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Former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and continued in the position under President George H.W. Bush, says media outlets have been too wary in their coverage of Republican front-runner Donald Trump. Thornburgh also threw cold water on conservatives' comparisons of Trump to Reagan, saying the analogy "falls flat."
"I'm really quite surprised that the media has treated him with kind of kid gloves," Thornburgh said in a Thursday interview with Media Matters. "They've been wary about criticizing him I think, unnecessarily so. The difference between his experience and the experience of his primary opponents, let alone to compare him to Ronald Reagan, is really not apt at all."
"I've seen enough media efforts in previous campaigns where they're able to establish some weaknesses and vulnerabilities in every candidate," he added. "And they seem to be somewhat intimidated with Trump."
In the latest episode of his ongoing feud with Fox News, Trump recently pulled out of the network's January 28 Republican primary debate. While some right-wing media figures -- particularly those on Fox News -- have criticized Trump over the decision, others have suggested his move was Reagan-esque. CNN contributor Jeffrey Lord, who served as an aide to Reagan, compared Trump skipping the debate to Reagan walking away from nuclear talks with the Soviet Union in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1986.
Thornburgh, who was serving as the Republican governor of Pennsylvania at the time, did not find the comparison compelling.
"You're talking about two different things," said Thornburgh. "You're talking about a partisan political primary debate and something of such vast international significance as those disarmament discussions, so I don't know if that is an apt analogy."
"I have a tough time drawing an analogy between Reagan and Trump. Their backgrounds are totally different," Thornburgh said. "Trump has no experience whatsoever in government, in managing large governmental operations, while Reagan was a two-term elected governor of our largest state, California. So I think that analogy falls flat."
He later added, "Reagan was not anywhere near as combative as Trump is, Reagan was a much more low-key operator. He was tough, but not to the point of being rude as Trump has been on several occasions."
Asked what he thought Reagan would make of Trump, Thornburgh said, "I don't think he'd be very pleased. One thing that Ronald Reagan always exhibited was cordiality and affability, he was a very friendly, courteous person -- characteristics I do not find in Donald Trump, quite the contrary."
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O'Reilly's Killing Books Reportedly "Considered Something Of A Joke" At Fox News
New York Magazine's Gabriel Sherman highlighted the ongoing "civil war" between Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and contributor George Will over O'Reilly's newest book, Killing Reagan, in a new report. Sherman interviewed executives at the network who call O'Reilly's books "a joke" and offered insight on a feud between Fox executives Bill Shine and Mike Clemente.
The recent feud began after Will published a November 5 Washington Post column titled, "Bill O'Reilly slanders Ronald Reagan." In the column, Will called the book "nonsensical history and execrable citizenship," with a "preposterous premise" that "should come with a warning: 'Caution -- you are about to enter a no-facts zone.'"
O'Reilly responded to Will's column later that night, calling it "libel," and challenged Will to come onto his show and attack him in person - a challenge Will accepted.
Sherman's November 9 exclusive highlighted the "civil war" currently raging at Fox, noting the distain for O'Reilly and his Killing books and how the rift has strengthened the rivalry between Mike Clemente, who oversees the news division, and Bill Shine, who oversees the prime-time shows. Both are high level executives hoping to replace Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. According to Sherman, a Fox executive also commented O'Reilly's Killing series of books are considered "something of a joke inside the network," with the executive saying, "[O'Reilly] certainly doesn't research his books":
Inside Fox, the O'Reilly-Will feud is being closely studied by executives because it is part of a larger power struggle that's taking place at the highest reaches of the organization. On opposing sides of the fault line are Clemente, who oversees news (where Will works), and executive vice-president Bill Shine, who oversees prime-time shows (where O'Reilly works). Clemente and Shine are vying to replace Ailes and are such bitter rivals that they barely speak, numerous Fox employees say. In August 2014, the rivalry intensified when Ailes put Shine in charge of the Fox Business Network. "This is some Game of Thrones shit," one insider told me. The relationship is so bad that Clemente is not involved at all in preparing for the upcoming GOP debate on Fox Business.
Shine's loyalists tell me that Clemente did not confer with Shine about Will's anti-O'Reilly column before it was published. Furthermore, they're furious at Clemente for not stopping Will from embarrassing Fox's highest-rated host in the pages of the Post. They reminded me that it was Clemente who recruited Will to Fox from ABC in 2013. One source also explained that Will received a special contributor contract with Fox that grants him editorial independence for his column (other contributors are barred from writing about Fox without permission). "He doesn't have to check with Fox," the source said.
Clemente did not comment, but his camp is firing back off the record. "Almost everyone is on team George," one said. "Everyone is snickering and thinks it's a riot." Another told me that O'Reilly's Killing series is considered something of a joke inside the network. "He certainly doesn't research his books," one executive said.
Where Ailes stands remains unclear. In the past he's been critical of O'Reilly's book-writing ventures. In my biography of Ailes, I reported Ailes told colleagues that O'Reilly is "a book salesman with a TV show." Fox News has not commented on the mess. "Roger is probably in the men's room hoping this whole thing blows over," one insider told me today. That might be wishful thinking. The rumor at Fox is that Will is preparing to write another O'Reilly column. Will did not respond to requests for comment.
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George Will: O'Reilly's Book "Should Come With A Warning: 'Caution -- You Are About To Enter A No-Facts Zone'"
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly responded to criticism from Fox contributor George Will, who called O'Reilly's newest book Killing Reagan, a "nonsensical history and execrable citizenship." O'Reilly called criticism Will's commentary "libel" and questioned his courage to face him on his show.
In a November 5 opinion piece for The Washington Post, Will criticized the book for "distort[ing]" the public's understanding of Reagan's presidency. Will writes that Killing Reagan has "two and a half pages of 'sources,'" which "unspecifically and implausibly" refer to the FBI, CIA, presidential libraries, and world travels. However, Will reported that there is no record of either O'Reilly or Dugard using the Reagan presidential library for research. The piece noted that several of Reagan's advisers, including his Secretary of State George Shultz and Chief of Staff James Baker, were not interviewed for the book. Will concluded that Killing Reagan's "perfunctory pieties about Reagan's greatness are inundated by its flood of regurgitated slanders about his supposed lassitude and manipulability. This book is nonsensical history and execrable citizenship, and should come with a warning: 'Caution -- you are about to enter a no-facts zone.'"
O'Reilly addressed Will's criticism during the final segment of his show, calling Will's column "libel" and challenging Will to appear on his show. From the November 5 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
BILL O'REILLY: George Will wrote a column entitled "Bill O'Reilly Slander's Ronald Reagan." But it is his column that is the libel.
George Will regurgitates attacks on the book from Reagan loyalists who tried to get Killing Reagan spiked even before it was published, because they wanted a deification of the president, not an honest look at him. Will never called me, even though it's not direct dial. I mean, he can just punch up a little extension and there I am, because he works at Fox News. But, even so, we harbor no ill will, pun intended, and invited George on the Factor tomorrow. We'll see if he has the courage factor.
Will is not the first to criticize O'Reilly's scholarship on Reagan. Past Reagan aides and biographers have called out O'Reilly's work in Killing Reagan, with one biographer calling the book "garbage, total B.S.," and a former Reagan national security advisor saying the book contains "plagiarism, simplicity and deception."
Reagan: "I Didn't Know My Father Was The Next One To Get Killed In Mr. O'Reilly's Universe"
Ron Reagan is discounting Bill O'Reilly's newest book, Killing Reagan, calling O'Reilly a "snake oil salesman" who doesn't care about truth.
O'Reilly's Killing Reagan, the latest in his ongoing series with co-author Martin Dugard, was released on September 22. Their previous books have repeatedly been called out for shoddy scholarship.
