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CANCELLED: ‘The Reagans’
Yes, the Free Market Works and the Liberals Just Hate It

By Paul F. Stifflemire, Jr.

Send this page to a friend! (click here)     Conservatives have no problem letting the market rule, whether we are talking about ideas or the economy. Liberals, on the other hand, are only in favor of market-driven decisions when the outcome is what they prefer. One important lesson from the ill-fated CBS miniseries “The Reagans,” was truly lost on the media liberals who continue to rant, as usual, about all the wrong things. A few “got it” but, being liberals it annoyed them no end.

     MSNBC’s “contributor” Michael Ventre wrote a piece entitled “CBS chooses profits over ‘The Reagans’” in which he explained: “CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves added up the ratings points the controversial skein would produce, weighed that against the cost to Viacom stock by an organized boycott from conservative groups opposed to the perceived depiction of the former President…and decided that this particular creative endeavor would not maximize profits, hence the ax.” Somehow, it seems doubtful Moonves really considered investor relations in his decision. None the less, Ventre went on to say “…CBS wins all around. It’s the rest of us who lose.”

     That sentiment is so typically liberal as to be unremarkable, except that too many buy the illogic; namely that capitalism, the free market, economic liberty are all fine and dandy until they don’t deliver something we want. Then some higher power needs to be brought to bear. Ventre bridles because “…most people won’t get [to see] this take on the truth [liberal distortions to the effect that President Ronald Reagan’s “policy toward the problem” (AIDS) was to “ignore a burgeoning worldwide health crisis simply because there were gays involved”] because not everybody has cable or a satellite dish, and of those who do, not all of them get Showtime.”

     Ventre’s real complaint arises from the fact that CBS’s decision to move “The Reagans” to its Showtime affiliate means, effectively, the choice to view or not to view “this take on the truth” becomes strictly a market decision. As reported by Jon Friedman, of CBS’s MarketWatch: “On the decision to move the show to cable, CBS said in its statement: ‘A free broadcast network, available to all over the public airwaves, has different standards than media the public must pay to view. We do, however, recognize and respect the filmmakers' right to have their voice heard and their film seen.’” More than likely CBS’s respect of that “right” comes from a keen market sense. Few film producers’ careers would withstand a made-for-television film that cost $9 million and never saw the light of day; Showtime provided CBS a neat escape hatch to avoid what could have become a litigious situation.

     This affair seems to confirm that liberals know, above all else, that their ideas, their “take on the truth” just doesn’t fare very well in any marketplace where people are truly free to take them or leave them; and, to take them must freely chose to pay for them. So much of what constitutes liberalism today is either forced upon us or given to us that few any longer consider the implications of that fact. Or, that most of liberalism carries a price tag that can’t be avoided—parents, just for example, who chose to send their children to private school still must pay, not only for the privilege of avoiding lousy public schools, but for those lousy public schools as well.

     Media liberals clearly had no problem with CBS’s real motive for manufacturing “The Reagans” until it worked to produce an outcome they didn’t like. As the Sacramento Bee’s TV columnist Rick Kushman wrote: “CBS chose to make a miniseries about former President Reagan for one reason: ratings.” His sense is that the entire affair, start to finish, was “depressing.” But the “depression” would not have occurred had CBS managed to follow through on its profit-motivated and money-driven intention to create and air the costly miniseries. Kushman notes, perhaps correctly, that CBS’s motive, from start to finish, “was not politics; it was buzz and ratings.” In other words, CBS began the exercise to make money, and only altered its plan when it seemed that might not occur; or, that the costs might outweigh the benefits. Kushman as much as admits only “politics” would induce CBS to air a film that otherwise makes no commercial sense.

     Does anyone doubt that CBS behaves the way it does because it perceives some benefit to its bottom line? That is how market driven decisions are made. CBS is, last time we looked, a for profit private enterprise—albeit one that exploits a “public resource,” a portion of the broadcast spectrum, to do so. As such it cannot long remain in business unless it produces products the market actually wants. Were Kushman anything other than liberal, he would have no problem with the process; but he does, and his problem is entirely political.

     Bernard Goldberg, the author of “Arrogance: Rescuing America From the Media Elite” appeared on CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Reports and explained CBS’s bad market judgment this way: “These guys are clueless. Just as I think a lot of newspeople in the East Coast are clueless about how the American people think; the elites out in Hollywood are clueless as to how so many ordinary Americans could love this guy so much. So they let somebody write a play -- a screenplay, making stuff up, making the Reagans look like two doofuses. And they don't get in the beginning that this is going to cause a major brouhaha in Middle America.”

     And that is the point. CBS made a mistake, partly attributable to credulity based on ingrained bias, accepting of the idea that character assassination is at least palatable, if not in demand. That led the network to conclude that a hit piece on Ron and Nancy Reagan would draw a large audience and hype ratings. CBS management—those Goldberg, a former CBS employee knows well enough to call “elites”—were indeed shocked at the fact that the majority of customers did not want the product, even if it was “free;” a fact confirmed by ample feedback to that effect.

     Showtime subscribers willing to pay for the privilege of viewing whatever is now left of “The Reagans” also pay for the right to decide if it is worth the price. Freedom and free markets come without a money back guarantee and most especially no guarantee that outcomes will be to our liking, no matter how much media liberals dislike that truth.