Will PBS's Supposedly 'Harsh' Clinton Documentary Equal Its Nasty Take on Reagan?

PBS will air a "harsh" documentary in Febuary heavily focusing on Bill Clinton's serial infidelities and scandal, according to Politico. The "American Experience" episode will devote 40 minutes to the Monica Lewinsky controversy and include lines such as this: "Millions had responded to his campaign message of change, but millions of others feared where the country was heading and didn’t trust their inexperienced new president to lead them through uncertain times."

However tough this documentary proves to be, will it equal the nasty assertions in the "American Experience" piece on Ronald Reagan? That particular program (which aired in 1998) attacked, "Cuts in social programs created a homeless population that grew to exceed that of Atlanta. AIDS became an epidemic in the 1980s, nearly 50,000 died. Reagan largely ignored it."

At the time, MRC President Brent Bozell wrote about the Regan biography and said of the above, "Almost all of that is baloney." He added of PBS's spin:

It gets worse. Check out the PBS Web site's "Ideas for the Classroom," which suggest students do things like:

* "Watch the film 'Wall Street,' made in the 1980s. Write an analysis explaining how the film is evocative of the times."

* "Examine the controversy surrounding Reagan's visit to a military cemetery in Bitburg, West Germany. Write your views in a letter to the editor."

* "James Brady, who was shot and badly injured during the assassination attempt on Reagan, went to work for gun control.

Politico's Patrick Gavin seemed perplexed by the tone of the Clinton program, calling the content "doubly surprising when you consider the source: not a conservative production company but PBS."

According to Gavin, the Clinton doc closes with this mixed assessment: "In the end, he left much as he had come, a man loved by his friends and loathed by his enemies; a politician who had achieved a great deal yet left behind a curious sense of unfulfilled promise."

It also includes these quotes:

“If they had won the presidency, the Clintons had yet to win over the country. And in this moment of triumph, few could imagine the turmoil that lay ahead.”

And: “With Gingrich in the spotlight, Clinton seemed increasingly peripheral.”

PBS will air the four hour program in February.

Whatever the content of the film, it will have to be more balanced then Chris Matthews' 2010 fawning doc: "Bill Clinton: President of the World."

Here's a longer quote from the "American Experience" edition on Reagan:


"The stock market crashed in October 1987, another setback for Reagan. Black Monday raised doubts about the soundness of Reagan’s economic policies. On Reagan’s watch tax revenues would double, but they never kept up with spending. The national debt nearly tripled. Although most Americans benefited, the gap between the richest and poorest became a chasm. Donald Trump and the new billionaires of the 1980s recalled the extravagance of the captains of industry in the 1880s. There were losers. Cuts in social programs created a homeless population that grew to exceed that of Atlanta. AIDS became an epidemic in the 1980s, nearly 50,000 died. Reagan largely ignored it."


— Narrator of PBS American Experience profile of Ronald Reagan, February 24, 1998.

[Hat tip to NB reader David Pearson.]

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org