The death of former First Lady Nancy Reagan on Sunday has inspired tributes and mourning around the world, but for two of America's flagship newspapers, it was more a time for knife-sharpening.
The Washington Post bashed Reagan in its obituary for her “undeniable knack for inviting controversy,” while the New York Times did a Throwback Monday on its Facebook page by linking back to a 1991 review of gossip author Kitty Kelley's Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography, a discredited book casting her as one who “ruled the White House with a Gucci-clad fist.”
The Washington Post‘s original obituary, penned by Lois Romano, was scathing from its opening paragraph. It read:
Nancy Reagan had an undeniable knack for inviting controversy. There were her extravagant spending habits at a time of double-digit unemployment, a chaotic relationship with her children and stepchildren that could rival a soap-opera plot, and the jaw-dropping news that she had insisted the White House abide by an astrologer when planning the president’s schedule.
At some point Sunday evening, however, the Post stealth-edited the story and changed the opening paragraph to, “Nancy Reagan, a former film actress whose crowning role was that of vigilant guardian of President Ronald Reagan’s interests and legacy, died March 6 at her home in Los Angeles.”
In its third paragraph, however, it still reads, “As first lady from 1981 to 1989, Mrs. Reagan had a knack for inviting controversy—from her spending habits to her request that the White House abide by an astrologer when planning the president’s schedule.”
Then, Monday night, the New York Times posted a link to Maureen Dowd's story on Kelley's book that trashed both her and Ronald Reagan. Among other charges, Kelley's book accused her of having an affair with Frank Sinatra:
Ms. Kelley asserts that Mrs. Reagan will go down in history as the cold and glittering icon for a morally vacuous era. The author says the former First Lady reinvented herself with a tissue of fabrications about her background, age and family, just as her free-spirited mother did before her; that she had her nose fixed and her eyes lifted; that both the Reagans had extramarital affairs, and that Mrs. Reagan had a long-term affair with Frank Sinatra.
“In Ms. Kelley's scalding portrait,” Dowd writes, “Mrs. Reagan comes across as an unfortunate combination of a free-spending Mary Todd Lincoln and a power-crazed Edith Wilson.”
The post was not met favorably on the New York Times Facebook page. The presumably left-leaning crowd hit the newspaper for showing “poor taste,” “complete lack of class,” and “referencing Kitty Kelley and her trashy gossip,” among numerous angry comments.
Rest in peace, Nancy!