Craig Shirley
After reading the coverage in the Washington Post over the past two weeks of the legacy of Ronald Reagan many Reaganites don't quite recognize the man who drew them into the movement as presented in the venerable paper.

A conservative with whom they worked, and whose legacy--if one checks the facts---was a belief in American Exceptionalism, a central tenant of conservatism and certainly not liberalism, as some at the Post and in popular culture are trying to nonsensically remake make Reagan into.

Even President Obama understands American Exceptionism because he's gone out of his was to trash it, comparing it to Greek Exceptionalism.

The paper has had some very fine reporters and columnists over the years and still does today, but much of the Post's coverage of the Centennial of the 40th president has been harsh and some guest columnists factually challenged shall we say.

To Chris Matthews, Reagan and Tip O'Neill may as well have been frat brothers, if one is to believe a recent piece he wrote for the Post. In fact, O'Neill bashed Reagan often his autobiography, bashed Mrs. Reagan, and said the Gipper's election in 1980 was "sinful."

Bosom Buddies? Not quite.

In a long piece in the Post on February 6, 2011, Dan Balz spent a portion of his time attempting to separate Reagan from conservatism. The requisite quotes from liberals saying conservatives don't understand Reagan and so-called conservatives saying conservatives don't understand Reagan are littered throughout the piece. They must have "grown."

(Balz interviewed this author as well, but for the most part, I drew a contrast between Reaganism and modern Republicanism. I was not quoted on that subject.)

The story seemed to argue that Reagan's philosophy was outdated, out of place in the modern world. "The United States of 2011 is a far different country...and the core policies of Reaganism have lost some of their potency." The words "nostalgia" and "compromise" are used generously throughout the piece. Balz is usually a good political reporter but his story broke no new ground, sticking mostly to conventional liberal nostrums about the Gipper.

In fact, the principles of "maximum freedom consistent with law and order" are relevant today as when Reagan uttered them in 1964.

To Post columnist Eugene Robinson, Reagan was the godfather of the modern Democratic Party! On the other hand, Reagan said in 1980, "I was once a Democrat. I said a lot of foolish things back in those days." Perhaps someday Robinson will become acquainted with this feeling.

To disgraced Reagan biographer Edmund Morris, there is not just one myth about Reagan. He found five for the Post on everything from his acting ability to him somehow being unkind to individuals. Even his compliments are only backhanded, as he draws an unfavorable contrast to Jimmy Carter's "intellect."

But Morris never asked Ed Meese or Peter Hannaford or Jim Baker or the hundreds of others who met recently in Simi Valley and Santa Barbara to celebrate the Gipper's birthday, many of whom had their own stories of Reagan's personal kindnesses, including this author.

Morris as much as says Reagan was a lousy actor but a 1940 Warner Brothers poll of audiences had him second only to Errol Flynn as their most favorite actor. In America, we have traditionally trusted the marketplace to determine what is good and not good.

On the other hand, not everybody who speaks with a British accent is an intellectual.

Morris continues to invent history, implying in his Post piece that Reagan either did not know---or was angry---that Morris had tracked down the Gipper's old girlfriend, Margaret Cleaver. But in fact, Reagan wrote extensively, warmly and frankly about Miss Cleaver in his autobiography, An American Life. Reagan's accounting of his own life is presumed to be slightly more accurate than Morris's.

All in all, the Post's coverage of Reagan played to mostly to type, pretty much what the Gipper got from the paper all of his career before, during and after the White House.

In the 1980's, Nancy Reagan used to tell a joke at the expense of the Post for playing to type. She told friends, "How would the Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal all report on the end of the world? The headline in the Times would say, 'World Ends Tomorrow! See Page A37 for details.' The Journal would report, 'World Ends, Stocks Plunge!'

"And the Post headline would report, 'World Ends Tomorrow! Poor and Minorities Hardest Hit!'"

Conservatives knew Ronald Reagan. He was a friend of theirs. And the Washington Post's coverage of the Gipper is not the Ronald Reagan they remember.


Craig Shirley

Craig Shirley is the president of the President of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs and the author of two books on the 40th president, Reagan's Revolution and Rendezvous with Destiny.