CBS Caves In to the Right

Cancellation of “The Reagans” hinged on scenes of a president joking about AIDS

In 1987, as then President Ronald Reagan was set to sign an arms treaty with the Soviet Union, a right wing hawk who opposed the treaty denounced Reagan as a “useful idiot for Soviet propaganda.”

Today, we may safely call the higher ups at Viacom, the parent company of CBS, useful idiots for right wing spin about the Reagan presidency. Facing criticism from conservatives about “The Reagans,” a two-part mini-series that was to run on CBS on November 16 and 18, Viacom capitulated and announced that it had canceled the program.

It may run on Showtime, another Viacom property, next year.

One scene, with Reagan saying of people with AIDS “They that live in sin shall die in sin,” has been cut. That line incensed the right wingers who have been re-writing the history of the Reagan presidency for years. They have insisted that the Gipper, as that vile man is called, had compassion for people with AIDS. Let’s look at the record.

In “Dutch,” a Reagan biography, Edmund Morris wrote, “My research cards have him finding it a fit subject for humor as late as December 1986, and five months after that waxing biblical in his opinion that ‘maybe the Lord brought down this plague’ because ‘illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments.’”

In a 1987 “issues lunch,” Reagan decided that quarantining people with AIDS was, for the moment, too draconian a step. “Not unless the problem gets to be really important,” Morris quotes Reagan saying.

In Reagan’s first speech on AIDS––his first term started in early 1981 and the speech came in 1987––he opened with a joke about a wealthy man who is asked why he hasn’t given more to charity, according to “And the Band Played On” by the late Randy Shilts. The wealthy man says he has a sick mother and brother and adds, “I don’t give them any money. Why should I give any to you?”

This was Reagan’s way of saying that he was stiffing all social spending, not just AIDS funding. The joke fell flat. By the time the speech was delivered, 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with AIDS and 20,849 had died from the disease.

Don’t think that Reagan’s dislike of people with AIDS was limited to gay men and injecting drug users in the U.S. That bastard didn’t give a damn about people with AIDS anywhere. In that 1987 “issues lunch,” according to Morris, Reagan said, “I saw a TV show on AIDS in Africa the other day––they spread it there like the common cold.”

Reagan certainly acted on his shabby feelings. In 1987, the World Health Organization convened a meeting on AIDS in London. The most senior health officials from 148 nations attended with one exception.

“Still not wishing to give AIDS a priority status, the Reagan administration sent Dr. Robert Windom, who ranked two notches down the power ladder from the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Otis Bowen,” Laurie Garrett wrote in “The Coming Plague.”

Reagan’s legacy includes much more than an epidemic that went unaddressed for nearly a decade. Reagan created the blueprint for the current Bush administration’s lies about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. He lied about the threat posed by the Soviet Union to justify a U.S. military build up.

The Bush borrow-and-spend policies that will result in roughly $7 trillion in federal debt by the end of next year started in the Reagan administration. The federal debt went from $930 billion to $2.6 trillion under Reagan.

That debt was created, in part, by tax cuts that favored the richest Americans just like the Bush tax cuts.

CBS issued a statement after caving in to the right wing whiners and complainers.

“Although the mini-series features impressive production values and acting performances, and although the producers have sources to verify each scene in the script, we believe it does not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagans for CBS and its audience,” it read.

From what I have seen about the series I must agree. It is much too kind to Ronald Reagan.

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