The hostility didn't end when Reagan left office either. When it was over, the media continued to paint the Reagan era as a horrific time of low ethics, class warfare on the poor and crushing government debt. For the first five years of his ex-presidency, the Reagan legacy was still a juicy target for liberal journalists, who blamed his administration for everything from flammable pajamas to sexual harassment in public housing. Only his brain-robbing Alzheimer's disease put the brakes on media hostility.
It would have been nice to have a less vicious press corps when Reagan was able to enjoy it. Instead, the usual storyline was like a political cartoon, heavy on vitriol and light on accuracy. Newsweek's "conventional wisdom" box summarized the 1980s as "Greedy Yuppies screwed homeless. Big party on deck of Titanic."
CBS morning host Kathleen Sullivan sized up the Reagan years this way: "While the wealthy got most of the attention, those who needed it most were often ignored. More homeless, less spending on housing. The gap between the top and the bottom grew in the '80s. ... The AIDS crisis began in the '80s. Some say the decade's compassion gap made it worse."
At the 1992 Democratic convention, NBC reporter Maria Shriver cued up AIDS sufferer Elizabeth Glaser: "You place the responsibility for the death of your daughter squarely at the feet of the Reagan administration. Do you believe they're responsible for that?" (Glaser said, yes.)
Reagan fans from coast to coast must be finding the generosity of the media obituaries gratifying, but also befuddling. Those who today acknowledge the greatness of Ronald Reagan and his mark on the world are the very same people who spent so many years trying to diminish his reputation and impact. When his work was done, they sought to revise the record and demean his leadership. They could have gone another generous step in their obituaries and acknowledged that Reagan's achievements came despite their own unrelenting propagandistic opposition.
Children today have no personal memory of President Reagan, and are probably taught too little about him in school. But they also have no personal memory of the armory of slings and arrows and insults that Reagan bravely endured and ultimately obscured with his towering accomplishments. We still owe it to Reagan (and to his progeny as well as ours) to explain how and why he remade America and the world.