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Nets Highlight Fears Conservative Pressure Intimidated CBS --11/5/2003


1. Nets Highlight Fears Conservative Pressure Intimidated CBS
ABC's Peter Jennings made it seem as if CBS's The Reagans just wasn't positive enough for conservatives, saying CBS cancelled it "when word got around that it may not have been as faithful to the Reagan story as some conservatives wanted it to be." NBC's Mike Taibbi worried not about CBS's misdeeds with such a disrespectful movie, but about "which program and which network will be targeted next?" CBS's Jerry Bowen, after clips from two conservatives, turned to a bunch of those upset by CBS's decision, including Tom Daschle who accused conservatives of "intimidation" and James Brolin's manager, who charged: "We seem to be in a very oppressive era..." Bowen argued those disturbed by the Reagan portrayal are hypocrites since they didn't object to Showtime's September movie about President Bush "that also used fictionalized dialogue."

2. CNBC's Williams on Ire Over Movie: "Dangerous" and "Extortion"
CNBC's Brian Williams painted conservatives as the bad guys, an intimidating force which suppressed the free speech of CBS and the artistic community. He characterized CBS's decision, following the conservative complaints, as "dangerous" and a reaction to "extortion." Williams asked rhetorically: "Did CBS cave to political pressure to cancel a controversial miniseries on the Reagans?" Williams lamented the supposed assault on free speech: "So is it hyperbolic to say, you know, when we give all these speeches about freedom in the United States, you can go ahead and stretch your artistic freedom, make a movie about whatever you wish as long as it doesn't cross a certain political or societal group?"

3. Gibson: Threat to "Artistic Freedom," Reagan Was Slow on AIDS
ABC's Charles Gibson on Tuesday morning approached the Reagan movie controversy from the assumption that those concerned about it were encroaching on "artistic freedom," he was befuddled by all the fuss over it given how other Presidents have been poorly portrayed in previous movies and he contended that while the exact quote credited to Reagan about AIDS may have been made up, it accurately conveyed Reagan's disinterest in the disease. Gibson pressed Michael Reagan: "A lot of people feel, for instance, that your dad was slow to recognize the AIDS crisis, that it had festered for quite a period of time before he addressed it. So if you fictionalize that, is that necessarily wrong?"

4. "If Hitler Had More Friends, CBS Wouldn't Have Aired It Either"
One TV critic was quite disgusted with CBS even contemplating dumping its The Reagans mini-series after complaints from conservatives. In Tuesday's Washington Post, Philadelphia Daily News TV critic Ellen Gray grumbled to Post television reporter Lisa de Moraes: "If Hitler had more friends, CBS wouldn't have aired [its Hitler miniseries] either."


Nets Highlight Fears Conservative Pressure
Intimidated CBS

MRC President L. Brent Bozell III The three broadcast network evening newscasts all ran full stories on Tuesday night about Viacom's decision to drop The Reagans mini-series from CBS this month and air it next year on its Showtime cable movie channel. The ABC and CBS stories featured a soundbite from MRC President Brent Bozell.

Though Brian Rooney's story alluded to conservative objections about how the movie made up derogatory things about Ronald and Nancy Reagan, ABC anchor Peter Jennings made it seem as if it just wasn't positive enough for conservatives, saying CBS cancelled it "when word got around that it may not have been as faithful to the Reagan story as some conservatives wanted it to be."

NBC's Mike Taibbi concluded by worrying not about CBS's misdeeds in producing such a disrespectful movie, but about how "industry observers are asking today, which program and which network will be targeted next?"

CBS's Jerry Bowen, after clips from Bozell and an RNC representative, turned his attention to a bunch of those upset by CBS's decision, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle who accused conservatives of using "intimidation," Martin Kaplan of USC's Annenberg School who insisted that "there's a well-organized conservative movement in this country that's in charge of its version of the truth, and they swing a big bat," and Jeff Wald, the manager for actor James Brolin who played Ronald Reagan, who charged: "We seem to be in a very oppressive era where they can censor something before they even see it."

