The Selling of the President: 1984


This article originally appeared in Issue# 44

During the 1984 campaign I decided to do a very long piece on President Reagan for the evening news. It ran almost five and a half minutes. It was a piece that was the toughest I had ever done on Reagan, maybe one of the toughest ever done on him up to that point.

The thrust of it was that he wasn't telling the truth, that he was trying to create amnesia about his budget cuts, and about policies that had become unpopular. We showed him in front of a nursing home, where he was cutting a ribbon, and what he doesn't tell you is that he tried to cut the budget for nursing homes.

The next day, a senior White House official called to thank me. I said, "Come on, it was a tough piece; what are you talking about?"

And he said, "You guys haven't figured it out yet, have you? When you run great looking pictures of Ronald Reagan, the public doesn't hear what you say. They just see the pictures. It was a five and one half minute campaign ad."

Another reporter, Marty Schramm, discovered that every photo taken of Reagan was planned in advance by his key campaign aide Michael Deaver and company. They'd choose a spot, backdrop, then select the best angle for the President. Virtually no picture of the President during the campaign was not planned by them. And my piece was plastered with these gorgeous pictures. In effect, every single picture you saw was designed by a Hollywood set designer.