CBS's Erica Hill on Reagan: 'Could He Have Had Dementia' While in Office?

On Monday's CBS Early Show, after reporting claims from Ron Reagan Jr. that President Ronald Reagan may have had Alzheimer's Disease while in office, co-host Erica Hill asked other son Michael Reagan about those accusations: "And your brother has said this is just his own feeling....Could it be possible there may have been something else? Could he [President Reagan] have had dementia?"

Michael rejected the notion: "No, he didn't have dementia. Look what he accomplished in the last four years of his presidency. Reykjavik, START agreements, all the things he accomplished. The speech at the Berlin Wall in 1987 on June 12th. Look what he accomplished in those last four years. Someone with dementia does not accomplish all of those things." He went on to say of his brother: "...we don't even know in the family if Ron voted for his father back in 1981 or in 1984 when he ran for President."

Hill began the exclusive interview with Michael by quoting a statement he made in response to Ron Jr.: "...you responded on Twitter saying – or tweeting, I should say, 'My brother was an embarrassment to his father – [coughs] pardon me – when he was alive, and today he became an embarrassment to his mother.'" She then observed: "There's no love lost between the two of you. Pretty strong statement, though." Reagan replied:

Well, it needed to be a strong statement because the reality is, all these years I've listened to people like Bill Maher an other people on the Left who have inferred that my father had Alzheimer's when he was President of the United States to somehow discount the great job my father did as president. So now, for one of his sons to come out and, in fact, say, 'Yeah, he might have had Alzheimer's or he had Alzheimer's during that time,' just gives credence to people like Bill Maher and others. And it absolutely offends me that somebody would say that when there's no evidence anywhere on the planet to back it up.

Despite that response, Hill went on to tout how Jon Jr. "doesn't think that it would take away from your father's legacy at all if, in fact, that had been the case. You seem to differ on that. You feel that it would have an effect on his legacy." She then played doctor and asked if President Reagan could have at least had "dementia" while in the White House.

Michael reacted to a particular comment from his brother, who claimed their father's performance in a 1984 debate with Walter Mondale was evidence of Alzheimer's: "This is the first time I've heard he [Ron Jr.] even watched the debate with Mondale.... He might have voted for Mondale....my father did not have dementia. The fact is he was overloaded with facts and figures, everybody said that at the time. The next debate, he took Mondale to the cleaners on that one. And the rest is history. He ran – he won the biggest election in the history of mankind, when he won in 1984."

In her last question to Michael, Hill questioned current political figures quoting President Reagan: "He is quoted liberally at this point by people, Sarah Palin, just most recently as part of her statement in response to the Arizona shootings, brought up some of his words. When you hear other people quoting your dad, do you think – how do you think he would feel about it? And do you think that he would always agree with the context in which he's being used?"


Here is a full transcript of the January 17 segment:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

ERICA HILL: Reagan family feud. In a controversial new book, Ron Reagan claims his father had Alzheimer's while still in the Oval Office. His brother Michael, though, says that's nonsense and calls him an embarrassment to the family. We'll speak with Michael Reagan in an exclusive live studio interview.

7:09AM ET SEGMENT:

ERICA HILL: A feud has broken out among the family of former President Ronald Reagan, who would have turned 100 next month. To mark that occasion, both his sons, Ron Jr. and Michael have written books. But each has a very different take on their father's legacy, and also on his health while still in office. CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante has more.

BILL PLANTE: In his new book, 'My Father at 100,' Ron Reagan, the youngest son of former President Ronald Reagan, claims his father exhibited signs of Alzheimer's three years into his first term. Long before doctors diagnosed Mr. Reagan with the memory-robbing disease, 5 years after he left office.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Reagan Family Feud; Ron Jr. Claims Dad Had Alzheimer's In Office]

RON REAGAN: Knowing what we know now about the nature of Alzheimer's disease, we know that decades ahead of, you know, symptoms arriving, changes are happening in the brain.

RONALD REAGAN: But in this great society of ours-

PLANTE: Ron Reagan says he was alarmed by his father's performance in the 1984 presidential debate with Democratic challenger Walter Mondale.

RONALD REAGAN: The system is still where it was with regard to – the-

PLANTE: Reagan writes of that day, 'My heart sank as he floundered his way through his responses, fumbling with his notes, uncharacteristically lost for words.' Nancy Reagan has not publicly commented on the claim made by her son. But the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, which has ties to the former First Lady, issued a statement saying, 'Alzheimer's did not appear until well after President Reagan left the White House.' Bill Plante, CBS News, the White House.

