CNN Hails 'New Cult Favorite' Jimmy Carter, Asks If His Image Is 'Being Rehabilitated'

CNN touted ex-president Jimmy Carter as a "new cult favorite" and asked if his image was "being rehabilitated" on Monday's The Situation Room. After friendly interviews of Carter and his grandson last week, it might be more accurate to ask if CNN is trying to "rehabilitate" Carter's image.

Liberal historian Douglas Brinkley made the laughably thin case for Carter. "But when you look at the Iran hostage crisis, I mean, Carter eventually negotiated the release of all of those hostages. It cost his political re-election. He could have bombed Tehran during it, and maybe gotten himself re-elected but he didn't," he argued.

So despite a long crisis including a failed rescue mission with eight dead U.S. servicemen, Carter did negotiate the release. Brinkley continued whitewashing the hostage crisis: "But Carter worked nonstop trying to get those hostages out. You know what, they're alive today. They have grandkids. And they – Carter saved all their lives."

Blitzer had to break in to provide some much-needed context: "there was, what, 444 days of Americans being held hostage in Iran. There was high inflation. Very high interest rates. People were deeply worried about their savings." Brinkley himself admitted that "nobody's pining for the Carter days."

But apparently Carter's been vindicated on the matter of solar panels: "But I think when he put solar panels on the White House, that seemed quite flaky. And Ronald Reagan ripped them all down. And we all laughed at Jimmy Carter. But we're now constantly talking about solar and wind and alternatives."

Do most houses and cars in America really have solar panels on top? Do names like Solyndra resonate with Brinkley?

Yet the stretching of Carter's accomplishments kept coming: "Carter doubled the size of the National Parks. And he saved all these great wilderness areas. Well, it may not seem that big to you now. But about 50 years from now when the rain forests are dead and so much of the world has been in ruin, saving all this bits of wild America will look like a greater achievement."

Seriously? What credible evidence does Brinkley have that in 50 years the rain forests will certainly be dead and much of the world will lie in ruins? Yet all he had to offer were assumptions and revisionist history in defense of Carter.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on The Situation Room on February 25 at 5:34 p.m. EST, is as follows:

WOLF BLITZER: "Argo" certainly putting a spotlight, and possibly a new bit of light on the Jimmy Carter presidency.

[HEADLINE: "Ex-President a New Cult Favorite: Carter's image being rehabilitated?"]

BLITZER: Doug Brinkley is a presidential historian. He's joining us from Austin, Texas right now. Doug, thanks very much for coming in. You've written an intriguing piece suggesting that maybe this film "Argo" is going to be a little revisionist history for the former President of the United States. Why do you say that?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, presidential historian: Well, first off, as he's getting near 90, he's already a Nobel Peace Prize winner, I think people are just starting to just like Jimmy Carter. He was on CNN last week and did I thought a brilliant interview with you guys. But when you look at the Iran hostage crisis, I mean, Carter eventually negotiated the release of all of those hostages. It cost his political re-election. He could have bombed Tehran during it, and maybe gotten himself re-elected but he didn't. And sometimes we have to learn to judge presidents for what they don't do. He didn't get us into a war in Iran. Look what happened to George W. Bush and Iraq, it didn't turn out so well for the country. But beyond that in the article, I talk about the Panama Canal doubling in size. That was Carter doing it. He was the one who recognized the People's Republic of China. Created a friendship with Deng Xiaoping, who we're all beneficiaries of today. And particularly on environment and energy, I think Carter's looking better and better.
 
BLITZER: And he also achieved the Camp David accords, peace between Israel and Egypt. A peace which was a cold peace but still in business all these years later. But at the same time, and you know this well, there was, what, 444 days of Americans being held hostage in Iran. There was high inflation. Very high interest rates. People were deeply worried about their savings. And a lot of folks remember that, looking at that 1980 election, which he lost to Ronald Reagan.

BRINKLEY: Well, that's right. I mean, nobody's pining for the Carter days. And certainly I mean he didn't control his own party. He had Scoop Jackson, Democrats, hawks, abandoning Carter and Ted Kennedy liberals abandoning him. But what we can do is start looking at what it was like in his one term. Just like we're going to have a revision with President 41. See Carter did some great things in Alaska and our National Parks service. Carter doubled the size of the National Parks. And he saved all these great wilderness areas. Well, it may not seem that big to you now. But about 50 years from now when the rain forests are dead and so much of the world has been in ruin, saving all this bits of wild America will look like a greater achievement. Only Theodore Roosevelt and FDR was a better conservation president than Jimmy Carter.

BLITZER: How much would pop culture have an impact on some revisionism as far as Jimmy Carter is concerned? For example, the film "Argo"?

BRINKLEY: I think it's helpful because it's put – it shows that film. I think the Carter administration was trying desperately to get rid of those hostages. And they were always between a rock and a hard place. When you had the famous rescue, we were one helicopter short. And it didn't happen well. It became, The New Republic called it the "Jimmy Carter desert classic." It was a disaster. But Carter worked nonstop trying to get those hostages out. You know what, they're alive today. They have grandkids. And they – Carter saved all their lives. And so we can honor at least the fact that he was trying to work those 444. But it was a political disaster for him. Cost him re-election.

BLITZER: What you're basically saying is as time goes on and years continue to fade away, we're going to have a little bit better recollection of Jimmy Carter, sort of the way Harry Truman contemporaneously, he was criticized, but over time, he looked pretty good.

BRINKLEY: Because Carter's integrity is always there. And nobody – he's an honest man. And that's going to make him look good. His post-presidential work's been amazing. But I think when he put solar panels on the White House, that seemed quite flaky. And Ronald Reagan ripped them all down. And we all laughed at Jimmy Carter. But we're now constantly talking about solar and wind and alternatives. And Carter was talking about that in a very sophisticated way. A long time ago, 40 years ago, he wanted to make alternative energy our new moon shot. We didn't do it. So when environmental historians and the like will start looking at this and say, you know what, Carter didn't have the political – didn't know how to lead, he wasn't a great leader, but he had some important ideas for our country. And I think Carter sometimes overstates things wrongly about the Middle East. I disagree with his views often. But he's always intriguing, interesting to listen to, and people are starting to appreciate that as he's heading into age 90.

BLITZER: That was an excellent interview that Piers Morgan did with Jimmy Carter the other day as well, right here on CNN. Doug Brinkley, always good to have you in The Situation Room, thanks.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014