Bowen then concluded by arguing that those disturbed by the Reagan portrayal are hypocrites since they didn't object to Showtime's September movie about President Bush, a production liberals saw as too positive toward Bush: "It's no small irony that the groups complaining now had no problems with another recent Showtime docu-drama that also used fictionalized dialogue, but that was a different President in a different time: President Bush in the days after September 11th."

But there's no hypocrisy since no one is maintaining that a docu-drama must avoid any fictionalized lines about events and views which match what really occurred, just that any production should not make up derogatory things in order to create a disrespectful and distorted portrait, which is what The Reagans seemed to do. As the MRC's Bozell said in ABC's story, "Every administration has its warts. Ronald Reagan had his as well. But what happened in this film was that the producers invented things about him."

The full text of the ABC, CBS and NBC stories from Wednesday night, November 4.

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings set up the final story of his broadcast: "Finally this evening, CBS and the Reagans -- and in fairness, it could have been any network that got itself into hot water -- when it decided to make a mini-series about the former President and Mrs. Reagan while he is still alive. And when word got around that it may not have been as faithful to the Reagan story as some conservatives wanted it to be. Well, CBS has pulled the plug."

Brian Rooney began from Los Angeles: "The two-part movie portrays the former President sometimes sympathetically, but also as callous, mean, or even childish."
Movie scene of Ronald Reagan grabbing Nancy: "Come here Mommy. You want to marry me?"
Rooney, over video of her screaming: "Former First Lady Nancy Reagan is played as something else entirely."
Nancy to two men: "From now on you don't just call the President to tell him what's happening. You call me!"
Rooney: "The release of a preview reel, and leaks of the script, set of a flurry on cable talk shows."
Bill O'Reilly on FNC: "The stuff I saw was so over the top Saturday Night Live would have rejected it. There's Reagan calling a subordinate a 'sonofabitch'; there's Nancy telling Patty Davis 'there'll be no blue jeans in the White House.' I mean, what is this? The Brady Bunch?"
William Bennett on MSNBC's Hardball: "Shame on them. I mean, when does it stop?"
Chris Matthews: "Well, you know, when it starts, when a person is dead or can't sue back."
Bennett: "I guess."
Rooney: "Then the Republican National Committee, and the conservative media watchdog, jumped in to defend President Reagan."
Brent Bozell, Media Research Center: "Every administration has its warts. Ronald Reagan had his as well. But what happened in this film was that the producers invented things about him. This is a man who's dying of Alzheimer's right now and doesn't deserve to be slammed the way he was slammed."
Rooney: "In a statement today, CBS said it pulled the movie not because of criticism but because the network didn't like the final cut, quote, 'although the producers have sources to verify each scene in the script, we believe it does not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagans."
Professor Robert Thompson, Syracuse University television historian: "There's going to be a battle cry 'Remember the Reagans' that's going to be like 'Remember the Alamo.' The idea is we got the Reagans off the air, now let's see what we can get off the air next."
Rooney concluded: "In Hollywood bad previews can send a movie direct to the video store. Washington politics have sent The Reagans straight to cable."

-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather introduced the story about his own network: "The CBS television network has been under fire for weeks from admirers of Ronald Reagan who labeled as unfair, a television miniseries entitled, 'The Reagans.' Today, CBS announced it will not air that series after all, it will be aired elsewhere. And that set off an uproar. Jerry Bowen has the 'Inside Story.'"