HILL: And joining us now exclusively in the studio this morning is President Reagan's elder son Michael, who's author of 'The New Reagan Revolution: How Ronald Reagan's Principles Can Restore America's Greatness.' That book will be released tomorrow. Good to have you with us this morning.

MICHAEL REAGAN: Good to be here, thank you.

HILL: So we just heard in Bill's piece, we heard what your brother Ron is claiming. And I know as soon as you heard that you responded on Twitter saying – or tweeting, I should say, 'My brother was an embarrassment to his father – [coughs] pardon me – when he was alive, and today he became an embarrassment to his mother.' There's no love lost between the two of you. Pretty strong statement, though.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Reagan Family Feud; Michael Reagan Calls Ron Jr. An 'Embarrassment']

REAGAN: Well, it needed to be a strong statement because the reality is, all these years I've listened to people like Bill Maher an other people on the Left who have inferred that my father had Alzheimer's when he was President of the United States to somehow discount the great job my father did as president. So now, for one of his sons to come out and, in fact, say, 'Yeah, he might have had Alzheimer's or he had Alzheimer's during that time,' just gives credence to people like Bill Maher and others. And it absolutely offends me that somebody would say that when there's no evidence anywhere on the planet to back it up.

HILL: And your brother has said this is just his own feeling. You know, no one else is saying it to him. He also doesn't think that it would take away from your father's legacy at all if, in fact, that had been the case. You seem to differ on that. You feel that it would have an effect on his legacy. Could it be possible there may have been something else? Could he have had dementia?

REAGAN: No, he didn't have dementia. Look what he accomplished in the last four years of his presidency. Reykjavik, START agreements, all the things he accomplished. The speech at the Berlin Wall in 1987 on June 12th. Look what he accomplished in those last four years. Someone with dementia does not accomplish all of those things. And it's interesting that Ron says this because we don't even know in the family if Ron voted for his father back in 1981 or in 1984 when he ran for President of the United States of America. This is the first time I've heard he even watched the debate with Mondale.

HILL: Well, and you were sort of shaking your head during that, as he referenced that debate, saying – because he talks about-

REAGAN: He might have voted for Mondale.

HILL: But would that have any effect on whether or not your father-

REAGAN: I don't know. I have no idea. But my father did not have dementia. The fact is he was overloaded with facts and figures, everybody said that at the time. The next debate, he took Mondale to the cleaners on that one. And the rest is history. He ran – he won the biggest election in the history of mankind, when he won in 1984.

HILL: Your father comes up so often in American politics. He is quoted liberally at this point by people, Sarah Palin, just most recently as part of her statement in response to the Arizona shootings, brought up some of his words. When you hear other people quoting your dad, do you think – how do you think he would feel about it? And do you think that he would always agree with the context in which he's being used?

REAGAN: My father was always amazed that people would bring up his name. You know, He was the boy scout in the family. I write in my own book, 'The New Reagan Revolution,' the fact that my father thought, or we thought in the family that he was going for his eagle scout badge running for President of the United States of America.

But it's not only Sarah Palin. Alec Baldwin, who I work out in the gym with when we're in California – and I write this in the book – I walk out of the gym one day, I say, 'Alec – Mr. Baldwin, my name is Mike Reagan, Jane Wyman's my mother.' And he looks at me, and I say, 'Well, I felt if I said Ronald Reagan was my dad you may deck me.' And he says 'Oh, you're the only one who can say that. I said, 'You're absolutely right.' And I said, 'I just want to tell you how much I enjoy 30 Rock and all the things you do, I enjoy your acting.' And he says, 'Let me tell you something and I want you to tell your family.' I said 'What's that?' 'I miss your father.' I said, 'You miss my father?' He says, 'Yes. You know, I bleed liberal blue, but the reality of it is, I just realized lately how much I miss him. And I miss him because your father had a good soul. And what the world is missing is that good soul.' So it's not just Sarah Palin, as I write in my book. People like Alec Baldwin, who never liked my father, who understood the great soul my father had.

HILL: And there are some more of those stories in your book.

REAGAN: Absolutely.

HILL: Michael Reagan, thanks for being with us this morning.

REAGAN: Thank you.

— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC