Hey, back off of CBS

On the Left

In the latest wave of media censorship, the conservatives have struck again by pressuring CBS executives to dumb down their forthcoming four-hour mini-series, "The Reagans."

The recent furor over the film is a pathetic attempt to dress up and glorify one of our most inept presidents, and selling it to Showtime will be an embarrassing concession to conservatives who have whined for its removal from the national network. Although the creators of "The Reagans" credit the former president with successfully ending the Cold War and fostering a loving, prosperous marriage to Nancy Reagan, Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie has called for the film to be labeled "fiction." It's true that Reagan is sometimes portrayed in a negative light, but that only makes the film more realistic - and CBS should be praised for such details instead of castigated.

Among the negative details of Reagan's presidency are the Iran-Contra affair, economic recession and his tragic submission to Alzheimer's disease. Nobody should criticize Reagan for falling victim to the disease, but it still left him "confused and misinformed," according to an internal investigation after the Contra affair, and this is an incompetent and dangerous state of mind to be in for the leader of the United States. Unfortunately, CBS producers cut a lot of controversial material after angry eruptions from Gillespie, Pat Buchanon, Nancy Reagan and others. The film's leading stars, James Brolin and Judy Davis, are mute on the squabble, and director Robert Allan Ackerman has halted editing on the project. CBS Television President Leslie Moonves should be applauded for standing by the film, but it looks as though the network is perilously close to burying the mini-series to hide it from everyone who doesn't subscribe to Showtime.

The row started about two weeks ago when someone leaked the script to The New York Times, which reported the film script as unfavorable to Reagan. It's odd that conservatives have leapt to use the Times as gospel truth in this matter, especially considering its recent scandals involving Jayson Blair and the downfall of journalistic integrity. If CBS wanted to make a fictional film, it would not have spent so much time on research and employed a team of two dozen lawyers to look over the script. No president is perfect, and Reagan had a lion's share of faults, including massive federal deficits and high unemployment rates that were created by "Reaganomics." Additionally, selling arms to Iran and contras - guerilla fighters that worked to overthrow the Sandanista government in Nicaragua - resulted in a classic presidential scandal, one that Reagan, using his political skills, somehow talked his way out of.

Several scenes have been cut from the film, and unfortunately a much-talked-about line has also been eliminated. In a scene where Nancy Reagan is asking her husband to consider increasing support for AIDS victims, Reagan says, "They that live in sin shall die in sin." Granted, fear and hysteria over AIDS was far more widespread in the 1980s, and knowledge about the deadly epidemic was scarce - but the finer points of the president's character, positive or negative, should not be overlooked or glossed over in a film that attempts to paint a realistic portrayal of Reagan and his administration.

Critics of the film would be wise to refrain from comment until they have viewed the film; this seems logical, but apparently many conservatives and Reagan lovers can't wait until the Nov. 16 release date. Television has been censored far too much since 9/11, and not all of it has been government-imposed. CBS stands to gain far more from its provocative portrayal of Reagan than it does from giving in to bullying conservative blowhards. I expect to see the mini-series on Nov. 16, but I have a sinking feeling that it will never get that far. Here's hoping that CBS won't become another Fox News (aka Faux News) and meekly shelve a project that attempts to inject some balance into the portrayal of a presidency that has been steeped for too long in undeserved mystic glory.

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