been impeached for actually committing high crimes as opposed to the dirty politics that got Clinton impeached.


Ralph E. Luker - 11/15/2003

Brother Dave, I'm not wringing my hands and not likely to have a heart attack over you. You'll want to stick to points of discussion rather than name-calling because this site is about the former, not the latter, and it is monitored. If you can police yourself, you are welcome to be here. Otherwise, not.


Cram - 11/15/2003

Michael,
Well said.


Michael Green - 11/15/2003

A magnificent article by Gil Troy. I also must confess to some cynicism. No one from the far right objected to a Showtime docudrama depicting George W. Bush as knowing what he was doing on and after September 11. No one objected to its invented dialogue when we still do not and cannot really know what was happening. We know how Reagan felt about homosexuality and AIDS. Granting that he is of a generation whose members are more likely to hold such views than those of a younger vintage, the silliness of the dialogue demonstrates Hollywood's failings at capturing history, and the silliness of the right-wing response demonstrates its hypocrisy in assessing history.


Cram - 11/14/2003

David,
While appreciate your withholding name-calling (hopefully more for your sake then for mine), there are some false accusations made against me that I would like to respond to.
1) "You seem to be blending the issues in order to avoid addressing them."

How did I do that? If the issue is the impeachment, I thought I made it clear in my post when I said "When it comes to women, Bill Clinton was a sexist bastard, even if I believe his impeachment was a witch hunt gone wrong." Just so we are on the same page, that was my way of addressing the issue.

2) "The fembots at NOW don't have any excuse for what they did to (or didn't do for) Paula Jones."
On this matter, with due respect, you are simply incorrect. I will let NOW speak for themselves:
http://www.now.org/press/06-97/06-02-97.html

3) "Those things having been said, it does not minimize one iota the issue of perjury by Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones case. Clarence Thomas was NOT accused of perjury, Bill Clinton WAS. This is an unavoidable fact that your blending of the issues cannot brush aside."

Again, I don’t see how I bent any issue. I acknowledged Clinton committed perjury when I said "I don’t think that it has been disputed that Clinton’s crime was committing perjury." I am not quite sure why you accuse me of brushing this issue aside? Furthermore, my comparison with Thomas was that both men were accused of sexual harassment. Since the entire debacle sprang from this allegation, I consider it to be a crucial point.

4) "However, given this fact, your accusations of hypocrisy vis a vis PERJURY, are NOT well taken, and a Red Herring plain and simple."

If want me to come out and say Thomas did not commit perjury, you got it: Thomas did not commit perjury., nor did I ever even suggest that he did. Does that correct any miscommunications?


David - 11/14/2003

You seem to be blending the issues in order to avoid addessing them. But I'll not refer to you as a numbskull because Luker is wringing his hands in anxiety about it. I wouldn't want him to have a heart attack.

I will not proceed to UNblend the issues for clarity.

ISSUE NO. 1: Whether you believe Paula Jones.

Yes, it was hypocritical of BOTH the Republicans and the Democrats to believe their gal but not the other. It was pure party politics. See, I've granted you that point. Having said that, however, the fembots at NOW don't have any excuse for what they did to (or didn't do for) Paula Jones. The NOW fembots are supposed to stick up for WOMEN, not just hairy legged liberal Democrat women.

ISSUE NO. 2: Perjury.

Those things having been said, it does not minimize one iota the issue of perjury by Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones case. Clarence Thomas was NOT accused of perjury, Bill Clinton WAS. This is an unavoidable fact that your blending of the issues cannot brush aside.

Given this fact, your accusations of hypocrisy vis a vis sexual harrassment are well taken.

However, given this fact, your accusations of hypocrisy vis a vis PERJURY, are NOT well taken, and a Red Herring plain and simple.