"Bill O'Reilly is not somebody who as far as I can tell really invests a lot of time or energy in the truth," Reagan told Media Matters in a phone interview on Monday. "He's a snake oil salesman, he's a huckster, he's a carnival barker, but that's about it. He's not a journalist. I don't consider him to be that. Is it annoying when anyone writes crap about your parents or your family members, loved ones? Yeah."
The president's son also criticized many of today's conservative commentators and presidential candidates for invoking his father's name and legacy to support their own views.
"It bothers me, yes, that they're using him for whatever purpose they have in mind," Reagan said. "They'll just take whatever idea they have and they'll just slap his name on it and hope that that just gets them over. Certainly I don't feel good about that. I don't pay all that much mind to it any more than I pay to, say, Bill O'Reilly's forays into history."
Reagan, who was 22 when his father was shot in 1981 by John Hinckley, Jr., said he was not aware of the book about the failed assassination attempt, telling Media Matters, "I didn't know my father was the next one to get killed in Mr. O'Reilly's universe."
According to Reagan, he's "not interested in his theories," so he does not plan to read O'Reilly's book.
Reagan thinks his father would have had a harsh view of prominent conservative media figures. "I can't imagine that he wouldn't have found them bigoted, homophobic and all the rest as they appear to be," he said. "I also think that he would find people like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity to be just hucksters. I don't think that he would be impressed by their sincerity or their intellect. I don't think that either one of them are really serious about what they say."
He also criticized the candidates for pandering to conservative media figures, something he says his father would not have done.
According to Reagan, "Unlike a lot of politicians today, he didn't need the imprimatur of some talk show host, he was very much his own man. He wouldn't be worrying about what Rush Limbaugh said about him."
The president's son said it's wrong for many of the Republican candidates and right-wing media figures to assume Reagan would have agreed with them.
"Most of the people who claim to be his followers have never even met him, never knew him," the junior Reagan said. "You see that a lot. Did Ted Cruz hang out with my father? I don't think so. The broader issue I think is the Republican Party now has become a very different animal than it was when my father was president. It doesn't make sense either to start bringing up my father -- who left office a quarter of a century ago -- and styling yourself as you'd like people to think after him. They're always asking themselves 'what would Ronald Reagan do?' in these circumstances and miraculously it always turns out that he would do exactly what they were intending to do; so clearly they're just using him to sort of validate whatever policy they have in mind."
He also agreed with the view of many observers that his father would not be welcomed into the Republican Party of today.
"That's true if you compare his record then with their rhetoric and policies now, it would seem that Ronald Reagan really wouldn't be a good fit," he said. "That's absolutely right. I don't see him being more conservative now than he was then. I don't see him if he had lived to be 100 and whatever continuing a progression in his politics that mirrors that of the Republican Party today -- it is a mean-spirited party.
"But more than that it's a party that's no longer a legitimate political party because it's forsaken any interest in governance. This is a party that when Obama came into office, of course, [party leaders] famously met ... and said 'we're going to oppose everything he does, even if it's things that we want to do, we're going to oppose it because the best way to get him out of office in four years is to just make it seem as if he can't do anything.' So that's what they set out to do, screw the country. They didn't care about that."
Asked about Reagan's immigration views, for example, his son said, "He had no hostility towards Latinos, Hispanics. He admired their culture, enjoyed it very much ... There was no kind of xenophobia of that type in him. He would've I'm sure said, 'we have a right to control our borders' and things like that and if there were issues with people just flooding across the border that that was something that needed to be dealt with but he was not hostile toward these people ... He would have been looking for a sensible, workable solution for this, not relying on the kind of jingoistic, bigoted stuff that you hear coming from Donald Trump and some of the others."
On gun violence, Reagan thinks his father would disapprove of how far to the right the National Rifle Association has driven the party on the issue, saying, "This is an instance where they have simply moved so far beyond him that he couldn't stomach it anymore ... I think he would see the NRA as becoming extremist and I think he would probably recognize as well, I'd like to hope so anyway, that they're really just shills for the gun industry."
