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CBS Revises the Reagans

If Ronald Reagan were still in his prime, presidential 1980s form, he'd be saying to Hollywood: "There you go again."

There are two kinds of films about presidents. There are documentaries which usually try to dwell in factual examination; and fictional movies which have a habit of wildly making things up to satisfy the demands of making either effective entertainment, or effective propaganda.

Now CBS is preparing a dramatic and quite fictional miniseries for November titled "The Reagans." CBS promised reporters it would be "meticulously researched." Researched fiction, that is. The last Reagan-fictionalizing offender was Showtime, whose 2001 film on "The Day Reagan Was Shot" was denounced by Dick Allen, Reagan's first national security adviser, as a parade of invented "history" that never happened, like Reagan aides James Baker and Michael Deaver urging surgeons to lie about Reagan's condition. Hollywood should never call its historical fiction "meticulously researched." Rather, they should be forced to carry a disclaimer at the bottom of the screen saying "We made some of this stuff up."

Half of our dismay at this messy crossroads of entertainment and propaganda should be directed at Hollywood, which should be greeted with a shaker of salt every time a movie is "Based On a True Story." The other half should be directed as history-challenged Americans, those who could watch hysterical "history" films like Oliver Stone's "JFK" and actually swallow the nonsense. To those Americans who get their history from the movies (and their news from the late-night comedians), we can only plead: read a book, or a newspaper, or else please don't bother to vote.

America needs to remember the lessons that the leadership of Ronald Reagan taught us, but no one should expect those lessons to come from leftist Hollywood. Jim Rutenberg at the New York Times got a preview of the script for "The Reagans" and noted the script mentions nothing about the historic economic recovery of the 1980s or America's delivery from Jimmy Carter. It was somehow missed by those meticulous researchers.

What's worse in this film are what the producers and writers are "adding" to the historical record. Rutenberg noted that the writer creates a conversation between Reagan and his agent during the Hollywood years about offering the names of communists to Congress, in which fake-Reagan declares "I've never called anybody a commie who wasn't a commie." In real life, Reagan denied doing that, although he did cooperate with FBI investigations. This is a good thing, even if Hollywood will never catch a glimpse of Reagan's moral vision: an unemployed communist screenwriter is hardly a historical atrocity compared to communists starving millions in the Ukraine.

The Times also reported that the script accuses Reagan of not mere apathy in facing the outbreak of AIDS, but of "asserting that AIDS patients essentially deserved their disease." During a scene in which his wife pleads with him to help people battling AIDS, fake-Reagan says, "They that live in sin shall die in sin" and refuses to discuss the issue further. This is not only fake history, but terrible Christianity. We are all sinners, and we all die requiring the grace of a forgiving God.

This is where Rutenberg's script scoop is a little short on context. Why would Reagan be portrayed as a death-wisher? The producers of "The Reagans" are Craig Zadan and Neal Meron, who've been instrumental in bringing TV revivals of classic musicals to television for Disney. They are also openly gay activists who will be honored in Hollywood next March with an award at the "Building Equality" dinner from the gay-left lobby called the Human Rights Campaign.

In 1995, Zadan and Meron produced another "historical" film for television with their pal Barbra Streisand called "Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story," with Glenn Close playing the lesbian military nurse who came out of the closet and defied the Pentagon's "homophobia." This movie did not invent nasty doings or sayings to cast Cammermeyer in a negative light. On the contrary, this was uplifting propaganda. Amazon.com reminds us that the script "captures the sad irony of doing everything right - serving one's country, taking care of the people in one's life - yet still being treated like a pariah for entirely irrational reasons."

Inquiring minds should also remember that CBS chief Les Moonves won't be making any Clinton-bashing TV movies. In fact, in 1996, Bill Clinton talked Moonves into making "A Child's Wish," a heart-tugging propaganda film dramatizing the wonders of his Family and Medical Leave Act. Clinton even made an appearance in the movie as himself. Nobody said those fictional "history" movies can't be very political. And very dishonest.