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Hits Reagan Warts

   Wednesday, June 9, 2004 10:42 a.m. EDT

Rather, Brokaw, Journos Preparing to Hit Reagan Warts

   Journalists who bashed and trashed Ronald Reagan during the 1980s are biting their tongues this week amidst the outpouring of love and affection toward the GOP icon from a grateful nation.

   But the cease-fire won't last long, judging by the comments of major network new anchors Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings yesterday.

   Rather told the Philadelphia Inquirer the weeklong commemoration of Reagan's life was journalistic overkill and hinted that he was anxious to return to stories he thought were more important, such as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

   "Even though everybody is respectful and wants to pay homage to the president, life does go on," he groused. "There is other news, like the reality of Iraq. It got very short shrift this weekend."

   The CBS newsman blamed "herd journalism" for the media's fixation on Reagan.

   NBC's Tom Brokaw suggested that the media's current presentation of the Reagan legacy was far too positive, noting that while Reagan "was a beloved American leader ... at the same time our journalistic obligation is to put his whole life and his political career in context."

   He told the Inquirer that a single day's worth of tribute to Reagan would have been enough. After that, it was time to examine "scandals" like "Iran-contra [and] his failure to recognize early on the AIDS epidemic."

   ABC's Peter Jennings concurred, telling the Inquirer, "If we waited for the president to be buried before doing a critical analysis, the world would move on quite a bit."

   Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz seemed to agree that the focus on Reagan was too much, noting during an online chat on Tuesday, "Nixon got two or three days of very heavy coverage, but nothing like this weeklong, nonstop extravaganza."

   "If you were too young to remember Reagan and just tuned in since Saturday," he contended, "you'd have very little idea that he was a controversial figure with legions of detractors as well as admirers."

   Longtime Reagan watcher and Post reporter Lou Cannon said Reagan critics could look forward to new ammunition to use against their nemesis.

   In a separate online chat, Cannon said that still sealed documents on Reagan's presidency will be released in the coming years, noting that "what is revealed in these documents may again change our opinions."

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