Remembrances Comfort a Nation; with Coverage a Bit 'Glorifying,' Americans Unite to Honor Reagan

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 11, 2004 | Go to article overview

Remembrances Comfort a Nation; with Coverage a Bit 'Glorifying,' Americans Unite to Honor Reagan


Byline: Jennifer Harper and Joyce Howard Price, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Remembrances, memorials and some sporadic criticism: News coverage of former President Ronald Reagan's death has been substantial though uneven at times.

Nevertheless, the coverage has comforted a nation in troubled times, analysts said.

"It's just what the doctor ordered," said Los Angeles-based psychologist Robert Butterworth.

"For the nation to work, we sometimes need to come together. In this case, we've shown we can let bygones be bygones" and unite to honor a former president, Mr. Butterworth said.

Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, characterized the coverage as fair and said he was glad that the U.S. press found Mr. Reagan's death as worthy of coverage as that of Britain's Princess Diana.

He also called for a "more rounded picture."

"The current coverage is too glorifying," Mr. Gelb said. "I think Ronald Reagan would be embarrassed by it. He was a regular person. He didn't consider himself a saint."

Diana's 1997 funeral was watched on television by 50 million Americans, with some networks citing a 75 percent jump in ratings after her death in a high-speed car crash.

Early numbers released by Nielsen yesterday found cable news viewership up in modest but steady amounts since Mr. Reagan's death Saturday - up to 17 percent on Fox News and 27 percent on CNN, for example.

Robert Thompson, a media analyst at Syracuse University, deemed the coverage "therapeutic."

"It's useful for the nation to go through this kind of civic mourning," he said.

Primed by recent images of Iraqi prisoner abuse, Americans find a kind of comfort, Mr. Thompson said, in the "quaint and nostalgically pleasant Reagan days."

David Borman, CNN's Washington bureau chief, saw a clear "line of demarcation" from the remembrances that followed the announcement of Mr. Reagan's death and CNN's live coverage of the funeral cortege on Wednesday.

"The procession was a genuine piece of American history. We clearly wanted our viewers to watch these moments unfold and experience them without commentary," Mr. Borman said.

"We had quiet stretches for 20 minutes and probably broke every rule of cable news. …

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