The show must go on

November 06, 2003

IT'S NO TRIBUTE to the old trouper, Ronald Reagan, that CBS executives planning to broadcast a miniseries based on his life suddenly crumbled in the face of a little adversity. Nor could the former president who believed so strongly in the freedom to speak out in a democratic society be pleased by a self-censoring gambit that smacks so of political correctness.

Mr. Reagan's friends and admirers are partly to blame. Their campaign to intimidate television execs and sponsors of The Reagans betrayed an amazing lack of faith in their hero. Is the Gipper's place in history as the conservative warrior who stared down the Evil Empire so fragile as to be threatened by an unsympathetic interpretation? Is his iconic status in the Republican Party, which he set on the path to national majority, somehow belittled because he is portrayed in the film by James Brolin, spouse of arch-liberal Barbra Streisand?

Hardly. Ronald Reagan is a secure fixture in the firmament of modern American life. No cheesy made-for-TV move is going to change the way he's viewed. If the flick is offensive, people can vote with their remotes.

More troubling was the sudden CBS sell-out of artistic freedom. Two weeks before the miniseries was scheduled to air - and after a tidal wave of GOP protests - CBS chief Leslie Moonves concluded it "did not present a balanced portrayal" and yanked the program, though its script had been previously approved.

Such delicacy in an era when much of television entertainment consists of mating games for phony millionaires and eating bugs! Looks like CBS got caught in a bid for buzz to boost ratings that went awry.

Whatever its political calculation, this gesture toward Mr. Reagan is an insult. The former president who so praised the Soviet reformers' glasnost policy of openness and candor in public discourse has now become a symbol of the opposite practice here.

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