Cram - 11/14/2003

Dave,
Your depiction of Jones as a "simple, middle-class nobody who got burned by a man of power" may or may not be true. All I know is 3 things:
1) When it comes to women, Bill Clinton was a sexist bastard, even if I believe his impeachment was a witch hunt gone wrong,
2) Republicans reveal their hypocrisy when they sympathize for poor Paula.

Remember Annita Hill? Remember the "sympathy" she got from the right??

Senator Orrin Hatch, who waggled a copy of "The Exorcist" in front of TV cameras back in 1991 and implied that Anita Hill had hallucinated - or worse, plagiarized - the sex-laden comments she recalled Clarence Thomas making to her.

Or how about David Brock, former writer for the American Spectator, who now reveals that he and other conservatives lied about Anita Hill in order to discredit her.

Remember Sen. Arlen Spector, who said that Professor Hill apparently spent her time prowling through old copies of "The Exorcist" looking for obscure references to pubic hairs or doing a little light reading of Oklahoma obscenity cases to come across the porno star "Long Dong Silver."

Both Hill and Jones may or may not be innocent victims of terrible men: One of those men almost lost his job because of it, the other was immediately hired despite of it! This is no defense of Clinton’s actions, merely a reflection of the right’s double standard.

3) The Lewinsky episode was one of the most disgraceful episodes in recent Congressional history.

With regards to Jones,
U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright did not believe in the merits of Paula Jones' case. According to minutes of a closed hearing held on Jan. 12, Judge Wright said that she did not think Jones would win her case if it went to trial. Wright indicated that she wanted to talk Jones into accepting a "reasonable offer."

"If it goes to trial, everyone loses," Wright said. "The court would like to talk to her and tell her that she should accept a reasonable offer, that she could have a difficult time winning her case."

When Jones refused to settle, Wright dismissed Jones' case, ruling that the former Arkansas state employee had not proven her case. Wright said that even if Jones' allegations that Clinton made sexual advances to her at a Little Rock hotel in 1991 were true, the case was still too weak to go to trial. Jones had appealed Judge Wright's ruling, and her petition to have her case reinstated was under consideration by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit when Jones and Clinton settled for $850,000.


Ralph E. Luker - 11/14/2003

David, I am urging you again not to call people, with whom you disagree, names. Once you've done that, the conversation cannot improve. It only deteriorates. Or, is that what you aim for?


David - 11/14/2003

No, I wouldn't deny Clinton was a target. And unfairly targeted. I thought so then too.

But I get annoyed when we hear the ignorant mantra from Liberals that Clinton was impeached for lying about sex by a bunch of gap-toothed hillbilly fundamentalists in their clapboard churches in the woods who couldn't get past their sexual hangups. It's stupid, simplistic, dishonest, and deserves to be openly ridiculed as numbskullish.

Clinton perjured himself to defeat a case brought against him by Paula Jones for sexual harrassment. She was a simple, middle-class nobody who got burned by a man of power. She should have been a poster child of the feminist Left, but she wasn't, for one simple reason ---Bill Clinton WAS the Left.


Cram - 11/14/2003

I don’t think that it has been disputed that Clinton’s crime was committing perjury. Although I would like to point out that when conservatives argue that Bush didn’t use the word "imminent" to describe Iraq as a defense, so too do I use as Clinton’s defense the fact that Clinton’s definition of "sexual relations" was technically accurate and thus he did not lie, merely (to borrow the conservatives line about Bush) he may have "misled." If you believe "sexual relations" means sex, then you probably think he did not lie, if you believe it means oral sex as well, then you probably think he did lie. I believe the fact that he was acquitted validates me on this critical point.

More to the point, does anyone dispute the fact that the Republicans have tried to nail Clinton on just about everything long before Monica became a household name? I agree 100% with Derek when he points out (accurately) that "It only came up because the GOP and other conservaitives were indignant that he lied well before he was under oath -- you might recall that the indignation happened long before the perjury."

