Philly Reporter Explores Media 'Myths' in New Reagan Book
By Joe Strupp - E & P
Published: March 12, 2009
Ronald Reagan left office 20 years ago, and he died nearly five years ago. So why did longtime Philadelphia Daily News blogger/writer Will Bunch choose now to release a book seeking to debunk the "myths" of his presidency?
Bunch, who has been at the paper more than 13 years and blogs at the paper's popular Attytood site, says he got fed up with the 2008 Republican presidential candidates citing certain "myths" about Reagan " with the media often going along for the ride. "The very first Republican debate of the campaign was in May 2007, and it was held at the Reagan Library," recalls Bunch. He believes that location "influenced a lot of the questions at that debate and it became a broader theme for the campaign " the thought being that Ronald Reagan was the personification of a candidate, as opposed to [other issues] like what should we do about subprime mortgages and Afghanistan."
His book, Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts our Future (Free Press, 2009), which has gained wide attention and sales, takes on several myths about Reagan and sets them straight, while also noting how Reagan's tenure and impact have been both distorted and used to help the GOP put forth a positive agenda. "When you start there and look backward, you see how this happened," Bunch says about using the 2008 campaign as a launching point for his views, and moving back through history. "There was a much more calculated effort to make the canonization of Ronald Reagan conceivable."
He adds that press coverage, even from the first Reagan inauguration, was timid on numerous points. He says a fear of being seen as liberal in a post-Jimmy Carter era was part of it. "He was not given a free ride, but he was not challenged very much," Bunch says. "They also never really experienced a president like Reagan, who was an actor an could put on an event with strong background."
Bunch, 50, points to the reaction to Reagan' s 2004 death, when numerous efforts were made to name things after him, including the Washington, D.C., airport, and "this push to get something named after him in every county," Bunch recalls, citing the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project.
When Reagan died, Bunch contends the press offered minimal mention of issues like Iran-Contra and overly praised his legacy. He cites a San Jose Mercury News story that called him one of the most popular presidents of the century. "That is not backed up at all," Bunch says. "When he was president, his average approval rating was 52%," less, for example, than Bill Clinton's. He also points to CBS backpedaling on its 2003 Reagan miniseries after conservatives criticized the docudrama: "It was by all accounts a fair and accurate portrayal."
Bunch says newspapers, for the most part, struck a better "balance" during his administration and after his death than other media. But challenges remain today: "The Reagan myth still rings for at least 37 Republican senators and 188 GOP House members, and it's echoed by a lazy inside-the-Beltway press corps that came of age during the halcyon days of the 1980s and remains falsely convinced that America is a center-right nation, despite a slew of polls and election results to the contrary."
He concludes: "History matters. To set a new economic course for America, Democrats including the Obama administration won' t just have to win the daily news-cycle wars of the present. They will need to dig deeper, and recapture the past as well."