CyberAlert -- 09/27/1999 -- Morris's Imaginary Friends Spawned by Acorn; Reagan's "Empty Mind"
Morris's Imaginary Friends Spawned by Acorn; Reagan's "Empty Mind"
1) 60 Minutes revealed an "electric shock" from an acorn led Edmund Morris to invent imaginary characters. Lesley Stahl cited Reagan's lack of compassion for the homeless as a character flaw, pleading with Morris: "You can't have admired him for that."
Sunday's 60 Minutes interview by Lesley Stahl of Reagan biographer Edmund Morris revealed a bizarre-sounding event behind Morris's decision to describe experiences through a fictional character and that Stahl can't resist hitting Reagan from the left as she pressed Morris about how Reagan's lack of compassion for the homeless demonstrated a character flaw.
Viewers learned that an "electric shock" from an acorn powered a "voice" in Edmund Morris's head which gave him the idea to create a fictional character. Actually, he also created second imaginary character, a son named "Gavin," to, as Stahl put it, "represent the young people of the 1960s and to vilify Reagan for his role in putting down the student protests at Berkeley in 1969."
Before 60 Minutes aired, Sunday's Meet the Press brought aboard former Reagan aides Michael Deaver, Ed Meese, Lyn Nofziger and Marlin Fitzwater to assess the assessments in Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. Newsweek's Evan Thomas also appeared since the magazine this week excerpts the book. The This Week roundtable on ABC also looked at the book, but stuck to analyzing Morris's fictional character device which the panel found wanting, with George Will especially troubled by the dedication to Christine Reagan, the short-lived baby of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman.
Now back to 60 Minutes, which devoted two of three segments to Morris. That's too much to fully summarize here so I'll stick to what I found most interesting. (As a brief background note, Morris had unique access to Reagan as from 1985 on he was allowed to stay at the White House all day and sit in on meetings. The book was expected to be published in 1991 but since Morris found him so "inscrutable" the book is just now being published with controversy about how Morris describes events through imaginary characters in inserts into situations.)
-- Acorn gave
Morris idea to overcome his problem understanding Reagan by talking
through an imaginary voice. In a portion of the piece recalling Reagan's
days at Eureka College, Stahl relayed:
But there's not
just one imaginary person in the book, as Stahl added:
How nice of Stahl to seemingly blame Reagan for the killing.
-- Reagan just an
empty-headed performer. Morris recounted how just before Reagan's 1989
farewell address he seemed listless until just before he went on TV when
he saw his face in the monitor, at which point he said, "ah, there he
is," and came to life for the performance.
Morris replied that he had no fears since he saw how secure and strong Reagan was when he met Gorbachev in Geneva.
-- Communists rejected Reagan as a "flake." Morris seems to admire Reagan in many ways, but he didn't hesitate to relay a cheap shot anecdote. He told Stahl how in 1938 Reagan wanted to join the Communist Party but the party's leader in Southern California said he didn't want him because "he's a flake."
shows Reagan's lack of character. Bringing back memories of TV news from
he 1980s, Stahl asserted:
Actually, the media were disturbed by his non left-wing views on the topic. Homelessness hasn't decreased under Clinton, but you don't hear about it anymore.
"About the only time I ever got through his epidermis was in the last
month of his presidency when I said to him, 'Is there anything about your
presidency you regret Mr. President?' 'Oh no, I've been very happy here.'
But I said, 'you know the homeless for example, they're all over the
place.' And he said 'I don't think that's such a serious problem.' I said
'did you ever consider the possibility that your own father might have
become a bum?' And he reacted with anger. He said, 'no, no, no.' I could
see he didn't like that for me to suggest that homelessness could have
come as close to his own home as I was suggesting."
To Stahl's dismay, however, Morris did go on to call Reagan a "great President" for winning the Cold War and leading a "moral regeneration" of America.
"Inscrutable" or consistent and open? Early in the 60 Minutes
piece Morris sulked about how he found Reagan "inscrutable" and
"one of the strangest men who ever lived." But on Meet the
Press, Ed Meese offered a simpler explanation for Morris's befuddlement,
telling Tim Russert:
Next stop for Morris: He'll be on NBC's Today on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Time's Jack White used the Edmund Morris biography as a chance to denounce Ronald Reagan, referring to his "empty mind," his near "treason" and terrible civil rights record, while Newsweek's Evan Thomas dismissively referred to Reagan's "intuitive idiot genius."
It all happened over the weekend on Inside Washington, the show carried by many PBS stations. After columnist Charles Krauthammer praised Reagan, Jack White of Time magazine shot back: "It's a fictional book about an empty mind and you want to put this guy's face on Mount Rushmore?"
declared: "And he was extraordinarily lucky in that he wasn't brought
down by the Iran-Contra scandal."
It depends on what "beat reporter" means. As noted in three previous CyberAlerts, back on August 23 the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz quoted ABC News President David Westin as assuring him that while ABC News is turning George Stephanopoulos into a regular correspondent, "we wouldn't have him be the beat reporter on the Gore campaign."
Sunday morning the former Clinton enabler, who worked to twice elect Gore the Vice President, narrated a taped piece for This Week about a focus group session conducted by a Democratic pollster with New Hampshire Democrats about their feelings toward Gore and Bradley. Sunday night World News Tonight aired a taped story by Stephanopoulos about Bradley's challenge in the polls to Gore.
This all follows Stephanopoulos serving many mornings as he sole political analyst on GMA and conducting GMA's interview with Bradley.
Bias blast from the past. This Friday Gwen Ifill assumes the moderator slot on PBS's Washington Week in Review. To close this past Friday's show moderator Paul Duke marked the end of his days filling in, since WETA-TV canned Ken Bode, by playing highlights from the past 25 plus years.
One clip showed
three panelists in 1980 predicting who would win the presidential
election. The replies from two of the three strongly suggested that they
hoped Carter would pull it out:
It didn't work out for Nelson or Johnson. Nelson is still with the Los Angeles Times and though Johnson has left the Washington Post, hoping the conservative would lose is still being rewarded by PBS where he appears occasionally on the NewsHour.
MSNBC's Brian Williams actually raised the issue of the propriety of Terry McAuliffe's gift of $1.3 million to the Clintons to allow them to get a mortgage for the house in Chappaqua New York. As noted in the September 13 CyberAlert, the broadcast networks all ignored any questions about the deal, with CBS This Morning host Thalia Assuras wondering if the Clinton will attend bake sales in town.
But on last
Thursday's The News with Brian Williams on MSNBC, the anchor of the same
name raised the issue during an interview with White House Press Secretary
Joe Lockhart. MRC analyst Mark Drake caught this question from Williams on
the September 23 show:
Sam live online. Sam Donaldson is off the White House beat and off 20/20,
though he will remain on This Week, but you can still see him on weekdays
-- via computer. Starting today Sam Donaldson will host a three times per
week news show on abcnews.com. Here's how ABC News plugs it on their Web
Just when it became safe to turn on ABC News all but one hour a week and be assured you wouldn't see Sam, ABC makes him available 24 hours a day via streaming video. Actually, Sam is a lot fairer than his reputation so maybe he'll produce a show more balanced than World News Tonight. Maybe. -- Brent Baker
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