The Desperate Historical Flip-Flop of Time Magazine

Time magazine shamelessly flip-flopped this week in touting "Why Obama Loves Reagan," and headlining its cover story: "The Role Model: Barack Obama realized long ago that Ronald Reagan was a transformational president who reshaped the nation and its politics. Now Obama is fashioning his own president to follow the Gipper's playbook." But just two years ago, history had an entirely different flavor. Time pictured Obama as Franklin Roosevelt promising a “New New Deal.”

Time obviously never anticipated Obama would be routed in the House, and have to reinvent himself (with a lot of slavish media assistance). Today it's surprising to encounter what Peter Beinart wrote for Time then: “The coalition that carried Obama to victory is every bit as sturdy as America’s last two dominant political coalitions: the ones that elected Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. And the Obama majority is sturdy for one overriding reason: liberalism, which average Americans once associated with upheaval, now promises stability instead.”

The headline was "The New Liberal Order: The Obama presidency is just the beginning. Why shifting attitudes about government could make Democrats the ruling party for a generation."

That "sturdy" coalition looks awfully rickety at the present time, and liberalism isn't exactly triumphant. Obama’s coalition was already collapsing by the gubernatorial elections a year after his election. But Time tried to compare Reagan losing 26 House seats (even though Democrats had the majority all along) to Obama losing 63 House seats (and the majority). The pull quote: "Both men achieved much in their first two years in office. And both paid dearly at the polls for their trouble."

There are other comparisons that don't really match. Under "Early Life," we're told Reagan had a "Religious, loving mom; struggling, alcoholic father." But Obama had a "Idealistic, social-working mom; disappearing father." This is how Time brings its warm-hearted secularism to describing Obama's atheist mother: "idealistic."

Time’s cover story writers, Michael Scherer and Michael Duffy, did trash Reagan on the second page of their story. He would “epitomize all that Obama opposed,” like “giving cover” to the apartheid regime in South Africa. “Reagan cut social spending in America’s cities, backed what Obama called ‘death squads’ in El Salvador and began to build what Obama regarded as an ‘ill-conceived’ missile-defense shield.”

It still doesn’t matter to Time magazine that South Africa abandoned apartheid and built a democracy, or that Reagan’s support of democracy in El Salvador in the face of a Soviet-backed guerrilla movement worked out as well. It doesn’t matter that our missiles shot down enemy missiles in the Gulf War, or that our eastern European allies still hope for our missile defenses. Every piece of arrogant liberal cant from the 1980s lives on, despite its musty odor of falsehood.

Time even recounted Obama writing of “Reagan and his minions carrying on their dirty deeds” – which sounds just like a Time reporter. So why be so phony with the hearts and the side-by-side profiles, and creating the photographic illusion of Reagan and Obama playing catch with a football inside the Oval Office? So they can pitch Obama (as they did in one caption) as a “New centrist.” What baloney.

Time magazine waged war on Ronald Reagan throughout his presidency and tried to condemn his legacy when it was over. In 1993, Time put Reagan’s face on its cover upside down, touting a story hopefully titled “Overturning The Reagan Era.” That could be the title for its entire body of work.

The wild-eyed Time columnist Jack White accused Reagan of nearing “treason” over Iran-Contra, and Richard Lacayo wrote “In the corporate takeovers of the 1980s, the Reagan administration was a wallflower at the orgy.”

Time didn’t just oppose Reagan in its pages. Time’s activist journalists became members of Democrat administrations. After relentlessly trashing Reagan for the “wretched excess” of his Cold War "military overinsurance" and “Evil Empire” speeches, Washington Bureau Chief Strobe Talbott was a shameless flip-flopper.  When the Cold War ended, he bizarrely proclaimed like a bratty child that the Soviet threat “never was.” Then after he lied on television in 1992 that the words “draft dodging” could not possibly be associated with Bill Clinton, Talbott joined the Clinton administration, rising to become Deputy Secretary of State.

Another revolving door cycle began two years ago, when another Washington Bureau Chief, James Carney, joined the Obama White House in the deep-shoveling job as the spokeman for that gaffe machine, Vice President Biden. Now he’s going to be the chief spokesman for the Obama administration. It’s a perfect symbol of how our press corps isn’t neutral in our politics. It works shamelessly, transparently hand in glove with the Democrats whether its servile cooperation is on the payroll or off.

While Reagan’s reputation continues to rise, Obama’s star is on the decline – a lot like the collapse of credibility and impact of an outdated weekly magazine sadly named “Time.”

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis