HBO's Reagan — Where's the Rest of Him?

Reagan recalls the obvious highlights of the president’s momentous two terms, from the assassination attempt in 1981 to the Iran-Contra scandal which nearly wrecked his presidency.

The film takes direct aim at Reaganomics while ignoring how the president’s policies caused the economy to come roaring back to life.

It’s here where Jarecki really puts his thumb on the scales of documentary justice. The number of Reagan supporters shown on screen drops, and his critics take over. For example, the film focuses on a small town called Dixon to prove how wrongheaded Reagan’s policies were for the country, trotting out images of distressed neighborhoods and people waiting in lines for work. Only Reagan economist Arthur Laffer is allowed to defend the policies, and by omitting its positive results he’s essentially discredited.

Talk about selective editing.

Yes, the film calls upon old Reagan allies like James Baker and George Shultz to describe Reagan and his policies, and it shrewdly doesn’t recruit any far-left types from The Nation or Media Matters to poison the narrative. But it doesn't use them to defend his administration's policies.

The lengthy segment on Iran-Contra is deservedly critical, and the only defense offered up is by Reagan’s son who weakly claims his father meant well in breaking the law.

Reagan really falters when trying to capture the bigger picture. The film diminishes the president’s role in defeating Communism, gives little attention to how his optimism cheered the nation, and claims his policies amounted to a “transfer of wealth” from the poor to the rich.

The director’s dodgiest tactic comes via a military veteran used throughout the movie to sing Reagan’s praises. Why does Jarecki keep returning to this fellow? Why should he matter so much? We learn why in the documentary’s waning moments when the veteran slams America and its capitalistic system.

The film also tries to pin the country’s current deficit woes on Reagan as well as the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which, the film implies, were all about oil.

Reagan is textbook documentary bias masquerading as an honest assessment of a transformative president.