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NBC News Presents: Ronald Reagan
NBC's homage to Reagan
By Steven Martinovich
The sad, long decline in Ronald Reagan's health gave every media outlet plenty of time to prepare tributes to the former president, as witnessed by the near 24-hour onslaught during the second week of June. One of those tributes, NBC News Presents: Ronald Reagan, was released on DVD last week. Anchored by Stone Phillips, the 41-minute program covers Reagan's Hollywood career, his two terms as president, through to his recent passing, with the help of archival footage and interviews.
Given its running time, it shouldn't be a surprise that the documentary moves very quickly through Reagan's extraordinary life. Although it is very complimentary to the late president -- indeed there are few if any criticisms of the Reagan record anywhere on the DVD -- the program contains no new insights or analysis of his career, policies and actions. Given the tenor of the coverage Reagan received through much of his political career, those of us old enough to remember his two presidential terms will also undoubtedly remember the savage attacks directed at him from the media, it's almost a letdown to see punches being pulled.
Where the DVD shines brighter are its bonus materials, some of which do a better job illuminating Reagan than the documentary does. First up is A Day in the Reagan White House, a January 1981 news segment hosted by David Brinkley which examines Reagan's battle to introduce his then-controversial economic program. Also included is a February 3, 1957 episode of GE Theater that stars Reagan, segments on his love letters to and relationship with Nancy Reagan, and complete coverage of some of his greatest speeches: the 1981 inaugural, the 1987 Berlin Wall address, and the January 11, 1989 farewell speech.
Unfortunately NBC News reliance on their archives produce some holes in their tribute. Notably missing from their bonus features was "The Speech", the October 1964 address that established Reagan as a political star and presaged the Republican Party's direction just a decade and a half later. Surprisingly the DVD also skips over some major events of the Reagan presidency, such as the Iran-Contra affair, which rated fewer mentions than Reagan's tough stand against campus protests in the 1960s while he was governor of California, or his administration's military actions. The DVD also lacked a documentary feel, seeming almost cobbled together out of interesting elements that added up to less than the whole.
Despite the DVD's glaring oversights, NBC News Presents: Ronald Reagan remains an interesting look at his life and career. The Brinkley news special, GE Theater episode and collection of speeches alone makes the DVD compelling viewing. The rest of the bonus material fleshes out the Reagan story though admittedly doesn't add quite as much to the picture. Hopefully in the future NBC News will release a more in-depth examination of Reagan, his record and his legacy. Those archives must be filled with gems that Reagan fans would beg to see again.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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