A TV miniseries called “The Reagans” won’t do much for the genre of history, but it does illustrate what’s wrong with our public conversation these days.
As history, the CBS-commissioned miniseries appears to be more hatchet job than fact. While the network claimed each incident depicted in the program was backed up by evidence, no less an expert than Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, has called it a tissue of lies.
The producers, Davis wrote in Time magazine, “exhibited astounding carelessness and cruelty in their depiction of my father and my entire family. They never consulted any family member, nor did they speak to anyone who has known us throughout the years.”
Stung by the mean-spiritedness of the program, Reagan’s supporters sprang into action, barraging CBS with protests. Eventually CBS president Leslie Moonves took a look at the show, pronounced it unacceptable, and shunted it off to Showtime, a CBS-affiliated cable network with a much smaller audience than CBS itself.
That illustrates one problem with the public conversation. Rather than deal with the program on its own merits or lack of them — rather than seeing it as a chance to tell the real Reagan story — protestors shouted it down. That allows people to wonder what, exactly, they were afraid of.
CBS’ decision, in turn, left the likes of Barbra Streisand screaming about artistic freedom and censorship. Streisand's Web site bristles with rage at CBS and Reagan’s conservative fans. Of course, the fact that her husband, James Brolin, stars in the movie had nothing to do with her ire. Nothing at all. Why, it’s the principle of the thing; Babs went so far as to write, “I don’t believe Democrats often, if ever, try to muscle the First Amendment like this.”
Bull. Democrats — or, more generally, liberals — are constantly muscling the First Amendment. Just ask Rush Limbaugh, who was shouted off ESPN this fall after commenting on the talent level of a black NFL quarterback.
Hypocrisy and hysteria, which neither end of the political spectrum monopolize, far too often substitute for reasoned discourse in these shrill times.
But the worst actor in all this is CBS itself, for backing what appears to be a politically motivated smear of a dying old man. Producers of a show that purports to be biography have a duty to the truth. Sadly, truth itself is the chief casualty of America’s political wars.