Reagan also thinks his father would not have approved of Republicans' recent threats to shut down the government: "I think he'd be appalled actually at ... the idea of shutting down the government because you want to defund Planned Parenthood. What are these, children? As if government doesn't do anything good."
CNN's decision to partner with the Reagan Presidential Library to host the second GOP presidential debate means it's all but certain that media covering the event will draw comparisons between the 2016 Republican field and America's 40th president. When it comes to gun policies, at least, the difference is stark: While Reagan supported background checks, waiting periods on gun sales, and bans on assault weapons, the current GOP presidential hopefuls all hold what can only be called extreme positions on gun regulation.
Conservative media figures have often displayed indifference to the fortunes of the 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be present in the United States, claiming, for instance, that they should all be sent back to their countries or that they simply "can't be here." This attitude contrasts sharply with the empathic vision of a prominent conservative icon -- President Reagan:
"Spurious" Attacks Over Reagan Legacy
Right-wing publicist and author Craig Shirley doesn't like a new book about Ronald Reagan written by award-winning (and liberal) historian Rick Perlstein. So the conservative publicist has threatened to sue for $25 million in damages and has asked for all copies of the book to be "destroyed," claiming that with Invisible Bridge: The Fall Of Richard Nixon And The Rise of Ronald Reagan, Perlstein's guilty of plagiarism for paraphrasing facts Shirley had previously reported in his own book about Reagan.
But of course, paraphrasing is not the basis for copyright infringement and that's certainly not what constitutes plagiarism.
Reviewing the supposed examples of infringement cited by Shirley's lawyers, Jesse Walker, books editor for the libertarian Reason magazine, concludes:
Facts are not copyrightable, and one pair of similar sentences does not an infringement make. I don't see a dollar's worth of damages here, let alone 25 million.
Instead, the attack on Perlstein seems to be more about partisan politics and the clash over who gets to write the history of Reagan and less to do with allegations of misappropriating work. (Perlstein references Shirley's work in the Invisible Bridge acknowledgements and cites Shirley more than 100 times in the book's online endnotes.) Conservatives have previously showered Perlstein's conservative-movement books in praise, but, "this time Perlstein is writing about Ronald Reagan. Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan--Perlstein has moved from covering a minor saint, to a martyr, to God," as Slate's Dave Weigel explains.
Nonetheless, with an unfortunate assist from the New York Times this week, which helped legitimize the dubious plagiarism allegation via a he-said/he-said accounting of the controversy, Shirley's attention-grabbing accusation has received a wider airing. Indeed, the Times article insists Shirley's dubious claim of plagiarism effectively "casts a shadow over the release" of Invisible Bridge, which is precisely the storyline movement conservatives want to create this week. (Separately, the Times, in a glowing review, recently labeled the book an "epic work.")
The Times' misguided new coverage seemed to draw a rebuke from the paper's own Paul Krugman. Denouncing the Perlstein smear campaign as a "grotesque" "sliming," and dismissing the plagiarism charges as "spurious," Krugman stressed that in cases where professional reputations are attacked via unsubstantiated claims, "this tactic should be punctured by the press, not given momentum with "opinions differ on shape of the planet" reporting."
And that's precisely what the Times dispatch failed to do in this instance.
When news broke that William Clark, a longtime aide to Ronald Reagan, had recently passed away, several conservative media outlets quickly posted tributes to the man. Touted as the "most important and influential presidential confidante" in nearly a century, Clark was warmly remembered as a "a great treasure to the nation" and an "inspiration."
By all indications the laurels were well earned and Judge Clark, as he was known, served his country with distinction. What's telling about the warm words written about Clark are how they contrast so sharply with the tone the same type of conservative outlets use to describe current foreign policy and national security advisors who were in any way connected to the terrorist attack in Benghazi last September.
