- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

The protectors of the Reagan legacy are in full cry.

Critics who believe former President Ronald Reagan is portrayed unfairly in CBS’ “The Reagans,” a miniseries scheduled for broadcast Nov. 16 and 18, have challenged the network and its advertisers to either revise or abandon the project, which they consider a partisan hatchet job and a distortion of history.

Many are particularly troubled by the omission of Mr. Reagan’s role in the economic expansion of the 1980s, and say the portrayal of his personality borders on cruel caricature. Fictional conversations also imply he was apathetic toward the AIDS crisis.

“They that live in sin, shall die in sin,” the Reagan character proclaims in the production, and dismisses the issue.

The series — custom-tailored for a viewing public already overwhelmed by reality television and the deliberate stylings of a liberal-slanting media — has become a catalyst for those who revere the real Mr. Reagan, 92, and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

The Republic National Committee (RNC) joined the fray yesterday.

During a conference call with journalists, RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie recommended that a panel of historians review the production for accuracy.

If the network did not agree to a review, Mr. Gillespie called for CBS to establish whether the production is “entertainment or fact,” and suggested that the series carry an on-screen “crawl” every 10 minutes that advises viewers that the production contains fictional material.

“If your series contains omissions, exaggerations, distortions or scenes that are fiction masquerading as fact, the American people may come away with a misunderstanding of the Reagans and the Reagan administration,” Mr. Gillespie said in a letter to CBS.

He cited a CBS producer who asserted the production told “a good story in our honest sort of way.”

Mr. Gillespie countered, “I’m not sure ‘honest sort of way’ meets a proper standard for historical accuracy.” He did not call for a public boycott of the network. He was also reluctant to categorize the production as “Reagan bashing” because he has not viewed the miniseries himself.

Mr. Gillespie is not alone. CBS has circulated a copy of the script among some journalists; snippets of the dialogue also have been broadcast on talk radio. Complete preview tapes of the series, however, have yet to become available to the press.

“Though all of this is clearly of interest for Republicans, there is also a broader issue at stake here: distorting a historic legacy. I would feel this way if the miniseries was about the Kennedy or Carter administrations as well,” Mr. Gillespie said.

The RNC has set up a Web site for viewers and is suggesting that the public have their own “Reagan viewing” parties on the nights the series airs, featuring “counterprogramming” that is rooted in truth.

“This miniseries is not covering the breakup of a band, or something similar,” Mr. Gillespie cautioned yesterday. “This is important to the history of our country. And I think our requests are reasonable.”

In the meantime, the Reagan family has issued no public statements, though several recent press reports say the family is both hurt and deeply disturbed by the CBS series, which the network describes as a “compelling and historical account” and “meticulously researched.”

CBS Chairman Les Moonves acknowledged in a CNBC interview this week that some editing had been made on the production “to present a fair picture of the Reagans,” but he called the criticism of an “unfinished” production “odd.”

Few critics are satisfied with Mr. Moonves’ claims, however.

The situation has been fomenting for about 12 days, brought to piquant crisis after an Oct. 21 New York Times story called attention to the series’ use of “historic fictions … to make the program more dramatic,” and calling the historic omissions “glaring.”

Earlier this week, Media Research Center President Brent Bozell sent a letter to 100 of the nation’s leading TV advertisers, urging them to review the script and the production itself before committing to any sponsorship.

“The miniseries has blatantly distorted history and is nothing more than a partisan attack against one of America’s most beloved presidents,” Mr. Bozell wrote.

“The spelling of the title is probably the only accurate part of the production,” observed the National Review’s Ed Morrow on Oct. 27. “The miniseries is a vicious smear of Reagan and his wife, Nancy.”

Mr. Morrow took issue with CBS’ choice of actor James Brolin — husband of Democratic activist Barbra Streisand — to portray Mr. Reagan, calling Mr. Brolin’s interpretation “a caricature of the standard liberal caricature of Reagan.”

The portrayal of Mrs. Reagan by Australian actress Judy Davis is “over the top character assassination … arch, cold and disdainful, with an aristocratic manner of speaking that is nothing like the real Nancy Reagan,” Mr. Morrow wrote.

Mr. Reagan’s son Michael Reagan, a talk radio host, said the series was evidence that “Hollywood has been hijacked by the liberal left,” later adding he was “glad Brolin found a job. It gets him out of the house.”

Longtime Reagan family friend and TV host Merv Griffin was perhaps the most vehement.

He called the series a “cowardly act … the most cowardly thing I’ve ever heard,” he told MSNBC on Wednesday.

“Is that what the ‘C’ in CBS stands for?” Mr. Griffin asked.

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