Jerry Bowen began, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "The four-hour miniseries, scheduled to air on CBS during this month's big ratings period, depicted Nancy Reagan as controlling:"
Nancy Reagan in movie: "And from now on, you don't just call the President to tell him what's happening! You call me!"
Bowen: "President Reagan at times confused:"
Ronald Reagan in movie: "What's your name?"
Man: "I'm Robert McFarlane."
Bowen: "And was knocked off the network by a leaked script and eight-minute video clip that fueled conservative outrage."
Brent Bozell, identified on screen as "conservative media watchdog": "CBS invented things out of whole cloth which defamed the man."
Bowen: "Among other things, conservatives complained about scenes showing Reagan swearing and indifferent to AIDS patients. In recent days, several Web sites urged viewers to voice strong opposition to the hatchet job."
Michael Reagan, son of Ronald Reagan: "It's an interpretation from, I think, the Hollywood left of how they've always seen my father."
Bowen: "CBS network declined interview requests, but in a statement, said the show 'does not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagans for CBS and its audience.' It will now air on the cable channel Showtime which, like CBS, is owned by Viacom. Media analysts say CBS didn't just blink, it buckled."
Robert Thompson, Syracuse University media analyst: "I think CBS may have realized if this really goes to the mat and we start having to be perceived as the big bad network going up against the frail former President, that's not a position we want to be in."
Bowen: "Still not good enough, say conservative critics."
Jim Dyke, Republican National Committee: "I don't know that misinforming fewer viewers on Showtime solves the problem."
Bowen: "Special interest politics at work, said Senate Minority Leader Daschle."
Tom Daschle, Senate Minority Leader: "We have to call into question whether that level of intimidation is appropriate."
Bowen: "Some analysts contend the conservative pressure is part of the nation's ongoing culture war."
Martin Kaplan, USC Annenberg School: "There's a well-organized conservative movement in this country that's in charge of its version of the truth, and they swing a big bat."
Bowen: "James Brolin, who plays Reagan, wasn't talking, but his manager was."
Jeff Wald, James Brolin's manager: "And we seem to be in a very oppressive era where they can censor something before they even see it."
Bowen concluded: "It's no small irony that the groups complaining now had no problems with another recent Showtime docu-drama that also used fictionalized dialogue, but that was a different President in a different time: President Bush in the days after September 11th. Jerry Bowen, CBS News, Los Angeles."


-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw set up NBC's take: "Under intense pressure from conservatives, and accused of trying to rewrite history, the CBS television network today announced it will not broadcast a four-hour miniseries, 'The Reagans,' later this month, shifting it instead to the Showtime cable network. Why did CBS decide to dump the series? Did it cave in to those conservative critics, or was it, as CBS insists, something else? Here's NBC's Mike Taibbi."

Mike Taibbi, in Los Angeles, began: "Scenes from the CBS movie, 'The Reagans,' that the real Reagans wouldn't want you to see: a controlling First Lady, Nancy."
Nancy Reagan in movie: "You don't just call the President to tell him what's happening! You call me!"
Taibbi: "The 40th President struggling for control."
Ronald Reagan in movie: "What's your name?"
Robert McFarlane in movie: "Robert McFarlane. I'm your national security advisor."
Taibbi: "Even though conservatives knew liberal Barbara Streisand's husband, James Brolin, was playing the President, no one had seen excerpts from the movie when the controversy began. Instead, it was a few lines from the script published in the New York Times two weeks ago that ignited the wrath of Reagan loyalists, especially one line even the screen writers admit was invented, Reagan saying of AIDS patients, 'They that live in sin shall die in sin.'"
Michael Reagan, son of Ronald Reagan: "To put those kind of words in his mouth really began me going public and others going public."
Taibbi, standing in front of CBS Television City: "The others included conservative columnists and talk radio hosts whose legions of fans bombarded CBS with complaining e-mails and urged CBS's advertisers to stay away from the Reagan movie. Last week, more pressure. A letter from Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie to CBS President Leslie Moonves, basically saying, 'Make this film historically accurate or clearly label it fiction.' The answer from CBS: 'Although the producers have sources to verify each scene in the script, we believe it does not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagans."
Leslie Moonves, CBS Chairman and CEO, on CNBC October 29: "There are things we like about the movie. There are things we don't like about the movie. There are things we think go too far."
Taibbi: "And for that reason, not the snowballing controversy, CBS said, the movie was pulled from the schedule. Media watcher Marty Kaplan says, 'Baloney, CBS is losing millions in ad revenue from a potential sweeps blockbuster to avoid losing many more millions down the line.'"
Marty Kaplan: "The down side could include boycotts. It could include the kind of civic pressure that organized groups on talk radio and other places could bring to bear on them."
Taibbi concluded with an ominous question: "Another possible factor in CBS's decision, Kaplan says, Reagan is still alive, 92 and stricken with Alzheimer's, unable to defend himself. Still, industry observers are asking today, which program and which network will be targeted next? Mike Taibbi, NBC News, Los Angeles."

