November 4, 2003 | Broadcast

American Morning

Former Republican National Committee Communications Director Cliff May is here.

Cliff, good morning.


HEMMER: And also Democratic consultant Victor Kamber is with us, too.

Victor, good morning.

Nice to see you.


HEMMER: Why don’t you start it off this morning.

This whole deal about CBS and the Reagans, fair criticism or is this censorship? How do you read it so far?

KAMBER: Well, no one has even seen it yet. It’s much ado about nothing. I mean, first of all, it’s frightening that left or right could scream aloud about something they’ve never seen and a network is prepared to take it off the air. I mean that doesn’t even make sense. We have censorship in a different way. You don’t like it, turn off the television. Don’t watch it.

This is a show. It’s a movie. It’s a — there’s probably some fiction to it. It’s probably some documentary part of it. I mean who cares? This is not a deity we’re talking about. This is not a country where we, if you say the wrong word about someone you’re going to be thrown in jail. It’s a story about Ronald Reagan played by James Brolin and some people will love it and some will hate it.

HEMMER: And I know you say who cares. Cliff, I think you do.

MAY: Well, look, there’s a very simple solution. Let some reputable historians — Michael Beschloss, others — come in and take a look at the script, take a look at what there is and say yes, it’s basically a fair and accurate portrayal of their life or no, this is ridiculous, this has nothing to do with Ronald Reagan.

I think it’s just not a good idea for CBS to slander one of the most popular presidents we’ve had while he’s on his deathbed. It’s not good history, it’s not good public education and it’s not very good public relations for people…

KAMBER: We don’t know it’s slander.

MAY: … for CBS. No, let some historians take a look at it.

KAMBER: Why a historian? It’s a movie.

MAY: Yes, but it…

KAMBER: It’s a movie.

MAY: Then make it a — if it’s not about Ronald Reagan, make it a movie about Donald Deagan.

KAMBER: No, but it’s…

MAY: If you want to fictionalize it — look, let’s — what are we going to do next? We’re going to do a miniseries on Mother Teresa’s secret affair with P. Diddy? Is that OK?

KAMBER: If it happened, why wouldn’t we?

MAY: Because it didn’t happen.

KAMBER: But that’s why we don’t do it.

MAY: Mother Teresa did not have an affair with P. Diddy.

KAMBER: And that’s why we didn’t do it.

MAY: That’s why we didn’t do it. And so if this…

KAMBER: Reagan was president, so why wouldn’t you do a movie about eight years of Ronald Reagan?

MAY: That’s a fine thing to do. Don’t put in his mouth views that he never held and never believed in order to slander him. That’s not a good idea, Vic.

KAMBER: Turn it off if you don’t like it, Cliff. That’s what television is all about.

MAY: No, let CBS do it. But it’s bad P.R. to slander a president on his deathbed. It’s just not a good idea.

HEMMER: All right, that’s topic one.

Let’s go to topic two and talk about Iraq.

Cliff, start us off on this. Later tonight in Boston you have eight Democrats vying for the White House. Where is the Iraq policy the weakest right now?

MAY: In the communications of it. If what’s going on in Iraq right now is a peacekeeping and reconstruction effort, it’s obviously a failure. If it’s a major part of the war against terrorism, then we’re doing all right, though we have to do better. Don’t forget, in 1983 suicide bombers forced us out of Beirut. In 1993, we were forced out of Somalia by terrorists. If we’re forced now out of Iraq in 2003, where do you think it’s going to end? We’ll have many defeats in the future.

HEMMER: So you say it’s, you’re suggesting it’s a P.R. battle right now that’s being lost…

MAY: Yes.

HEMMER: … and a communications error.

MAY: Absolutely.

HEMMER: What about 383 dead soldiers?

MAY: That’s what, that’s called a war. It wasn’t called a P.R., it wasn’t — in WWII, we had — and in Vietnam and in every war we fought — in Korea, we had losses because we were fighting a war. There’s no such thing — if you think you’re going to fight a war and not have any losses, forget it. You might as well just surrender now and give it up. And if we can’t win the kind of war we’re at in Iraq right now, the other kinds of war don’t matter because the terrorists understand if they have a kind of war they can fight they will continue to fight it. 9/11 was the worst battle we’ve lost. Three thousand in one day.

HEMMER: Victor, I think one thing we can all guarantee tonight, these eight individuals will get up and say that the post-war policy is wrong and flawed. The question is what do you do to fix it? How do you make it better 12 months to the day before another presidential election?

KAMBER: Well, I think there’s partial what Cliff says and partially the way you phrased the question. What you say tonight is that we’ve got to come honest with the American people of where we are. I think there is a P.R. communication missing or a communications effort missing. There’s been no honesty to the American public as to what our commitment is, what we have to do and how long it’s going to take and what the cost is going to be, cost in olives and cost in money.

We, the American people, were led to believe that, you know, we’re dealing with a Third World power, we can go in, we can clean it up, change the regime, get out quickly. None of that’s been true to happen.

We’ve changed the regime, but that’s the end of it. Now we’re losing lives. It’s costing us money. There’s no end in sight. Frankly, there’s no belief right now, even if there is, that there is a policy, a real policy out there to solve this problem. Yes, it’s a war, but the president says the war is over. But he won’t acknowledge that we’re still at war and that war may go on for several years.

HEMMER: Victor, I gave you the first word.

Cliff, the last.

MAY: Well, look, I would like to see the Democratic candidates get up there and not say, in one way or another, we have to cut and run, not say let’s turn this over to Kofi Annan and surely he can solve it. I’d like to see the Democratic candidates say look, we have to win and here’s my plan for how we do win in Iraq and in the war against terrorism. Take a serious view on that.

So far Gephardt and Lieberman sort of have. The other candidates have not.

KAMBER: The one way to win, Cliff, let’s change Bush from office.

MAY: Let’s hear a plan for somebody else. You get somebody who can tell me better than Bush how to win this war against terrorism, I’ll vote with you.

KAMBER: Any of the eight. Any of the eight would be better than Bush.
MAY: No, I go back with Bush.

HEMMER: Gentlemen, Kamber and May, we’ll talk again, maybe later this week.

MAY: Thanks.

HEMMER: Appreciate it.