Simmons Consulting, the Website of Toby Simmons

A (Frustrating) American Experience


I was actually angry enough to call and complain. Admittedly, I am rather conservative. Well, real conservative. I’ve even been described as "a little to the right of Attila the Hun." Still, it just seemed wrong. The local PBS station interrupted American Experience: Reagan in order to broadcast an interview with Jimmy Carter and his wife.

We were very saddened to hear of the recent death of Ronald Wilson Reagan, one of our favorite political figures and perhaps the strongest president in recent history. We were, however, delighted to see that PBS had decided to air an American Experience that profiled this great man. My first presidential vote was cast for Ronald Reagan.

As we watched the program, it was very interesting to hear about his humble beginnings, how he became a lifeguard in his youth. It was revealing to consider how his work as a lifeguard may have affected his later political decisions.

The story progressed through his acting career, his marriage to Jane Wyman and through the communist trials in Hollywood. The "Gipper" worked hard at exposing the undercurrent of leftist propaganda that was beginning to infiltrate the movie industry. This led Jane Wyman to divorce him because she disagreed with his stance.

As his movie career began to wane, he took a lucrative job as spokesman for the weekly General Electric Theater. He also began to explore the world of politics by speaking to crowds as a General Electric representative. He would speak about the need for America to believe in itself again, and a need for our country to return to traditional values and to elevate our standing among the nations.

It was really quite inspirational. Penny and I were both getting very nostalgic for those days, politically speaking anyways.

The program continued through his election and work as governor of California through two terms.

Then, finally, it got to the point where Reagan was elected President of the United States. A comparison was made between Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, both being great communicators and both being buoyant optimists. Both came to Washington in times of great economic distress.

To quote Richard Norton Smith, Former Director, Reagan Library: "But, there’s a major, major difference, apart from one being a liberal, one being a conservative. FDR was a great improviser. He made up the New Deal, almost day by day. Reagan came to office with a very fixed set of beliefs and an agenda to try and implement those beliefs."

Penny turned to me and said (in a mock surprise) "Imagine that!" The nerve of a president having fixed beliefs that are communicated before being elected and being elected on the basis of expressing those beliefs! (Actually, much like George W. Bush, but quite unlike George Bush senior and don’t even get me started on Bill Clinton.)

We were on the edge of our seats, ready to relive some of the glory days of President Reagan’s presidency when all of a sudden, the local PBS affiliate, AETN, literally interrupted the narrator mid-sentence and began airing notices of local sponsors (not commercials, because public television doesn’t have commercials, does it?) of the program. Then, instead of returning to the Reagan profile, they proceeded to air "The Carters: A Conversation"

Talk about your anti-climax. It was as if someone had jerked the rug out from under us. In fact, we just stared open mouthed at each other until I stammered "Do you think this is their shot at equal time?" We kept looking from each other to the TV, hoping that the Reagan biography would come back on, but of course it did not.

I called the station and told the young lady who answered the program that I would like to register my complaint and their programming choice and that I really couldn’t even understand why someone had decided to interrupt any program in mid-sentence.

Still, I did find the transcript and was able to find out what else was going to be said.

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