'Censorship' of the Reagan attack-film?

Posted: Nov 07, 2003 12:00 AM

Across America, people who love Ronald Reagan and appreciate the mountains he moved as our leader for eight years sent out a blitz of e-mails, phone calls and petitions protesting CBS's plan to air "The Reagans," a vicious, dishonest piece of "researched" character assassination. In response, CBS president Les Moonves did something both unexpected and necessary: He pulled the plug on this smello-drama.

It's unfortunate that the network couldn't have assembled the original idea of a kinder, gentler movie about the long-lasting love story of Ron and Nancy. But the ridiculous script that gurgled up through leaks, with fake-Reagan declaring he was "the Antichrist," appeared too ludicrously over the top to be located anywhere on the same planet as fairness.

They still plan to shuttle the mudslinging over to CBS's corporate cousin, the pay-cable channel Showtime. But is a pile of lies on pay-cable much better than that pile put on one of the Big Three? Showtime ought to take the clothespin off its nose long enough to ensure that the odor of malice and misrepresentation from this production is erased completely.

Despite the ahistorical talk of a new, dangerous precedent of corporate-media surrender, the only thing new about the "Reagans" controversy is that for once, conservative pressure, and the national outcry of Reagan-loving Americans, was the deciding factor in a program's cancellation. And despite Barbra Streisand's ridiculous claims that Democrats have never "muscled the First Amendment," liberal pressure has killed any number of programs.

Go back to radio giant Dr. Laura Schlessinger's attempt in 2000 to start a nationally syndicated TV chat show. I don't remember all the liberal voices now seeing a "very oppressive era" of "censorship" when the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation -- and speaking of anti-defamation, where were they with "The Reagans"? -- successfully pressured advertisers and stations to drop Dr. Laura, despite the fact that the show was never intended to be a daily assault on the gay left.

Go back to UPN quickly canceling the 1998 series "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer." Black groups quickly unfurled their offense at the comedy's tone-deaf premise of a black butler in Abraham Lincoln's White House. I don't remember the liberals sticking up for this show, either. They might have enjoyed the lame plotlines, like President Lincoln engaging in "telegraph sex."

Or focus on the present. Right now, the Anti-Defamation League and other activists are trying to poison the Hollywood well for Mel Gibson's film "The Passion." Have the same Hollywood and media people complaining about "censorship" and "pressure groups" turned around and applied that "artistic freedom" argument to the people maligning Gibson?

But now that Moonves has sought to prevent a potential public-relations disaster, the media are launching into hyper-mode angst. On CNBC, Tom Brokaw's heir apparent Brian Williams suggested the conservative effort "amounts to extortion." In an editorial, the New York Times outrageously claimed that it was odd for Reaganites to "have helped create the Soviet-style chill embedded in the idea that we, as a nation, will not allow critical portrayals of one of our own recent leaders."

What bunk. Conservatives have endured decades of critical portrayals of Reagan and will no doubt continue to endure them. But we don't plan to sit around and do nothing when he's maligned.

The "censorship" that the New York Times does not discuss is the Hollywood left's self-censorship in the "meticulously researched" hit pieces they choose not to make about their own heroes. We haven't seen the CBS miniseries "The Clintons," where Hillary throws a lamp at Bill in between sexual clinches with Monica Lewinsky. We haven't seen the CBS movie making fun of the Carter family, where those controlling Carter women -- Rosalynn, Miss Lillian, and, of course, nuclear proliferation expert Amy -- manipulate poor, hen-pecked Jimmy around the White House. We haven't seen the CBS special on Chappaquiddick, with Sen. Ted Kennedy leaving the scene of an accident as Mary Jo Kopechne drowns.

Liberals like Newsweek's Jonathan Alter are now wildly exaggerating like Al Gore about Democrat-harming TV movies, imagining "the 5,834th docudrama about the sins of the Kennedys." But liberals rarely identify a single Kennedy flick.

Streisand cited the 1983 miniseries "Kennedy." But she did not mention the lead actors were Martin Sheen (ultraliberal) as JFK and Blair Brown (ultraliberal) as Jackie. Amazon.com says the film shows Kennedy flaws and vanity, but unsurprisingly, who gets the vicious portrayal? J. Edgar Hoover, portrayed as "stiff, quirky and strange, prurient and moralistic at the same time, and boiling with hatred."

Reagan-loving Americans across the fruited plain ought to rejoice in this singular victory of protest against the demonization of a national treasure, without a single worry in their heads that the First Amendment is in the slightest bit of danger. The truth won.