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Censorship at CBS? – A Look at Why “The Reagans” Was Cancelled

StoryNovember 06, 2003
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    CBS cancelled plans to run a two-part miniseries about the presidency of Ronald Reagan after the Republican National Committee complained the docudrama was too critical and inaccurate. We speak with Steve Rendall of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. [Includes transcript]

    Click here to read to full transcript CBS announced yesterday that it has cancelled plans to run a two-part miniseries about the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

    The decision comes after the Republican National Committee complained the miniseries was too critical and inaccurate and created a partially fictional account of the lives of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. The New York Times noted that none of the critics had actually seen the film but based their complaints on a leaked transcript.

    In one scene from the film’s final script, Reagan says of AIDS patients: “They that live in sin shall die in sin.” Critics have denounced the line, saying there is no evidence Reagan ever expressed those views.

    The docudrama titled “The Reagans” was supposed to be aired November 16 and 18 during the highly promoted 'sweeps' month. It will instead appear on Showtime–with a vastly smaller audience–next year.

    CBS explained the shift to Showtime by saying in a statement that “a free broadcast network, available to all over the public airwaves, has different standards from the media the public must pay to view.”


    AMY GOODMAN: Steve Rendell is with fairness and accuracy reporting. Your comment. -

    STEVE RENDELL: Well, let me just first say how the last segment and this segment tie together. I thought it was shocking, outrageous, really, to hear a representative of Amnesty International saying one of the reasons they didn’t air this film “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was because it was controversial.

    I mean, that is pretty hard to imagine that any story on human rights around the world would not be controversial. What’s similar between this movie and the Reagans is that they bowed to right-wing pressure. And I’ll say that what they’ve affected here is a suppression of information, a side of the story that has been suppressed in North America all along. Basically North American media, Canada, and in the United States, has taken their cues from the corporate media in Venezuela, which is monolithically oppositional.

    Now the story about the Reagans, it is just another story, just another saga from the land of freedom of the press, freedom of Speech and freedom of expression. Remember, Ari Fleischer, the former presidential press secretary, saying that Americans have to watch what they say, what watch what they do. This is just another story of that. You have a story of right-wing pressure, of intimidation and fear. Now citizen groups and individuals have a right to speak out about a television show, no matter how ignorant they are of its contents.

    I would stand up for that right anytime. What is particularly troubling about this story is you have politicians, people like Eric Cantor, a Congressman from Virginia, speaking out and saying that he was worried about the political associations of the producers and executives at CBS. You have Ed Gillespie from the Republican National Committee also criticizing the film. This is the party that’s in power. The Republicans control both houses of Congress and the white house. These people have direct power over broadcasters.

    This is chilling, if not censorious. Now, on the issue of demanding absolute accuracy in dramatizations, that’s foolish. First of all, it’s not journalism or History. It is drama. Even in historical dramas, most of the — Most of the dialogue is made up. Now still, I would say that dramatists should try to capture a larger truth.

    One of the issues that has been raised time and again, probably the quote from the documentary which has bothered Reagan supporters the most is the quote where Reagan — They have Reagan saying about AIDS victims, “they that live in sin shall die in sin.”

    Well, it is true he never said that, but he said things like that, according to his biographer Edmond Morris. He said that Reagan told him maybe the lord brought down this plague because illicit sex is against the 10 commandments. So you have these issues. And the stack we didn’t see the same sort of hue and cry raised when the absolutely hilarious D.C. 9-11 the showtime documentary that had Bush acting heroic at every turn…and even funnier than that…articulate at every point.

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re out of time. Steve Rendell. Well that does it for the show.

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