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« Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 466 -- Fact-Checking FactCheck.org. | WILLisms.com | Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 468 -- AIDS Media Coverage. »

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 467 -- Reagan Made His Own Image.

The Media Were Just As Biased Against Reagan-

I must be getting old. Things that happened during my lifetime are already becoming mythologized. The Reagan era, for example, takes on all sorts of mythologies. All the GOP candidates strive to be most like Ronald Reagan, invoking his name whenever possible. Compared to President George W. Bush, Reagan is held up as a perfect conservative teacher's pet to Bush's dunce-like performance. Very unfair.

As a huge Reagan fan, there are myths surrounding Reagan that create unrealistic expectations for today's pols. The apotheosis of Ronald Reagan is often done for the express purpose of tearing down 21st century Republicans (President Bush and the crop of '08 hopefuls, in particular). It gets tedious. Sure, it's better than the overblown lionization of FDR or JFK (or even WJC), but it's still tedious, the way it is used these days. Reagan should be praised for what he did, not what Bush has not done.

That being said, there is a myth about Reagan that goes the othe direction. People-- liberals, mostly-- often claim that Reagan got amazingly positive and supportive media coverage. When President Reagan died, three years ago now, he was often credited with having received all kinds of good press during the 1980s, a rarity for a Republican. I've seen/heard this claim several times in just the past few weeks, on television, in newspaper columns, and in passing conversation.

The notion that Reagan receiving fawning coverage in the press is just plain wrong. Reagan made his own image; his media coverage was similar to President Bush's today.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs has the numbers (.pdf):

Major Findings:

The Candidate
*In 1980 Reagan and Jimmy Carter both got five times as many negative as positive comments on TV news.

*But in 1984 Walter Mondale got a majority of good press, while judgments of Reagan sank to 10 to 1 negative.

Enter Reagan
*In 1981 the new administration’s coverage was over 2 to 1 negative.

*Reagan’s policies fared even worse, running a 3 to 1 negative ratio in the national press; his foreign policy took the hardest hits.

The Incumbent
*In 1983 Reagan's "mid-term reviews" were 13 to 1 negative on TV News.

*Gorbachev fared better than Reagan in coverage of their summit meetings.

Exit Reagan
*As a “lame duck” after the 1988 election, Reagan’s TV news coverage was 2 to 1 negative - about the same as when he entered office.

Part of the myth of Reagan's positive media coverage is that, sure, maybe he didn't get great press early on, but from the middle to the end of his tenure, he got great press. And as he left office, Reagan allegedly got lavish and glowing praise for his accomplishments. Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Indeed, Reagan's midterm and lame duck media coverage were terrible (.pdf):


Not only that, but Reagan received poor media coverage for his meetings with Gorbachev. You know, the ones that helped end the Soviet Union.

Indeed, one of the earlier Trivia Tidbits dealt with the Reagan/Gorbachev media coverage comparison:


What does all of this mean?

If anything, it ought to add to the deification of Ronald Reagan. It ought to pile onto the positive Reagan mythology.

Despite terrible media, he was still able to communicate to the American people-- and he did so in an age before Fox News, before blogs, and before Rush Limbaugh had a national talk radio program.

Reagan just connected with Americans. Sure, Reagan had a lot of disdain for the establishment media, but he actively went around, over, and even through them, and he rarely gave the impression of being annoyed or bothered by the White House press corps' dumb or biased interrogations. If President Bush has gotten one "big" thing wrong during his tenure, it is his disdain for the media, coupled with a poor strategy for going around, over, and through the media to the American people.

Republicans can expect bad media coverage from the mega-media outlets as long as the GOP stands for things like free markets, conservative values, and a strong American defense. Republicans can't sulk or merely complain about their terrible press, but they also can't accept it as "the way it's been, the way it is, and the way it will always be." We've got to have leadership that can articulate to the American people-- like Ronald Reagan did-- big ideas and minutiae alike.

Is there a candidate who will emerge over the next couple of months as a great communicator? Let's hope so, because having watched most of yet another Democratic debate yesterday (*thanks, TiVo!), we really can't afford-- literally cannot afford-- to let this current crop of pro-tax, anti-trade, pro-union Democrats run Congress AND the White House.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Fact Checking FactCheck.org.

Posted by Will Franklin · 14 December 2007 04:00 PM


Will you were in my tummy when I voted for Ronald Reagan. Do you remember that?

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at December 14, 2007 06:57 PM

The most favorable press President Reagan received was after his death. People who vilified him when he was alive suddenly were in awe of his achievements and gushed over what a great person he had been. However, you seldom heard "I was really wrong about him".

I met a lady who was a legal secretary in Prague who took her vacation in the US to work as a room cleaner in a small out of the way motel. She thought this would be a good way to practice her English. Gutsy lady I thought. The Reagan funnel service was being broadcast so I asked her what she thought of Reagan, even though I didn't know if she would even know who he was. She put her hands over her heart and said, "Love Reagan".

George W. Bush's greatest short coming is his lack of good oratory skills. Or maybe his speech writers have failed to write speeches that match his "style". And I will admit that his limited skill is still much better than mine.

So I agree. Articulate simple principles and use the Q&A format to get out the details. I would also post additional details, besides the speech as is done now, on the Whitehouse.gov site. Everything must be done to get information out unfiltered by the media. In fact I would add a line to every speech referring people to the web site to get additional details. Better to let the bloggers digest the material. I might even put up a blog, or at least "clarifications" by the press secretary when the media really hacks and misleads the citizens. They could even do podcasts or short video files. Let someone ask the question and record it as if he was talking to friends over a beer. That would take more time however so I might do it only when I wanted to hammer some stupid journalist. I suspect that Bush would do much better in an informal setting. In his case, maybe I'd call it "Talkin' Texan".

Initially the media would brand this activity as propaganda but over time, provided you always level with the people, you would gain the trust of the people. After all, even the media can't fool all of the people all of the time.

Posted by: JGsez at December 15, 2007 08:59 AM

Huckabee doesn't even come close!

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at December 15, 2007 11:02 AM

I'd have to disagree with one point in your analysis of W. It's not just that he disdains the media; he also disdains the American people. How else can you account for his open borders, pro-illegal alien stance? He couldn't get his amnesty bill through the Republican-controlled congress, so he sat by and let the Democrats, who are also pro-illegal alien, take over, hoping that with a more compliant Congress he could get an amnesty bill passed so he could sign it. But the American people still wouldn't go for it--thank heavens.

More evidence: W has been one of the biggest mouthers of the disrespectful lie about "jobs Americans won't do." Just who did those jobs before the American worker was priced out of the market by illegal aliens, for whom $3/hour is a princely wage?

Anyway, just my $0.02.

Posted by: Nathan Hale at December 15, 2007 02:27 PM

And it started before he was elected. I distinctly remember the MSM belittled Reagan's chance of being nominated. Then when he got the nomination, they belittled his chances of being elected. As a side note, I also distinctly remember Dan Rather said during the Reagan presidency, that reporters like him, didn't pick and chose the stories they presented; and I laughed and laughed.

Posted by: profligatewaste at December 16, 2007 04:02 PM