CNBC's Williams on Ire Over Movie: "Dangerous"
and "Extortion"

Conservatives see themselves as upholding integrity and honesty in calling CBS on its distorted and derogatory portrayal of the Reagans, but CNBC's Brian Williams painted conservatives as the bad guys, an intimidating force which suppressed the free speech rights of CBS and the artistic community. He characterized CBS's decision, following the conservative complaints, as "dangerous" and a reaction to "extortion."

Williams plugged his Tuesday night The News with Brian Williams story by framing it around this question: "Did CBS cave to political pressure to cancel a controversial miniseries on the Reagans?" He later referred to "the mostly Republican pressure groups who've been saying it offers an unbalanced view of the former President. No one's seen the movie yet, mind you, but CBS has taken it off its schedule nonetheless."

Interviewing former Reagan adviser Michael Deaver, Williams demanded to know of what happened in CBS giving in to conservative concerns: "Is it dangerous?" Williams followed up: "People who make motion pictures regard themselves as working in an art form, and that's why I ask if this is good precedent or not?"

Next, Williams turned to Michael Wolff of New York magazine: "Do you believe what has happened here with this mini-series on CBS amounts to extortion?" Wolff agreed withe the sentiment: "Certainly capitulation." Williams proceeded to lament the supposed assault of free speech: "So is it hyperbolic to say, you know, when we give all these speeches about freedom in the United States, you can go ahead and stretch your artistic freedom, make a movie about whatever you wish as long as it doesn't cross a certain political or societal group?" Wolff: "Absolutely. If the group is well-organized and there is no group as well-organized as the right wing in America at this point in time, you're going to be in big trouble."

"Well-organized"? The MRC made its complaints on its own without consulting or working with anyone else.

And the left has a "well-organized" team: The movie and specials division of CBS Entertainment.

Williams also obsessed over the movie JFK, asking both guests about it. To Deaver: "How does this differ, Mike, from say, Oliver Stone's movie 'JFK' that was just a wholesale rewriting of that story in many ways?"

But JFK was widely criticized for its historic inaccuracies and distortions. And it didn't deride John F. Kennedy in its conspiratorial tales about the "intelligence community."

Williams teased at the top of his November 4 hour, as transcribed by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth: "The backlash over a movie no one has seen. Under pressure, CBS cancels its miniseries on the Reagans. Tonight, who gets to decide if a television network can air a movie or not? Did CBS knuckle under in the midst of a political fight?"

A later plug: "Still ahead, did CBS cave to political pressure to cancel a controversial miniseries on the Reagans? We'll have the background and be joined here by Mr. Reagan's former deputy chief of staff Mike Deaver and media columnist and author Michael Wolff. And now it has a name, 'Banner-gate.' Why won't the person who created and put up that sign step forward and take credit, or is it blame?"

Williams set up the eventual segment: "We are back, and what a story this is becoming. CBS says its decision not to run a miniseries on the Reagans, and to air it on cable instead, has nothing to do with the mostly Republican pressure groups who've been saying it offers an unbalanced view of the former President. No one's seen the movie yet, mind you, but CBS has taken it off its schedule nonetheless. It was scheduled to air during the November period when ratings are measured. Instead, the network received a harsh lesson in politics. It seems you don't mess with the man widely credited by millions of Americans with ending the Cold War and them some. Before we talk with media critic Michael Wolff and Reagan White House aide Mike Deaver, some background tonight from NBC's Mike Taibbi."

Following the same Taibbi story which aired on the NBC Nightly News (see item #1 above), Williams posed his first question to Deaver: "Mike, what do you make of all of this. If you could take your political hat off and view this purely as precedent, is it dangerous?"
Deaver: "Well, no, and I take exception with one thing you said, 'It was largely Republican criticism.' I don't think CBS would have taken it off if had been just Republican. I heard from a lot of people that weren't Republicans. And you've got to remember there are millions of people whose families are affected by Alzheimer's who thought this was very unfair to be attacking somebody who couldn't talk back."

