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updated 11/3/2003 9:38:21 AM ET 2003-11-03T14:38:21

Read a transcript of Joe Scarborough’s interview with Merv Griffin, below. Griffin expresses his outrage over the upcoming CBS movie, and his personal recollections and fond memories of his times with the Reagans.

MERV GRIFFIN, REAGAN FAMILY FRIEND: My word, what a little passing remark did on your show this past summer, when I said I just heard through the television grapevine that they are actually writing a hatchet movie on Ronald Reagan. I can’t believe that. What’s happened to everybody?

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY: Oh, I know. And, Merv, when you were on our show this past summer from L.A., you told me. You said, “You are just not going to believe what they are doing to Ronald Reagan.” But I have got to ask you, is it even worse than you expected this summer?

GRIFFIN: Oh, much worse. I have seen some of the promos, where Nancy screams at-screams-that fragile, wonderful woman doesn’t scream— screaming at all the White House aides.

Then, we all have read parts of the script on The Drudge Report, with scenes from the movie. It is a disgrace. And I can’t believe the publicity that CBS is putting out. I saw an interview the other night with Les Moonves. And he said: “Well, I don’t understand all the flak.” He said that in essence. I’m not quoting him exactly. Because, he said, the movie is— nobody has seen it. It is in the editing room. So we are taking scenes out and everything.

But every network that I have ever done a television movie for— and I have produced a few— you go to the television movie department. They order the script. You tell them what — you pitch the idea. They order the script. You read the script. The network makes changes. They don’t go out and shoot the movie with the existing script if they don’t like the tenor of the whole thing. That is foolishness to me.

SCARBOROUGH: Yes, it certainly is.

GRIFFIN: That is a cop-out of the worst kind, a cop-out of the worst kind.

SCARBOROUGH: Yes. You are very close to Nancy Reagan. And I tell my friends, one of the most exciting things that happened to me in the past several years is when you said, “Hey, Joe, let me call Nancy for you.” You dialed her on the cell phone. You put her on. It was a remarkable moment for me.

But you all have been close for such a long time. How is your dear friend, Nancy Reagan, holding up against CBS’ slanderous attack, not only on her dying husband, but also on her personally?

GRIFFIN: Well, she doesn’t understand it. Her days are filled with caretaker duties for a man who is in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, lying on his bed, doesn’t know anybody, doesn’t know Nancy. I guess he stares at the ceiling all day long. Nancy has been there for nine years. That is how long this disease has taken, and holding his hand. And when he can have a meal, she eats with him. She has never left his side, other than when we get her out and say: “Come on, Nancy. You have got to get out. Go to dinner, go to lunch, see a movie, do something.”

And she will consent once in a while. But always, there’s a time restriction: I have to be home at exactly 9:00, because Ronnie may wake up.

She doesn’t understand it. Nobody understands it.

It is cowardly. It is absolutely cowardly. Why would they do it, when they know that both the president and Nancy can’t answer back? I have called all of the friends. I have called various assistants who I have met throughout the years of Ronald Reagan. Nobody has ever been consulted about this.

So, where are they getting this junk?

SCARBOROUGH: And Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s love story is such a remarkable story. They have been so faithful, so devoted to each other.

GRIFFIN: Absolutely.

SCARBOROUGH: And to put Nancy Reagan through this at the end of Ronald Reagan’s life, just, it seems despicable. And you know something else that is despicable is what they are doing to Ronald Reagan, when he can’t fight back. CBS makes the president out to be a bigot and a homophobe, with lines like this one about gays and AIDS.

GRIFFIN: Right.

SCARBOROUGH: They have Reagan saying “They that live in sin shall die in sin.” And every time I read that, I laugh, because everybody that’s known Ronald Reagan says, that’s not the way the man spoke. Have you ever heard anything hateful or any bigoted statements coming out of the mouth of Ronald Reagan?

GRIFFIN: Never. Never. And I think the scriptwriter of this movie has already admitted she put those words in his mouth. And I think the lawyers have advised CBS to take that out. And I think they have. That, I’m not sure of, but who knows.

But there’s so much behind this. Why now? First of all, it is sweeps month. That’s when the networks put on all of their greatest shows, they say. And, of course, they get ratings and they make money. There’s an AP story out today— I just read it in our local paper here, “The Desert Sun.” And it says that CBS has said, well, media research has reported to us we are probably going to make a lot of money and get a lot of ratings.

