"Ronald Reagan was the most popular president ever to leave office,"
Though the claim was repeated by many news outlets, it is not true; Bill Clinton's
approval ratings when he left office were actually higher than Reagan's,
at 66 percent versus Reagan's 63 percent (Gallup, 1/10-14/01). Franklin
Delano Roosevelt also topped Reagan with a 66 percent approval rating at
the time of his death in office after three and a half terms.
Look at Gallup polling data brings a different perspective. Through
most of his presidency, Reagan did not rate much higher than other
post-World War II presidents. And during his first two years, Reagan's
approval ratings were quite low. His 52 percent average approval rating
for his presidency places him sixth out of the past ten presidents, behind
Kennedy (70 percent), Eisenhower (66 percent), George H.W. Bush (61
percent), Clinton (55 percent), and Johnson (55 percent). His popularity
frequently dipped below 50 percent during his first term, plummeted to 46
percent during the Iran-Contra scandal, and never exceeded 68 percent. (By
contrast, Clinton's maximum approval rating hit 71 percent.)
*No Time for Critical Voices
Mainstream media have relied heavily on Republicans and former Reagan
officials to tell the story of Reagan and his accomplishments, which
results in a decidedly one-sided version of events.
Reagan's influence over world politics and the direction of the Republican
Party were important aspects of the media's Reagan tributes. But more
often than not, the more controversial aspects of Reagan's legacy were
either downplayed or recast as footnotes.
As NBC's John Hockenberry put it (6/5/04), "The Reagan revolution imagined the unimaginable. When poverty and welfare were at crisis levels in the
1980s, Reagan declared war on government and turned his back on the welfare state." The long-term
impact of cuts in social spending gutted environmental protections and
other casualties of Reagan's "war on government" were relegated to passing
Reagan's fervent support for right-wing governments in Central America was
one of the defining foreign policies of his administration, and the fact
that death squads associated with those governments murdered tens of
thousands of civilians surely must be included in any reckoning of
Reagan's successes and failures.
The Reagan administration's friendly policy towards Saddam Hussein was
also a neglected media topic. During the Reagan years, the U.S. offered
significant support to Iraq, including weapons components, military
intelligence, and even some of the ingredients for manufacturing
biological weapons like anthrax (Newsweek, 9/23/02).
As for critical reflection about Reagan's policies by the media
were not seriously examined. Time magazine (6/14/04) suggested, "Even when his views were most intransigent-- when he wondered out loud whether
Martin Luther King Jr.
was a communist or failed for nearly all of his presidency to speak the
word AIDS even once-- Time followed Reagan gave Reaganism a human face." Time followed that strange assessment with a comment from Bush adviser Karl
made us sunny optimists... His was a conservatism of laughter and openness
Even Reagan's contradictions were somehow construed as strong points. As
Time put it (6/14/04), "So great was Reagan's victory in making his
preoccupations into enduring themes of the national conversation that it
may not matter that his record didn't always match his rhetoric. He
insisted, for instance, that a balanced budget was one of his priorities.
But by the time Reagan left office, a combination of lower tax revenues
and sharply higher spending for defense had sent the deficit through the
The Iran-Contra scandal, which loomed too large to ignore, was often
written off by journalists.
*Reagan and the Media
In any event, it would be hard to argue that current coverage of Reagan
carries any lingering traces of that formerly "contentious" relationship.
If anything, some reporters now seem to think that the main lesson learned
from the Reagan years was not to be critical. As ABC's Sam Donaldson put
it (6/4/04), "Reporters over the years made the mistake of saying, 'Well,
he made this mistake, he made this mistake. He got that fact wrong.' The
American public got it right. It didn't matter."
He was the Teflon Don……………God rest his soul.
) , LAT
[edit on 10-6-2004 by gmcnulty]