Gibson: Threat to "Artistic Freedom,"
Reagan Was Slow on AIDS

ABC's Charles Gibson on Tuesday morning approached the Reagan movie controversy from the assumption that those concerned about it were encroaching on "artistic freedom," he was befuddled by all the fuss over it given how other Presidents have been poorly portrayed in previous movies and he contended that while the exact quote credited to Reagan about AIDS may have been made up, it accurately conveyed Reagan's lack of caring about the disease.

On Good Morning America, Gibson asked Michael Reagan: "Your dad comes, came from the Hollywood community, and he knows what the issues of artistic freedom are. How do you think he'd react?"

Recalling past movies about Presidents, Gibson inquired: "Is a different standard being applied?" Gibson argued: "A lot of people feel, for instance, that your dad was slow to recognize the AIDS crisis, that it had festered for quite a period of time before he addressed it. So if you fictionalize that, is that necessarily wrong?"

Gibson set up the November 4 Good Morning America segment, as taken down by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson: "We're going to start this half hour with the fury of criticism that has erupted over 'The Reagans,' CBS's made-for-TV movie about the ex-President and Nancy Reagan, and this furor is continuing this morning. Now, recent films about former Presidents, like Nixon and Kennedy and Johnson, have painted portraits that many found unrealistic and unflattering. So why the uproar over this one? Here's ABC's Brian Rooney."

Rooney began: "The life and love of Ronald and Nancy Reagan is the stuff of legend, but CBS television got in trouble making the Reagans the stuff of fiction. People who have seen clips of the movie or claim to have seen the script say CBS portrays Reagan as a lightweight who was afraid of homosexuals and had a childish, puppy love for his wife. Advance word of the Reagan movie has made headlines in the entertainment press and raised the volume on conservative talk shows."
William Bennett: "Shame on them. I mean, when does it stop?"
Chris Matthews: "Well, you know, when it starts, when a person is dead or can't sue back"
Bill O'Reilly: "There's Reagan calling a subordinate a 'sonofabitch'; there's Nancy telling Patty Davis 'there'll be no blue jeans in the White House.' I mean, what is this? The Brady Bunch?"
Rooney contended: "Unfavorable portrayals of former Presidents are not unusual: Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon. But some say it's unfair to slam Ronald Reagan as he's dying and unable to defend himself. A particular sore point to some is a line attributed to the movie in the which the Reagan character callously says about gay people dying of AIDS, 'they that live in sin shall die in sin.' A Web site called boycottcbs.com was opened by a Washington DC man to protest the movie."
Mike Paranzino: "This is inserting false lines into their mouths to make them appear to be vile people, and that is part of the reason that people are so furious and are bombarding our Web site and signing up to join this movement."
Rooney: "The staunchly Democrat singer-director Barbra Streisand has jumped into the fray because her husband, James Brolin, plays Reagan. On her Web site, Streisand says, 'The Republicans who deify President Reagan cannot stand that some of the more unpleasant truths about his character and presidency might be depicted in the movie.' What CBS might do with the Reagan series is a tough question. In Hollywood, a theatrical dud sometimes gets released direct to video. The problem with a television movie is that it already is video."

