CNN's Brinkley Dubiously Claims Reagan 'Fabricated' Story About Seeing Holocaust

Appearing as a guest on Sunday's Reliable Sources, CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley claimed that President Ronald Reagan "used to fabricate stories," and alluded to a story about the Holocaust as an example.

After fellow guest James Fallows of The Atlantic recalled possible holes in stories told by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, lamenting that voters do not seem to care, Brinkley brought up false stories that circulated in 1972 about Ed Muskie, and then moved to Reagan as he added:

So there are these fake kind of stories that come in, but I agree with James Fallows completely with the honey badger idea, nothing Donald Trump says, he can make up stories, but, you know, Ronald Reagan used to fabricate stories. He used to-

After host Brian Stelter jumped in asking, "Fabricated?" the CNN presidential historian continued:

Yeah, he would tell stories about Disneyfied America, you know, things that, you know, he may have been in a movie about the Holocaust, but suddenly, he had a direct experience with it in World War II. And it never stuck to Ronald Reagan in any way, and I cede it's not sticking really to Donald Trump right now.

But the CNN historian did not mention that the story he was presumably referring to -- that Reagan claimed that he personally took part in filming the Nazi death camps on site in Europe after they were liberated -- has been examined and disputed as a likely case of misunderstanding or erroneous recounting of the true story that Reagan, himself remaining in the U.S., had kept some of the film of the death camps that other members of his unit had shot in Europe.



Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Sunday, February 14, Reliable Sources on CNN:

11:35 a.m. ET

BRIAN STELTER: I know you were frustrated last night watching the debate, Donald Trump saying he had hundreds of friends die on 9/11. He also repeated his comment that he was against the Iraq War from the start. Now, according to Politifact and others, including our own John King who mentioned this on the air earlier this morning, there's no evidence, no public record that Trump was actually against the Iraq invasion in 2003. Do you feel the press is doing a sufficient job of trying to hold Trump and other candidates accountable for their comments on these stages?

JAMES FALLOWS, THE ATLANTIC: Well, I guess the press is trying, and some of the other candidates are trying, too. What we've seen as we mentioned earlier with Trump, there's a kind of honey badger effect here where it seems not to matter. I mean, I know for certain, having covered the Iraq War story very carefully myself and writing against it in 2002, there is no evidence that Donald Trump was against the war before it started. But I feel that I can say that, you can say it, and it just doesn't matter. So presumably at some point this will shake out. Right now this is a uniquely sort of truth-immune phase of politics in my depressingly long career of watching these things.

STELTER: Let me ask our historian. Doug, do you think it's uniquely truth, you know, truth-free?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, look, all campaigns have people that make up stories that track. I remember in 1972, the writer Hunter S. Thompson started doing gonzo journalism, and he said Ed Muskie was on Ibogaine, a weird drug from South America, and all the straight press started reporting it for a few days as if this were a real story. So there are these fake kind of stories that come in, but I agree with James Fallows completely with the honey badger idea, nothing Donald Trump says, he can make up stories, but, you know, Ronald Reagan used to fabricate stories. He used to-

STELTER: Fabricate?

BRINKLEY: Yeah, he would tell stories about Disneyfied America, you know, things that, you know, he may have been in a movie about the Holocaust, but suddenly, he had a direct experience with it in World War II. And it never stuck to Ronald Reagan in any way, and I cede it's not sticking really to Donald Trump right now.

Brad Wilmouth
Brad Wilmouth is a contributing blogger to NewsBusters