I'm referring to the strangely personal and almost hysterical way pundits have attacked Obama officials, including the president's national security advisor, in the wake of Benghazi, where four Americans were killed, including a U.S. ambassador.
For the right-wing noise machine, Benghazi trumps all. It stands as a singular failure in American foreign policy and represents one of the darkest days in recent U.S. history. It's worse than Watergate, was a bigger story than Hurricane Sandy last October, and symbolizes an unconscionable failure to protect Americans serving abroad.
But here's what's interesting about Clark's recently lauded resume when viewed against the right wing's permanent Benghazi name calling: Clark served as Reagan's national security advisor between 1982 and 1983. On April 18, 1983, Islamic terrorists attacked the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. Sixty-three people were killed, including 17 Americans, eight of whom worked for the CIA.
Five months later local terrorists struck again. During a lengthy air assault from nearby artillerymen, two Marines stationed at the Beirut airport were killed. Then on October 23, just days after Clark stepped down as national security advisor to become Secretary of the Interior, the Marines' Beirut barracks cratered after a 5-ton truck driven by a suicide bomber and carrying the equivalent of 12,000 pounds of TNT exploded outside; 241 Americans were killed, marking the deadliest single attacks on U.S. citizens overseas since World War II.
Reagan had sent 1,800 Marines to Beirut as part of a larger peacekeeping mission following the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the Palestine Liberation Organization's withdrawal from the country. But national security experts, including some members of Reagan's administration, warned that the Marines were vulnerable to attack.
In the aftermath, Col. Timothy J. Geraghty, the commander of the Marines in Beirut, said, "It didn't take a military expert to realize that our troops had been placed in an indefensible situation." Conservative columnist William Safire referred to the Beirut debacle as Reagan's "Bay of Pigs."
Conservatives have casually smeared numerous Obama officials over Benghazi for the last eleven months, yet the embassy attacks surrounding Clark's tenure as Reagan's national security adviser apparently did not blemish his long public career.
Attacking President Obama for not doing enough to lower the country's unemployment rate, Fox News' Greg Jarrett and Brenda Buttner insisted on Sunday that when faced with a similar type of economic crisis in his first term, Ronald Reagan turned around the country's job rate in just four years.
This false comparison has become a favorite Fox talking point.
BUTTNER: And Ronald Reagan in fact did in four years, took the unemployment rate way down. Bill Clinton said [at the DNC] nobody could do it in four years and he did.
JARRETT: Reagan did it. 10.8 percent down to 7 percent within four years, down to 5 percent thereafter.
Why can't Obama be more like Reagan, the Fox talkers asked. Why can't Obama deflate the unemployment rate the way Reagan did during his first term?
But look at the numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor. During Reagan's first full month in office, February 1981, the unemployment rate stood at 7.4 percent. It then rose steadily and peaked at 10.8 percent in November 1982, before falling to 7.5 percent in August 1984, as he campaigned for re-election. (Jarrett's mention of "five percent" was in reference to unemployment at the very end of Reagan's second term.)
Obama? During his first full month in office, February 2009, unemployment stood at 8.3 percent, it peaked at 10 percent in October 2009, and currently stands at 8.1 percent.
Note that unemployment right now is nearly identical to when Obama began his first term. And at this point in his presidency, the unemployment rate under Reagan was nearly identical to when he began his first term. So why is Fox pretending Reagan slayed unemployment in his first term when his record is nearly identical to Obama's?
In fact, left unmentioned on Fox yesterday was the fact that in the months prior to Reagan's first term, unemployment in America had been decreasing.
Fox has attacked the economic recovery under President Obama by claiming that if Obama just adopted the policies of former President Ronald Reagan, there would be a stronger recovery. But as economists have pointed out, the Reagan recession ended not because of Reagan's fiscal policies but because the Federal Reserve drastically cut interest rates. Because interest rates are already at zero, such a rate cut is not a possible option now.