What many Americans believed was that ultimately, Bill Clinton was impeached because lied about having an affair. Yes, he was under oath at the time, and yes, that is a serious crime. The reason however, that the Republicans came out badly from the whole ordeal and Clinton came out relatively well (if public opinion polls are any indication- he left office with some of the highest poll numbers of any lame duck President) was because people knew what the impeachment was all about: the conservative crying "gotcha" against a man whose only crime they could nail him on was that he lied about having an affair.

The public saw millions of tax-payers money go down the drain just so we could learn the sordid details. Meanwhile, the Republicans used the opportunity to criticize everything Clinton did, including the bombing of Afghanistan and the bombing of Iraq- to which the conservatives were extremely critical of and prevented Clinton from doing any more. Think about that next time you yell at the liberals for being too hard on Bush.


Ralph E. Luker - 11/14/2003

David, Your ad hominem remarks are not welcome on these boards. If your vocabulary is tested by its requirements, make your point respectfully or don't make it at all.


Derek Catsam - 11/13/2003

OK David, I'm through with you. Even when you are trying to make points, you throw out terms like "numbskulls." I'll throw my intellectual pedigree out against yours any day of the week, but of course we can't do that becuase you have the temerity to name call but not the cajones to give your full name. Gutless.
Continue to believe that the right's vendetta against Clinton was based on perjury if you'd like, or that your chronology isn't woefully sketchy, or that Clinton really should have been answering questions about Monica to begin with or that Ken Starr actually ever uncovered one scintilla of anything.


Dan - 11/13/2003

As I have said elsewhere - put up or shut up.

Try thinking for yourself and stop listening to those voices in your head who continually chant the "Republicans can do no wrong" mantra. The current batch of neo-cons that run your Party are just playing you for the sucker you evidently are.

Get off your knees, wipe that stuff off your mouth, and become a man, perhaps for the first time.


John Brown - 11/13/2003

Absolutely. So what if "some of his best friends" were gay? He actively curried favor with the most reactionary homophobic elements of the Christian Right and was always far more concerned with presenting himself as an upright, God-fearing, gun-toting, Hollywood version of a man's man type than he ever was with gays. It is completely specious to pretend that the Reagan years were not a time of vicious reaction against gay rights, or that Reagan bears no responsibility for that.


David - 11/13/2003

And to reiterate, because you've probably already forgotten:

IT'S ABOUT PERJURY, NOT LYING.


David - 11/13/2003

YOU SAID: "But the issue in fact was that he lied -- what on earth did Monica have to do with Starr's investigation?"

You don't even know the very basics of the case apparently. How old were you when this was going down? 12 ?

Paula Jones claimed that Bill Clinton had accosted her sexually in 1991 when he was governor of Arkansas, and had brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against the lecher in Chief. Seeking to show a pattern of behavior on Clinton's part, Jones's lawyers questioned several women believed to have had a liaison with him. On Jan. 17, 1998, Clinton himself was questioned, AND THAT'S WHEN HE PERJURED HIMSELF. He perjured himself to defeat Paula Jones's lawsuit against him. PERJURY.

And yes, you're BOTH numbskulls.


Derek Catsam - 11/13/2003

Bill --
But why refer to the mid-seventies? Reagan did not do a damned thing about AIDS, including making public statements about it, until 1987, and by that time no one can say that it was not a major issue for him, and certainly not for his people.
dc


Cram - 11/13/2003

Bill,
I do not dispute the fact that his family "have come forward with just the opposite view, explaining that his many gay friends in Hollywood were treated with respect." Nor do I dispute that he really did treat his gay friends with respect. After all, doesn’t Christianity preach that we should hate the sin, not the sinner? That is to say, I don’t think the quote attributed to him is entirely inconsistent with what many Christians believed at that time and today, particularly those Reagan most associated himself with (remember, it was Reagan that really began the Christian Rights involvement in national politics).

It should also be noted that a lot has changed since the 1980’s. Reagan was President at a time when homophobia was completely mainstream, there were no openly gay people on TV, or in movies, and the gay rights movement was only a few years before. It is likely that his family are remembering Reagan through the lens of a time when the national opinions regarding gays has changed substantially.

