CBS and ‘The Reagans’

The back-and-forth over CBS’s “The Reagans” drama has been fascinating to watch. Of course in the face of pressure driven by conservatives, CBS decided to move the controversial mini-series to Showtime.

CBS’s statement announcing this is bizarre,

CBS will not broadcast The Reagans on November 16 and 18. This decision is based solely on our reaction to seeing the final film, not the controversy that erupted around a draft of the script.

It’s amusing to see how a major media outlet, when faced when its own scandal, spins as poorly as any politician out there. The decision had nothing to do with the outcry over the film? That’s about as believable as a CBS story about destroying weapons bunkers in Iraq.

Although the mini-series features impressive production values and acting performances, and although the producers have sources to verify each scene in the script, we believe it does not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagans for CBS and its audience. Subsequent edits that we considered did not address those concerns.

As far as I can tell, CBS is simply flat-out lying about their sourcing claims. As Patty Davis, who in the past has had less than flattering things to say about her famous family, notes in Time magazine,

In the New York Times on October 21st, one of the writers admitted that the line about AIDS victims was completely fabricated. In that same article, Jim Rutenberg reported that the producers claimed no major event was depicted without two confirming sources.

In fact, Davis cites numerous errors related to their depiction of her life in the film (emphasis added),

Nor do I remember conducting an impromptu yoga class at my wedding reception. (I promise you, no one at my wedding was chanting Om or Shanti.)

. . .

Consider the scene in a girlsÂ’ boarding school I supposedly was attending when my father was elected governor of California (I was never at an all-girlsÂ’ boarding school.) They have a classmate saying to me, “HitlerÂ’s just been elected governor.” No one writes a line like that with any other agenda except to wound.

But nothing beats the third paragraph of the CBS explanation of the switch to Showtime for “The Reagans,”

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. As such, we have reached an agreement to license the exhibition rights for the film to Showtime, a subscriber-based, pay-cable network. We believe this is a solution that benefits everyone involved.

Ah, I get it now — it’s okay to make absurdly bogus biographical films of people provided you show them on a pay-cable channel. How about a new slogan: Showtime — for the times when integrity is a liability!


‘The Reagans,’ From One of Them. Patti Davis, Time, November 3, 2003.

AIDS Quackery In South Africa

Name a disease and somewhere in the world there are bound to be a group of quacks who think this or that oddball treatment will cure some disease or another. So normally it would not be at all surprising or particularly dismaying that Manto Tshabalala-Msimang believes that people in South Africa can boost their immune systems against AIDS by eating the African sweet potato, hypoxis. Of course what little available evidence there is on hypoxis suggest that, if anything, it is likely to suppress the immune system if eaten in large enough quantities.

Unfortunately, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is not just some nutcase quack (though she definitely is that) — she also happens to be the Health Minister of South Africa. That is right, the country with the most AIDS victims in the world also has as its health minister a quack who claims that rather than anti-retroviral drugs, which South Africans really need to do is just eat more sweet potatoes (and garlic and onions).

In a sign of the times, even in the developing world, the opposition Democratic Alliance has set up a web site devoted solely to Manto’s blunders, Fire Manto that is in a weblog-style format (though with annoying Javascript pop-ups for the content). So you can scroll down and see Manto attributing the AIDS epidemic to God in a way that would make Jerry Falwell proud,

It could be a God-given opportunity for moral and spiritual growth, a time to review our assumption about sin and morality.

Manto is so hostile to anti-retroviral drugs that in 2002 she was angered when a multinational mining company urged its subsidiaries to provide anti-retroviral drugs to workers in countries where the government was unable to do so.

This is a woman who is so far gone that at one point she circulated a memorandum to various South African government officials that featured a chapter from a book claiming that AIDS was part of a conspiracy by extraterrestrials.

Bush’s recent pledge of $15 billion to fight AIDS in Africa is a good start, but not if it’s going to end up buying sweet potatoes and helping Manto push this sort of nonsense.

Mandela’s Pathetic Backpedaling on AIDS Drugs Testing

Reuters reports that Nelson Mandela has backpedaled on testing of AIDS drugs and is now endorsing Thabo Mbeki’s ridiculous position that further safety testing of AIDS drugs is necessary because, as Reuters paraphrases his position,

. . . conditions in Africa were different from those in the developed world, where the drugs have proven beneficial.

Mandela does say that the government should provide the drugs to patients with the warning that they are awaiting further safety tests, but how can Mandela seriously call on South Africa to “smash to the superstition” about AIDS while endorsing this part of Mbeki’s pseudoscientific view of AIDS and AIDS drugs.


Mandela backs studies into safety of AIDS drugs. Reuters, December 1, 2002.

Zimbabwe, Genocide and AIDS

Glenn Reynolds links to an article speculating that Zimbabwe might be on the verge of heading down the same path that Idi Amin’s Uganda took. But the scary thing is that even without that sort of problem, the long term result of Robert Mugabe’s tyranny is going to be unbelievably high numbers of deaths in Zimbabwe due to something that’s been a bit overlooked — the AIDS crisis.

Yes, millions of people in Zimbabwe are at risk of starvation and political violence is likely to rise, but even if those two outcomes are averted, Zimbabwe is headed toward an HIV Holocaust.

In July the United Nations released a report on AIDS in Africa claiming that by 2020, more than 68 million people in Africa will likely die from AIDS. And Zimbabwe is the poster child for the epidemic.

In 1997, an estimated 25 percent of all adults in Zimbabwe were HIV positive. While Mugabe fiddled about with seizing white farms and jailing opposition parties and journalists, that figure jumped to an estimated 33 percent of all adults in Zimbabwe being HIV positive.

Other countries, such as Botswana, have larger estimated rates of infection, and certainly places like South Africa have dragged their feet at dealing with the epidemic, but at the moment Zimbabwe seems the leading candidate for the nightmare scenario where AIDS all but wipes out a large nation. If Mugabe is able to hold on to power like Mobutu did in Zaire and Amin did in Uganda, by the end of the decade Zimbabwe will likely be looking at HIV infection rates in excess of 50 percent of the adult population and with no end or solution in sight.

What Is Wrong with Thabo Mbeki?

Unbelievably as the 14th International AIDS Conference is getting under way, South Africa’s government is still fighting for the right keep AIDS drugs out of the hands of pregnant women.

And Thabo Mbeki had the balls to show up in Canada last month begging the West for more development aid saying,

The common thread here is the renewed determination among political leaders and civil society to build a humane world of shared prosperity.

Yeah, unless you happen to be an HIV positive pregnant woman.

In fact, in Mbeki’s vision of South Africa, many AIDS deaths don’t happen. Mbeki worked hard, for example, to suppress a report that found AIDS was the leading cause of death in South Africa.

Politician, heal thyself.