Sunday, June 20, 2004

The Power of Media Myth

Percent of Americans who thought Ronald Reagan outstanding or above average, 1987: 37%

Percent of Americans who thought Ronald Reagan outstanding or above average, 2004: 58%



At 10:19 PM, Blogger BSizzler said...

I dont really remember much of the Reagan adminstration, nor have I studied it at any great length, but id like to play the Devils advocate on this one, so you'll just have to take my ideas worth a grain of salt but is it possible that the people who were polled didnt agree with Reagans policies at the time, although they worked out for the best(if indeed was the case)? If your trying to say that the media glorified Reagan upon his death, I just propose that perhaps he was right...maybe his policies were correct and it just took some 17 years for him to get the recognition for it.

At 3:01 PM, Blogger Luke said...

You make a valid point, but in my opinion it is a fallacy to say that Reagan is merely receiving deserved praise as a result of his administration's policies having finally "come to fruition," so to speak. The reason I argue this is two-fold:

1.) Reagan's policies were not good for America.
2.) Regardless of how good/bad a leader the Gipper was, polls merely show how easily moldable public opinion is.On the first point, I could direct you to a number of critiques of his administration and its policies (from the 80s, 90s, and up through today which are all fairly credible), but my aim is not to prove that Reagan was a bad president (even though I think he was).

Below is a bit I've excerpted from The Daily Howler. It contrasts one less-than-stellar moment from the "Glory Days" with what you hear in today's media.

****Here’s the description of Lou Cannon--Reagan's biographer--about what occurred when Reagan testified for the second time to his own Tower Commission (on 2/11/87) [about the Iran-Contra Affair]. Try to reconcile this account with the stories you’ve heard this past week. (Warning: Don’t confuse Reagan’s name with that of his chief of staff, Donald Regan):

CANNON (p. 631): It was obvious to [Donald] Regan and [White House counsel Peter] Wallison that the president was still shaky in his recollections. Wallison drew up what Abshire called an “aide-memoire” to help the president recall what he had told them. At the top Wallison wrote, “On the issue of the TOW [missile] shipment in August, in discussing this matter with me and David Abshire, you said you were surprised to learn that the Israelis had shipped the arms. If that is your recollection, and the question comes up at the Tower Board meeting, you might want to say that you were surprised.”

The question, of course, came up...After a preliminary question about presidents and their NSC staffs, Tower asked Reagan about the discrepancy between his statement and Regan’s on the question of whether he had given prior approval to the Israeli arms shipment. Reagan rose from his chair, walked around the desk and said to Wallison, “Peter, where is that piece of paper you had that you gave me this morning?” Then he picked up the paper and began to read, “If the question comes up at the Tower Board meeting, you might want to say that you were surprised.”

Tower’s jaw went slack. It was, as Abshire put it, “a low moment.” Tower suspected that Reagan was being manipulated by his counsel, and the Tower Board’s chief of staff, Rhett Dawson, asked Wallison for a “copy of the script” when the board departed. But Wallison was even more amazed than the Tower Board by Reagan’s response. “I was horrified, just horrified,” Wallison recalled later.

“God, it was just terrible,” Wallison told Cannon. But, as Cannon’s book makes painfully clear, this embarrassing event was nothing new. “The Tower Board had been exposed to the real Reagan,” Cannon writes, “as he was seen every day at close range by the handful of aides with personal access to him.” Please note: This is not an attempt by Cannon to say that President Reagan was some sort of fraud. But his descriptions of the president’s impaired functioning fly in the face of the “press corps’” recent entertainments. And they suggest that the matter of Reagan’s presidency is less simple than grinning entertainers are training the public to think.

Why have we seen so much silly clowning on cable? In part, because that is the way your “press corps” functions in every area, with all public figures. If The Group doesn’t like a public figure, they invent vicious stories and stage Group Recitals, trying to destroy their target’s reputation and abusing the public’s right to know... But if a public figure is looked on with approval? Then, pundits recites silly, bowdlerized tales, like the one Russert and Mitchell performed on Sunday’s Meet the Press.****

I believe people form opinions based on what they know - the question is how much do they not know based on today's "news reporting"? It is no surprise to me that Reagan's poll numbers are up today, but getting to the core of the question: "why?" Maybe, as you might argue, society as a whole today understands the last 24 years worth of history well enough to pass fair judgments. Me, I'm more cynical... there are a lot of misinformed people out there, the type who would be able to name the winner of American Idol without any problem but who couldn't tell you who the current US VP was. Are they to blame for their apathy and ignorance? Of course, but so are other elements of our society (most notably, the media). And that is the point I'm trying to get across.


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