. . . Brent Bozell, of the ironically named “Media Research Center,” who refuted Oliver Stone’s comment that “Nixon always said Reagan was a dumb son of a bitch” by quoting a number of prominent figures in Reagan’s administration who thought Reagan was really smart:
I turned to Frank Donatelli, the White House Political Director under President Reagan from 1987 through 1989 . . . Richard Allen, Reagan’s National Security Advisor . . . [and] Gary Bauer[, the] Domestic Policy Advisor under the Gipper for two years[.]
All of them agreed that real “dumb son of a bitch” was Stone, who—according Bozell in a letter addressed to Stone—is an historian because he once claimed to be:
Some producer [of Comedy Central’s Politically Incorrect] really thought in extremes when they pitted Oliver Stone and Brent Bozell for one episode. I have to say that you were gracious, charming, engaging, and we enjoyed ourselves—except for that moment when I chastised you for claiming you’re an historian. You bristled and denied ever claming that moniker. I cited the source, an interview in some West Coast paper (I can’t recall which one now).
Even though Bozell can’t remember the name of the paper, he somehow managed to re-read the article later and
[i]t turns out that you were right (in the article) and I was wrong.
So Bozell was wrong, Stone never claimed to be an historian, but that doesn’t mean Bozell wasn’t also right:
You are an historian whether you believe it or not. You make films about history and historical figures. You record history, and that makes you an historian.
Now that Bozell, through the cunning use of italics, has transformed Stone into an historian, he can finally slam him good and proper:
Being an historian is not the problem. It’s that you’re a lousy historian.
In short, Stone isn’t what he never claimed to be, but is what Bozell says he is, and a lousy one at that. The evidence:
“Nixon always said Reagan was a dumb son of a bitch,” you said, and the audience laughed, and you smiled and decided to take that statement further by agreeing with it. So you said, “You know, I think that he was,” and the audience now cheered and hooted and applauded.
See what I mean when I say you’re a lousy historian?
There are two claims being made here: one, that Nixon thought Reagan was a dumb son of a bitch; two, that Oliver Stone thinks Reagan was a dumb son of a bitch. Unfortunately for Bozell, Nixon illegally taped every conversation he ever had, and when we consult his conversations with Henry Kissenger on the morning of November 17, 1971 [620a.mp3], we learn that while Nixon didn’t use those exact words—about Reagan, at least, since we know he used that particular phrase about everyone from the Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, to the Director of the Secret Service, James Rowley, to one of his own White House aides, Tom Charles Huston—he didn’t think too highly of the Gipper’s wits:
(beginning at 1:33:02)
President Nixon: What’s your evaluation or Reagan after meeting him several times now.
Kissinger: Well, I think he’s a—actually I think he’s a pretty decent guy.
President Nixon: Oh, decent, no question, but his brains?
Kissinger: Well, his brains are negligible. I—
President Nixon: He’s really pretty shallow, Henry.
Kissinger: He’s shallow. He’s got no . . . he’s an actor. He—When he gets a line he does it very well. He said, “Hell, people are remembered not for what they do, but for what they say. Can’t you find a few good lines?” That’s really an actor’s approach to foreign policy . . .
Admittedly, Kissinger lands the harder blows, but Nixon obviously agrees with him, so we can say with certainty that Nixon thinks Reagan’s “brains are neglible” and that he’s “really pretty shallow.” That’s not quite “dumb son of a bitch,” but it’s close. If only that tape continued . . .
(beginning at 1:46:19)
President Nixon: Back to Reagan though. It shows you how a man of limited mental capacity simply doesn’t know what the Christ is going on in the foreign area. He’s got to know that on defense—doesn’t he know these battles we fight and fight and fight? Goddamn it, Henry, we’ve been at—
Does calling Reagan “a man of limited mental capacity” amount to saying he’s a “dumb son of bitch”? Oliver Stone seems to think so, and I’m inclined to agree. So, as to the first claim, Bozell is clearly the lousy historian here.
As to the second claim—that Oliver Stone thinks Reagan was a dumb son of a bitch—given that Bozell spends the majority of a letter addressed to Stone trying to prove that Reagan was the second coming of Thomas Aquinas, he’s not well-positioned to argue that Stone doesn’t think Reagan was a dumb son of a bitch.
In other words, the person who misremembered what Stone said in an article somewhere, but doesn’t remember where, who then re-read the article from he-doesn’t-remember-where and promptly forgot where it was again—this person thinks Stone is a lousy historian because he correctly cited Nixon’s sentiments about Reagan and correctly stated that he agreed with Nixon’s assessment. If I were Bozell—and could remember that I was Bozell long enough to cite myself—I wouldn’t be knocking people who don’t claim to be historians for being lousy historians when those same tables could so easily be turned on, say, a “lecturer, syndicated columnist, television commentator, debater, marketer, businessman, author, publisher and activist” who fancies himself qualified to judge who is and isn’t “a real [historian].”