Reagan, Media and Heroes
When we write about a U.S. media culture that reflexively bends to the Right, some people dispute our analysis. After all, they’ve heard those endless complaints about the “liberal media.”
But there was a telling example of that rightward knee-jerk thinking in Monday night’s “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.” In a segment on the heroism behind the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates, CBS producers incongruously inserted a quote from Ronald Reagan’s 1981 Inaugural Address.
“Those who say that we are in a time when there are no heroes just don't know where to look,” Reagan said in the speech 28 years ago. CBS producers used the clip though it had no particular connection to the issue at hand.
Indeed, Reagan wasn’t even talking about the sort of extraordinary heroism displayed by Phillips in trading himself for the safety of his crew or by the Navy SEAL snipers who killed the three pirates to free Phillips. Reagan was saying that Americans who simply go about their normal lives are heroes.
“You can see heroes every day going in and out of factory gates,” Reagan continued. “Others, a handful in number, produce enough food to feed all of us and then the world beyond. You meet heroes across a counter — and they are on both sides of that counter. …
“I have used the words ‘they’ and ‘their’ in speaking of these heroes. I could say ‘you’ and ‘your’ because I am addressing the heroes of whom I speak — you, the citizens of this blessed land.”
In other words, Reagan was saying that all Americans are heroes, a flattering point for his listeners even though it rendered the concept of “hero” virtually meaningless.
So why would CBS News even think to go back and grab a 28-year-old quote from Ronald Reagan to use in a piece about events on Sunday in the Indian Ocean? The answer would seem to be that it never hurts your career to cite the great and wonderful Reagan.
Who knows? Maybe at some point the producers feared they might stumble into the crosshairs of the right-wing attack machine – as four CBS producers did when they got fired over a 2004 segment on “60 Minutes II” regarding George W. Bush blowing off his National Guard duty.
Though the piece was truthful – Bush did duck his service – the producers hadn’t fully vetted some memos allegedly typed by Bush’s commanding officer. For this transgression, the four producers, including Mary Mapes who had helped expose the Abu Ghraib scandal, were humiliated and fired. CBS News anchor Dan Rather also saw his career destroyed.
So the “Evening News” producers on Monday might have thought they were banking a little credibility with the Right by demonstrating obeisance to the Right’s favorite icon. Better safe than sorry.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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