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Free speech in action

By Howard Kaloogian
web posted December 8, 2003

Hundreds of thousands of Americans recently exercised their right of free speech and persuaded CBS television not to run a mean-spirited and false miniseries about President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan. Yet to listen to the howls emanating from the liberal left, one would think that such citizen action was crass censorship – dangerous and hostile to our civil liberties.

The fury began after an October 21st New York Times article revealed that the CBS miniseries, "The Reagans," would be a hatchet job on President Reagan, his wife Nancy, and his administration. Lies and fabrications were combined with an array of slanted and misleading scenes to create a complete distortion of who Ronald Reagan really was.

The ReagansWhat was astounding about all of this is that CBS had initially pledged to tell the touching love story between Ronald and Nancy Reagan. But in the end, the script and promos revealed a production that was nothing more than a politically motivated attack on Reagan's character, decency and historic achievements while in office.

Many Reagan admirers found it appalling that CBS and parent company Viacom would launch such an attack on a popular president, who at 92-years old is bravely battling the ravages of Alzheimer's with his wife at his side.

In order to understand how such an inaccurate portrayal could come about, just examine those involved. The leading actors in the production are avowed liberal Democrats. CBS president Les Moonves is a leading fundraiser for Democrat candidates for office. The openly gay producers, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, are the same team behind the television series "It's All Relative" where a conservative Irish Catholic couple are portrayed as homophobic, loud-mouthed and simple minded.

No one close to the Reagan family, or his administration, were ever once consulted for help, information or background for the series. Obviously this wasn't a good faith effort to give a fair account to the lives or love story of the Reagan's.

And so, with the help of the Internet, talk radio and cable television, Americans across this nation spoke out and inundated CBS, Viacom and their advertisers' offices with phone calls, letters and e-mails of protest.

CBS was overwhelmed by the uproar and decided not to air the miniseries, even admitting the miniseries was unfair. But parent company Viacom was determined to proceed with the production and milk it for every dollar they could. They announced that the program would instead air Thanksgiving weekend as a 3-hour movie on the Viacom-owned Showtime cable network.

Viacom's willingness to do anything to recoup some of their financial losses has resulted in a continuing campaign by the Defend Reagan Committee to lead offended Americans in their protest efforts. Thousands have cancelled their Showtime subscriptions, others have complained to their cable operators and some have even dumped their Viacom stock.

This is precisely the action one would hope for and expect from an engaged, active and free public. But, to the liberals who relished in the thought of seeing Reagan smeared, it is nothing more than censorship. Free speech to them is only when someone tears down America, not when liberals are skewered by citizen action.

Forget for a moment that true censorship would involve action by the government to dictate what could and couldn't be shown on either CBS or Showtime, not action by private citizens. The liberals who are crying foul don't really believe their own spin that this populace uprising is censorship. They just cannot believe that there has been such strong opposition by the American public to seeing a prominent conservative leader defamed by liberal slander.

The left doesn't understand that in a free enterprise system the public can use the threat of taking their business – in this case viewership – elsewhere if they are mistreated by a vendor.

All of this is remarkable given the Left's recent glee at organizing almost identical protests against the now-cancelled Dr. Laura television show. Apparently the shoe doesn't fit so well on the other foot.

There's an important reason for supporters of President Reagan to rise up and take action. It's not just that they should exercise their right to free speech (in this case their opposition to a smear campaign against the likes of Ronald Reagan), but instead because our nation's culture, values, and politics are guided by our history.

Recently ABC News conducted an investigation into the death of President John F. Kennedy to silence once and for all those who doubted that Lee Harvey Oswald was Kennedy's lone assassin. Anchor Peter Jennings demonstrated how computer analysis of video from the day had ruled out a second shooter on the legendary grassy knoll and also showed that the shots that struck Kennedy had come from the sixth floor book depository window where Oswald was perched.

Jennings spent the last segment of the ABC News special explaining that Oliver Stone's movie "JFK" – where it was presented as fact that it was a conspiracy and not simply Oswald behind Kennedy's murder – had resulted in a whole generation of younger Americans being exposed to a version of history on an event that they were not old enough to have lived through themselves. As a result, to them, history was defined by the "creative license" of Oliver Stone, which Jennings demonstrated was a series of lies and distortions.

The lessons from Kennedy can well be applied to Reagan. For those who truly care about the man, his legacy and seeing it preserved as a guidepost for our future, there can be little choice but to rise up and make our voices heard whenever an Oliver Stone, Neil Meron, or Chris Zadan attempts to rewrite history to express their own ideological mantra.

The fact that we have the right to voice our protest and the right to tell companies we will take our business elsewhere is something that defines a core greatness in our American tradition. This right to free speech is something we should celebrate this Thanksgiving Day.

Howard Kaloogian is Chairman of the Defend Reagan Committee. He is a former California State Assemblyman (Republican) and was also Chairman of the successful Recall Gray Davis Committee, which in October recalled Governor Gray Davis from office – the first time a governor had been recalled in California's history.

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