But they forget that the public is smart. The public knows when somebody is being trashed. And they don’t forget— The public knew out in California when they elected Arnold Schwarzenegger that it was time to get back to somebody without all of that political history and shouting and yelling. They know. And that’s why they elected Arnold.

It’s the same with the Reagans. If this plays, they are going to know what CBS is doing. First of all, we all know— and it has been printed in The Drudge Report— that Les Moonves is a great friend of Bill Clinton’s. There’s pictures of Bill all over his office and stuff. Is that going to be their next movie, the Bill Clinton trash story and Hillary? I don’t think so.

SCARBOROUGH: No, of course it won’t. Yes.

GRIFFIN: That’s right. It is election time. There’s all kinds of political junk in the air. The Democratic nominees are yelling at each other, which the public won’t forget at election time. The stuff that’s going on, trashing each other, is awful. But does this have to be done? No, it doesn’t. Awful.

I want to tell something I have never told before. OK, they report that one of the scenes in the movie is when he calls himself the Antichrist on the day the Marine bodies were being returned from Lebanon. He said: “I am the Antichrist.” Well, the beauty of it was, I spent that day with them prior to him going to Andrews Air Force Base to greet the bodies coming home from Lebanon, and then all the parent were there. He was devastated. He had nothing to say about the Antichrist. He doesn’t talk like that. He was simply devastated.

I went back. I had lunch, just the three of us. We talked in the afternoon. He talked a great deal about it. It is just-that’s one scene that I was on the spot and know that that never happened.

SCARBOROUGH: And, of course, if CBS, if anybody from CBS had called you up and asked you about any of these scenes, you could have set them straight. But, as you have said tonight, they haven’t called anybody. They are apparently not interested in getting the facts.

GRIFFIN: No.

SCARBOROUGH: Now, you know more about television and the television industry than anybody out there. Certainly, somebody at CBS, Les Moonves, somebody has to understand that slandering a dying man is not— it may be a good ratings ploy in the short run, but doesn’t that damage a network’s credibility over time?

GRIFFIN: Of course it does. Of course it does. And CBS has always been a distinguished network. The network itself skews older than ABC and NBC. They have an older audience. That older audience are the same ones who loved Ronald Reagan, still love him. What are they going to think? That’s not something you do in there. It’s shocking.

SCARBOROUGH: I want to talk about some of the inaccuracies that are in the movie and have you respond. And, of course, we talked about how the screenwriter made up a quote about Reagan on AIDS. Of course, they say Reagan gave Hollywood names to the FBI blacklist, which is unsubstantiated, that he based missile defense on a 1940s movie that he was in. They say Nancy beat their daughter Patti and also say that Nancy was hooked on pills. And they say that Ronnie developed Alzheimer’s way back in 1984, when he was still president.

GRIFFIN: That’s right, in 1984, when he issued a public statement saying the greatest enemy in America is AIDS.

SCARBOROUGH: Right.

GRIFFIN: His greatest part of his presidency— well, first of all, the first term was all about the economics, rescuing it from the Democratic Party, who had administered America before that. And if you remember, I think wasn’t unemployment at 18 percent and interest rate, 21 percent?

So they laughingly in the press called it Reaganomics, his ideas for switching around and changing it all. And, all of a sudden, Reaganomics became real, because it was a great recovery, great economic recovery for America. And everybody appreciated it.

Look at all he did in his second term. You tell me he had Alzheimer’s and was gaga? That was when he met with Khrushchev, that famous meeting— You saw him coming out of the door in Reykjavik and angry at Gorbachev.

You saw him saying, tear down the wall. You saw all of the great things. Then, I spent a lot of time after his presidency. When they came home, I said: “Come on, I’m going to take you, I have an island down in the Bahamas called Paradise Island. We are going to go down there and have a vacation, took them down for three weeks.” Believe me, he never had any symptoms of Alzheimer’s at all.

There was a lot of confusion after his presidency, because people thought that he sometimes acted strange. Well, I know what the problem was. He came to my son’s wedding. And it was a beautiful wedding. And I had Jack Sheldon, the trumpet player, and his orchestra there. And the president and Nancy were at our table and all the families. They always showed up for longtime family-friends events and everything. Really sweet. They loved family events.

And so, at one point, I looked over at the president at the table. And he was looking very strange to me. And I said to him, “Is everything all right?” And he looked at me kind of funny. You see, he couldn’t hear anybody was saying at the table, because the trumpet player, on his notes, were getting into his hearing aid, which blocked out everything else.

And that often happened at parties, where you would talk to him, but he didn’t quite understand what you were saying, because all the peripheral noise was taking the lead in his hearing aid. So that confused him. But when you were sitting one on one and alone, there was no confusion at all. He just had terrible problems with those things.

Clinton had two of them. But by the time Bill Clinton got his hearing aids, they were a great deal more modern and up to date.

SCARBOROUGH: Right. Now, when I mentioned the personal attacks on Nancy Reagan before, you grimaced, because of the lies they are telling about her. And, as you know, a massive boycott is under way. And you just mentioned that CBS Les Moonves is on the run. Has Nancy Reagan been heartened the outpouring of support for her and her husband during this awful ordeal?

GRIFFIN: Yes, she is very-she is so pleased that everybody-she had no idea what a firestorm it would have created. She saw you on last night’s show. And she saw the young boy, Mike Paranzino, on. And she was overwhelmed that she had a Web page, BoycottCBS.

A lot of the things that people have been presenting, how you can get to CBS and do something about it, or the sponsors, it really— it’s been very moving for her. But she understands. She knows what the First Amendment is. She knows that you can come out and trash anybody if they are a public person.

SCARBOROUGH: She obviously was in the spotlight, not only as a first lady of California, but also as a first lady of the United States. She understands it is tough. But, certainly, she has to even think herself, knowing all of that, that this is just way over the line, this slander of a dying president.

GRIFFIN: Yes. Right. And she understands political clashes and all of that kind of stuff that happens. But she doesn’t understand cruelty. And I think that is where— what we all feel who know her. She is a delightful, wonderful woman. And the way they portray her is pretty sickening.

The public is starting to react to it. I know that young man said his Web page is just filling up. He had no idea. It is a great watchdog kind of idea. I would hope they would do something about it. But, in that statement by Les Moonves, that is not the way television works. At the expense of shooting a movie, you don’t shoot the whole movie and say, oh, no, we have to cut scenes out here, cut this out, cut this out, cut this. That is very expensive to do. They would have seen that in the script. The overall picture of the script is trash. It’s a hatchet job.

SCARBOROUGH: Oprah Winfrey had Barbra Streisand on her show recently and asked about her husband, James Brolin, playing Ronald Reagan. And this is something you talked to me about before.

And Oprah said: “How’s that for you, Ms. Democrat? Yes.” And Barbra Streisand replied with a smile and said, “I said, well, as long as they tell the truth about Ronald Reagan, I have no problem.” Oprah got the joke and said, “OK, OK, all right, Streisand.” And then Streisand replied: “So, yes, it’s also very funny. I mean, it’s funny.”

Merv, can you believe that Hollywood liberals would find it funny to beat up on this great man, when he is lying on his deathbed? And I will just be really blunt with you. What has Barbra Streisand done, because Ronald Reagan freed a continent and destroyed the Soviet Union?

GRIFFIN: Well, she gives benefits to raise money for candidates in the Democratic Party. That’s what she does. And I think she would like to be head of the Democratic Party or something else.

But it is very strange. If she had all that inside information on how do you treat him and I hope they portray him as he really is, well, how does she know? She has never met Ronald Reagan, unless she has got special antennas up there.

SCARBOROUGH: Yes, I don’t think she does. I don’t think she does.

GRIFFIN: No. And The Drudge Report said she was on the set every day. And I know Barbra. She likes to come in and change everything. I’m sure she changed a few lines, and usually lights.

Yes, I think there’s an involvement there. I think there’s a big back-plan on all of this. Maybe we will see her doing a special on CBS. Who knows.

SCARBOROUGH: Who knows. Well, that would be very curious if she did. One final question. Again, you are very close with Nancy Reagan. You’ve been very close with President Reagan for some time. What should Americans do out there to let the Reagans know how much they mean to them and how hurt they are by what CBS is doing with this movie? What should an average, ordinary American like me or somebody in Kansas or somebody in Maine that loves Ronald Reagan, what should they do?

GRIFFIN: Write to the president of CBS, New York City, and just tell him exactly how you feel.

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