Gibson then interviewed Michael Reagan by satellite: "And joining us this morning is Michael Reagan, one of President Reagan's children and a conservative talk show host. Michael, good to have you back with us."
Michael Reagan: "Good to be with you, Charlie."
Gibson: "Brian Rooney mentioned that some people have seen excerpts or looked at the script. Have you seen the excerpts?"
Reagan: "Yes, I have. I've seen eight minutes of what's actually in the show itself and it was just really appalling to sit there and watch it and see my dad in a way that I have never seen him. And in the setup that Brian Rooney was doing, the fact that Barbra Streisand saying [sic] on her Web site that this is, you know, people should see Ronald Reagan the way he should be depicted, the way she sees Ronald Reagan, the way she's always seen Ronald Reagan, not the way the world has seen my father."
Gibson: "And has Nancy Reagan seen the clips and the excerpts?"
Reagan: "Yes. As a matter of fact, I gave her my copy of the clips and then I got 'em back because I want her to see exactly, you know, what they were doing. In fact, what I said to Nancy was very simple. I said, 'They don't like dad, but they hate you because of the way you were depicted, you know, in the show, you know, basically running the White House, running everything in Washington DC,' which is absolutely absurd."
Gibson: Michael, your dad comes, came from the Hollywood community, and he knows what the issues of artistic freedom are. How do you think he'd react?"
Reagan: "I think he'd be upset because there would be words being put in his mouth, because we're talking about a man who's President of the United States here, who was governor of the state of California for eight years, President of the United States for eight years, ended the Cold War, and what have you, and to put words in his mouth. What you know about Ronald Reagan is, Charlie, his compassion. You take away the compassion when you put words in his mouth about the gay community, that he would say, 'those that live by the sin should die by the sin.' Another thing you know about my father is his Godliness, how close his relationship truly is with God, and then to have him say -- if I could say it on your show -- to have him say in the piece to Nancy, 'Shut up, goddammit!' is absolutely absurd to me. I've never seen my dad that upset, that mad with anybody, and to use God's name in vain in that way is another thing that's just an absurdity in this show. I have never seen my father mad."
Gibson countered: "But Michael, as Brian pointed out, there have been depictions of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and Lyndon Johnson I mentioned, and -- who am I forgetting? -- John F. Kennedy, oh, and Nixon and Johnson, okay. There have been depictions of all of them in movies that were fictionalized and their characters altered in some ways. Is a different standard being applied, do you think?"
Reagan: "No, there's not a different standard, not a different standard at all. I mean, since that inception, there's been talk radio, us in talk radio, conservative talk radio, have been able to talk about it, but the Kennedys were not happy with the movie on the Kennedys, the Nixons weren't happy with the movie on the Nixons, how he was depicted, and their voice maybe wasn't as loud as ours, but Ronald Reagan, there's a huge difference here. You know, a man who ended the Cold War is an icon to the world, not just us in conservative talk radio, and my father, I'm going to stand up for my dad. My dad, Charlie, can't stand up and fight his battle right now, but I can stand up and fight the battle for him. You know, he did a lot for me as a father. I'm going to do it back for him as a son."
Gibson: "Well, let me play devil's advocate here for a minute, because there are a lot of people who feel -- now, the quote is an inflammatory one that you mentioned about AIDS and that Brian mentioned."
Reagan: "Yes."
Gibson: "But a lot of people feel, for instance, that your dad was slow to recognize the AIDS crisis, that it had festered for quite a period of time before he addressed it. So if you fictionalize that, is that necessarily wrong?"
Reagan: "Charlie, there's a big difference between being slow -- and remember, we're talking slow, the people in the gay community believed that he was slow -- and that's a big leap from being slow to, in fact, saying that 'those that live by the sin should die by the sin,' and wanting these people to die when my father, himself, has written checks to the AIDS community to try and find a cure, where the AIDS community receives more money from the federal government than at any time in history, beginning with Ronald Reagan, once he knew what the problem was."
Gibson: "So should they pull it, Michael, in your opinion? Just not broadcast it?"
Reagan: "Be honest. The thing is, Charlie, be honest about it, just be honest. Show Ronald Reagan for what he is, show what the country was like before he became President of the United States, show the goodness and the heart of Ronald Reagan. What they've done is try and strip the heart of Ronald Reagan away. The great thing about my father is his big heart."
Gibson: "Would it make difference if they took it off CBS and put it on cable?"
Reagan: "Listen, we're going to talk about it because we're going to stand up for my father. They can put it cable, they can put it anywhere they want to put it. The reality of it is so much of it is a lie and not the Ronald Reagan that we know. It's the Ronald Reagan only the Hollywood Left knows because that's the way they want to see him."

"If Hitler Had More Friends, CBS Wouldn't
Have Aired It Either"

One TV critic was quite disgusted with CBS even contemplating dumping its The Reagans mini-series after complaints from conservatives. In Tuesday's Washington Post, Philadelphia Daily News TV critic Ellen Gray grumbled to Post television reporter Lisa de Moraes: "If Hitler had more friends, CBS wouldn't have aired [its Hitler miniseries] either."

For de Moraes' November 4 column: www.washingtonpost.com

If Reagan had more friends in Hollywood, the entire fiasco with CBS's The Reagans would have been avoided, saving CBS a lot of embarrassment.

-- Brent Baker