On Saturday morning, TVNewser summarized the news networks’ plans for covering former President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday tomorrow — Fox News plans a documentary for Sunday night, CNN will have live programming Sunday afternoon and NBC’s Meet the Press will originate from the Reagan library with guests including James Baker, Reagan’s first White House chief of staff.
The effort seems a bit modest for the most successful conservative president of the 20th century, who re-invigorated the American economy and helped bring the Soviet Union’s communist empire to its knees. The best contrast is with late January 1982, when the towering liberal president of the 20th century, Franklin D. Roosevelt, reached his 100th milestone.
For that anniversary, NBC carved out an hour of primetime on Sunday, January 24, for a documentary narrated by newsman John Hart: “Nothing to Fear — The Legacy of FDR.” And ABC worked up a three-hour documentary, "FDR," which aired on Friday, January 29, 1982, the day before Roosevelt’s actual birthday.
Narrator Robert Trout, who covered Roosevelt’s presidency for CBS Radio, told the Christian Science Monitor he’d describe FDR as “dynamic, vigorous, cheerful, optimistic, perhaps the most inspiring example in history of somebody who overcame seemingly unsurmountable odds....”
A two-page advertising spread in Time magazine (February 1, 1982) described the scope of ABC’s effort to commemorate Roosevelt: “ABC News for the past year has been preparing this work — calling upon the finest consultants and journalistic talent, aided by historic film footage, to create a unique television event.”
ABC recruited former Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter, plus Reagan, to pay homage to FDR: “For the first time in broadcasting history, four living presidents were willing to appear on one program to share their own thoughts, feelings and criticisms of Roosevelt’s leadership and legacy.”
I’m sure most of the comments about Ronald Reagan tomorrow will be positive and heartfelt, but the strenuous journalistic effort to honor FDR, vs. the relative paucity of coverage for Reagan, is probably as good an indicator as any of the liberal skew that tilts the media playing field as much today as it did in Reagan’s 1980s — and Roosevelt’s 1930s.