BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. You may have heard --President Reagan is dead. [CNN MUSIC UP] CNN had sad music for the occasion. So did the Fox News Channel-- [FOX NEWS CHANNEL MUSIC UP] -- as did MSNBC. [MSNBC MUSIC UP] Even the death of another American icon was viewed through gipper-colored glasses...
FEMALE ANCHOR: Ronald Reagan was also, we've learned, a big fan of Ray Charles. In fact, in January 1985, Ray Charles was the featured entertainer at President Reagan's second inauguration. [CLIP OF RAY CHARLES SINGING]
BOB GARFIELD: Maybe, as some members of Congress have proposed, Reagan does belong on Mount Rushmore or the ten dollar bill. He was a towering 20th Century figure. But the mournful tributes were rife with inaccuracies. Reagan's unequaled popularity was chanted like a mantra, despite a heap of polls that prove otherwise. It was deemed a breach of taste to recall the scandals of his presidency in the midst of mourning. Okay, maybe it was too early for a trip down bad memory lane. But how about the news that got away? "There is other news, like the reality of Iraq," said Dan Rather in a Knight Ridder story on Tuesday. "It got very short shrift this weekend." And, we might add, not much more in the week that followed.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: For instance, the most important chapter in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal opened this week with reports about a Bush administration policy memo sanctioning an unspecified degree of torture in the war on terror, contrary to the Geneva Convention. But Attorney General John Ashcroft told Congress he would not release the memo. Television was so full of tributes, you might have missed Delaware Senator Joseph Biden saying this:
JOSEPH BIDEN: There's a reason why we sign these treaties: to protect my son in the military. That's why we have these treaties. So when Americans are captured, they are not tortured. That's the reason.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: During presidential death coverage on CNN's Crossfire, Paul Begala did manage to squeeze in some historic news, but then was moved to change the subject.
PAUL BEGALA: Right now the United Nations is voting on the American-British resolution on the transfer of authority to Iraq. The president earlier today said he predicted a unanimous support. That would be nothing but good news for the United States. But Ken, let me ask you -serve - you served Ronald Reagan there at the United Nations. There's been a bit of a conservative critique of the UN lately. Tell me, would he have shared that? President Reagan?
KEN ADELMAN: No, he was always interested in dialogue with countries--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And did you hear about the G-8 Summit? Leaders of the world's richest nations got together on an island off of Georgia, and nobody but the protesters seemed to care. And then there was the largely unreported first contact between earthlings and extra-terrestrial life. [CLIP PLAYS]
ELMER DAVIS: This is Elmer Davis again. We still don't know what it is or where it comes from, but there's something there. This is not another flying saucer scare.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay-- that didn't happen. But President Reagan did say several times during his term in office that the one event sure to unite America and the Evil Empire would be an alien invasion.