CBS Begins Media’s Rehabilitation of ‘Fantastic’ Jimmy Carter, ‘Cursed’ Presidency Actually More Successful Than Reagan’s

CBS broke into summer re-runs of 60 Minutes to let Lesley Stahl promote Jimmy Carter’s new book, White House Diary, which he maintained delivers “absolute unadulterated frankness” and which she described as an “often harsh critique” of his presidential term. She, however, was far from harsh toward him.

Noting an “image of ‘a failed President’ haunts the Carters,” Stahl trumpeted: “Carter argues that despite the image of failure, he actually had a long list of successes, starting with bringing all the hostages home alive,” as if that wasn’t because of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. Stahl proceeded to tout as a success his installation of “solar panels on the roof of the White House.”

Absolving Carter of responsibility, Stahl contended he “was cursed by a dismal economy, poor relations with Congress, and a nightmarish standoff over 52 Americans held hostage by Iran.” Yet, “when all is said and done, and many will be surprised to hear this,” Stahl insisted, “Jimmy Carter got more of his programs passed than Reagan and Nixon, Ford, Bush 1, Clinton or Bush 2.” She empathized with his treatment from an unappreciative public: “And yet, as I say, there's the sense that you were a failed President.”

(Obvious observation: Of all those administrations, only Carter had the luxury of his party in control of both the House and Senate during his entire tenure.)

As the two strolled inside Atlanta’s Carter library, Stahl gushed about how a “lot of critics of yours, when you were President, say that you've been a fantastic ex-President. You hear that all the time,” leading to a post-presidential “life of good works and good reviews.”

This may well have been a start to a media effort to rehabilitate the 85-year-old Carter. NBC is promoting an interview with Brian Williams, an intern in the Carter White House, on Monday’s NBC Nightly News. Williams, though, already got an early start, as detailed in a MRC BiasAlert from about a year ago: “Williams Prompts Carter: What, In 'Your Wiring,' Has 'Set You Apart' from Other Presidents?

Excerpts from Stahl’s story, the only fresh one, on the September 19 edition of 60 Minutes (CBSNews.com online version with accompanying video of the entire 15-minute segment):
LESLEY STAHL: ...His tenure, which I covered as the CBS News White House correspondent, was tumultuous. The problems he confronted kept mounting and people wondered if he was cursed by a dismal economy, poor relations with Congress, and a nightmarish standoff over 52 Americans held hostage by Iran. After just one term he was trounced by Ronald Reagan...

STAHL: Carter argues that despite the image of failure, he actually had a long list of successes, starting with bringing all the hostages home alive. He normalized relations with China, brokered a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, deregulated railroads, trucking, airlines and telephones; and his energy conservation programs resulted in a 50 percent cut in imported oil, down to just 4.3 million barrels a day.

CARTER: Unfortunately, now we're probably importing 12 million barrels a day, since part of my energy policies were abandoned.

STAHL: Well, and you built solar panels on the roof of the White House.

CARTER: That's right, which were ostentatiously removed as soon as Ronald Reagan became President He wanted to show that America was a great nation. So great that we didn't have to limit the enjoyment of life.

STAHL: And the public seemed to like that better than they liked your message, which was “we have to be limiting.”

CARTER: That's right, America responded to that quite well.

STAHL: But when all is said and done, and many will be surprised to hear this: Jimmy Carter got more of his programs passed than Reagan and Nixon, Ford, Bush 1, Clinton or Bush 2.

CARTER: I had the best batting average in the Congress in recent history of any President, except Lyndon Johnson.

STAHL: And yet, as I say, there's the sense that you were a failed President.

CARTER: I think I was identified as a failed President because I wasn't re-elected.

STAHL: The lesson: getting a lot of legislation passed, even when it's significant, is not enough.

STAHL: A lot of critics of yours, when you were President, say that you've been a fantastic ex-President. You hear that all the time.

CARTER: I don't mind that.

STAHL: You like that?

CARTER: I don’t mind, yes.

STAHL: President and Mrs. Carter devote their lives to fighting disease in poor countries and resolving conflicts, as when he recently obtained the release of an American held in North Korea. It's been a life of good works and good reviews. In 2002 he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at global diplomacy. But he was called “undiplomatic” when he broke the code that ex-Presidents don't criticize their successors.

STAHL: About Reagan, you said: “If I had been President for four more years, we wouldn’t have had a resurgence of racism and selfishness.” Now that's pretty pointed. That's an ouch.

CARTER: Yeah, I don't remember when I said that but I can't deny that I felt that way.

STAHL: But are you suggesting that he stoked racism?

CARTER: No, I'm not.

STAHL: But that's what that kind of suggests.

CARTER: But there may have been times when I was too outspoken in criticizing an incumbent President. I can't deny that.
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Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center