Frankly, I think it would have been unusual for a man of Reagan’s conservative, religious nature, to believe that homosexuality was an acceptable way of life. It is far more likely to me that he fealt as many conservatives fealt about homosexuality: that is was a sin and that God detests it. In light of that, PLUS his documented speculation that God might have sent down AIDS as punishment convinces me that the quote attributed to him in the film is perfectly within his character.


Barbara Cornett - 11/13/2003

Oh dear god! Clinton committed perjury! He lied UNDER OATH about a private sex act!! He lied he lied!

Bush on the other hand only lies about minor things such as war and dying. No big deal. God doesn't mind as long as its not about sex or under oath.


John Brown - 11/12/2003

My mistake, Mr. Cram, I meant to respond to F. H. Thomas above.


Derek Catsam - 11/12/2003

David --
But the issue in fact was that he lied -- what on earth did Monica have to do with Starr's investigation? It only came up because the GOP and other conservaitives were indignant that he lied well before he was under oath -- you might recall that the indignation happened long before the perjury. Given the fact that you haven't quite mastered the rudimentary chronology, I submit that you might want to curb your comments about the thick skulls of others.
dc


Bill Heuisler - 11/12/2003

Mr M,
Obvious to whom?
Perhaps you weren't old enough, but in the Mid-Seventies, AIDS was not considered by anyone as serious as it became. But read Mr. Troy again. After he mentioned AIDS, he wrote:
"...and in his case it was because he abhorred homosexuality. If he did not speak so pithily, his actions – and inactions – certainly spoke more powerfully."

It always helps to read carefully. Obvious is such a difficult concept to grasp when dealing with preconceptions, isn't it?
Bill Heuisler


Bill Henslee - 11/12/2003

Everything I've heard contradicts what Professor Troy wrote about how Reagan "abhorred homosexuality" and therefore the line about sinners dying is in character. Is this something "everybody knows?"

Many of his associates and family (Michael & Patti) have come forward with just the opposite view, explaining that his many gay friends in Hollywood were treated with respect.

Further, Patti recently wrote an anecdote about how her father explained homosexuality to her for the first time when she was six. It would be terric if you and I could have handled that task so gently and compassionately in our own families.


Cram - 11/12/2003

I don't believe I ever said that he would never offend anyone. If it was implied in my post, I certainly didn't intend for it to be. Certainly, Reagan could be said to have offended a great number of people, including the Congress, the poor, and (as was the point I was trying to make) homosexuals.


David - 11/12/2003

YOU SAID: "The same sorry bunch who pretended righteous indignation because Clinton lied about a private sex act. He lied! He lied! they screamed."

No, it wasn't that "he lied". Clinton perjured himself in court. PERJURY. Do you not see the difference? How many times does this simple fact have to be repeated before it gets through your thick skull? But no matter, you'll keep saying it was about "lying". It suits your purposes.

AND YOU SAID: "We liberals are the ones who should be outraged. They stole the election from Al Gore. Talk about drama. I've never seen drama queens like the rightwingers!"

The only ones making drama about the "stolen" election are the Libs, such as you are currently doing. Trust me, conservatives have moved on quite nicely thank you.

But I'll allow you your other points. Clinton was indeed unfairly hounded long before Monica ever hit the scene. And yes, Reagan was far from perfect. Why not keep it factual instead of hiring two hack scriptwriters to lie about it?




mmonaco - 11/12/2003

I think it is obvious he was refering to inaction regarding AIDS, not regarding the Briggs Initiative or a scandal of one his staff.

I'd be interested to learn how and when RR responded to that.


Barbara Cornett - 11/12/2003

I don't fault Mr Troy for involving himself in the making of The Reagans. He had every right to work with the producers of this miniseries and he did nothing wrong. I think it would be exciting to work on the production of a movie and most people would jump at the chance to have such an experience and I hope he learned from it and enjoyed it.


I don't know what all this fuss is about.

At a time when the 8 years of President Clinton and the constant harrassment of him by CBS and every other network and the republicans dirty political witch hunts and investigations and the fact that they finally impeached him and all of this is still fresh in our minds, how can the republicans be carrying on like hypocritical wusses at a silly made for tv movie?

We liberals are the ones who should be outraged. They stole the election from Al Gore. Talk about drama. I've never seen drama queens like the rightwingers!

This is all the product of the rightwing radio and their dittohead following. The same sorry bunch who pretended righteous indignation because Clinton lied about a private sex act. He lied! He lied! they screamed. Now lying presidents don't seem to be a problem. Their God who is supposed to be the same yesterday, today and forever seems to have had a change of heart about lying.

The media does not allow for honest open debate about issues that truly matter so we are left to duke it out defending a man's adultry and censoring a silly movie.

Ketchup is a vegetable. IranContra. Amiable dunce. Arms for hostages. Trickle down economics. Voodoo economics. Astrology. Aids. Inditements. Administration criminals.

Why don't liberals listen to the rightwingers and give them what they want. A full and accurate, factual account of Ronald Reagan and his administration. Works for me.


John Brown - 11/12/2003

Reagan such a sweet old guy he'd never offend anyone? Is that the same Ronald Reagan who launched his 1980 election campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, pledging his support for "states' rights"? Made up the story of the vodka-swilling "welfare queen"? Laid a wreath at Bitburg cemetery? For a lot of us the memories of the man are not so fond.


John Brown - 11/12/2003

Reagan such a sweet old guy he'd never offend anyone? Is that the same Ronald Reagan who launched his 1980 election campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, pledging his support for "states' rights"? Made up the story of the vodka-swilling "welfare queen"? Laid a wreath at Bitburg cemetery? For a lot of us the memories of the man are not so fond.


Cram - 11/11/2003

1) "How can you support including for public consumption conversations which never took place, particularly when those "conversations" are so demeaning and distinctly out-of-character?"

Unfortunately, unlike JFK and Nixon, we don’t have transcripts for every thing Reagan said. Are you suggesting that no movie ever be made of a historical individual unless we have transcripts dictating every word? As for the comment in question being out of character, a few points.
In the book "Dutch," a authorized Reagan biography, Edmund Morris quoted Reagan as saying the following:
"Maybe the Lord brought down this plague’ [AIDS] because ‘illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments."

Later, in 1987, the World Health Organization convened a meeting on AIDS in London. The most senior health officials from 148 nations attended with one exception.
"Still not wishing to give AIDS a priority status, the Reagan administration sent Dr. Robert Windom, who ranked two notches down the power ladder from the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Otis Bowen," Laurie Garrett wrote in "The Coming Plague."

In the same year, the San Diego Tribune quoted a statement that Reagan made to the Third International AIDS Conference in 1987—the first time he stated the word AIDS publicly, six years after it began killing thousands of Americans—claiming that "the final judgment is up to God."

2) "How could he be depicted in "The Reagans" as someone who would openly offend anyone? Much the same could be said for Nancy."

Keep in mind that President Reagan was also the man who sold out his colleagues as Communists, and recommended using lethal force against protesters in CA when he was governor. This is the same man who also (at least under his watch) sold weapons to Iran in violation of the law, to say nothing of the fact that we were also funding the other side of the war, Iraq, at the same time, perhaps prolonging one of the bloodiest war in Middle Eastern history. He then illegally used the proceeds to fund the Contras, a terrorist group attempting to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.

I doubt Reagan ever said that "they that live in sin shall die in sin," and frankly, I don’t believe he really would have said something like that. I think Reagan was a man who had many gay friends throughout his life and wouldn’t wish AIDS on anyone. But the issue is not what I or anyone else thinks he might have said, the issue is should a TV movie be allowed to attribute this quote to him. To that, the answer is an emphatic, of course, since the quote cannot be seen as so incompatible with other statements as to make it completely out-of-character, especially given his close relationship with the Christian Right movement, who advocated similar sentiments.

The movie Nixon has a line implying Nixon had something to do with JFK’s death, and Sally Hemmings says that Jefferson and his 16 year old slave had a life long love together. The script may not have deified Reagan like so many conservatives do, but if conservatives don’t like the war Reagan is portrayed, they should have done what so many of them advocate to liberals who try the same tactics against FoxNews: Change the channel.


Bill Heuisler - 11/11/2003

Mr. Troy,
If "inactions" speak, your inaction - or innocence - shouts.
You wrote Ronald Reagan "...responded slowly to the AIDS crisis, and in his case it was because he abhorred homosexuality. If he did not speak so pithily, his actions – and inactions – certainly spoke more powerfully." Not true; the reverse is true.

In September, 1978, at the end of a meeting with gay and lesbian leaders, Governor Ronald Reagan smiled and said, "Don't think we can allow something like that to happen here in California." So Reagan, who by then had served his two terms as governor, wrote a commentary denouncing the Briggs Initiative, which would have permitted the firing of gay teachers. His opposition is credited with the defeat of the measure by more than 1 million votes.

Also, many in Governor Reagan's immediate staff were gay. There was a mini-scandal about one staff member during RR's campaign for re-election as California's Governor. He supported the staff member without reservation and was re-elected handily.

Perhaps these actions are beneath the Streisand/Moonves horizon. Or maybe the Briggs Proposition isn't real great TV melodrama.
Admit it, Mr. Troy, the reason you probably never heard of these significant RR interventions is they didn't fit the biased pre-conceptions of writers like the ones who created the CBS script.
Please do a little research before repeating anti-Reagan slurs.
Bill Heuisler


Grant Jones - 11/11/2003

"Turn off the TV and read from the growing catalogue of actual biographies and history books." Maybe that is what CBS's advertisers are worried about, viewers turning off the boob tube. CBS is a business and perhaps doesn't want to alienate a large section of its customers. Could this be why the show was pulled?


F.H. Thomas - 11/11/2003


First, thanks for dipping into the ofttimes mire of HNN commentary. It shows spunk and sincerity, and is appreciated.

But I must express my scepticism of your asertions. It seems to me that this screenplay was just a hatchet job. How can you support including for public consumption conversations which never took place, particularly when those "conversations" are so demeaning and distinctly out-of-character?

Reagan, whether as SAG president, or California governor, or President, was a man of exquisite touch in his interpersonal dealings, a true Irish politician. Who else could have got along with proto-curmudgeon Tip O'Niell? How could he be depicted in "The Reagans" as someone who would openly offend anyone? Much the same could be said for Nancy.

Being an historian is no protection against bias. We all have it, but need to control it, if we are to be judged worthwhile historians. I respectfully submit that you should admit that the passages in question were improper, if not to say slanderous, and that writing it off as some extreme form of artistic license is unconvincing.





Gil Troy - 11/11/2003

Sorry David, it wasn't about the money -- others may have made some big bucks, but
a. I earned a pittance
b. I haven't seen a penny of it
c. Long before the controversy, and having nothing to do with the miniseries and everything to do with the craziness of this world, I had decided I would donate that token payment to helping out terror victims (if I ever get the money, I'll be happy to post a receipt, so I don't end up in that scary HNN feature "HISTORIANS IN TROUBLE"!
gt


David - 11/11/2003

THIS DISINGENOUS AUTHOR SAYS: "Having long railed against the Oliver-Stonization of history, I had my qualms about sleeping with the enemy, as it were."

But a paycheck quickly changed your mind.

AND: "I agreed to help because I knew the production would proceed anyway, and I thought it was better to help them make as accurate a film as possible."

You apparently did not earn that paycheck.

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