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Reagan Casts Giant Shadow Online

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By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2004; 9:46 AM

Ronald Reagan was a giant on the American political landscape, so it's no surprise to find the late president standing just as tall on the Internet, casting a formidable shadow, virtually speaking, across cyberspace.

The last time a former U.S. president passed away -- Richard M. Nixon on April 22, 1994 -- the World Wide Web was just a toddler. But this is the first time that the United States has lost a president -- especially one who inspired equal amounts of love and loathing -- in the full swing of the digital age.

It would be easy to gauge the "Reagan effect" on the Internet by plugging in the number of Google search results from typing in "Ronald Reagan" (1.45 million) or those of Yahoo (2.35 million). But those numbers lie in more than one way. At the very least, they reveal an unprecedented outpouring of sadness, praise, scorn and historical chronicles of varying degrees of accuracy.

Following is a tiny cross-section of the Internet that highlights some of the major and most interesting online sources of information on Reagan. It is by no means comprehensive, but it attempts to use the Internet to assemble the most basic mosaic out of the bottomless well of information that people have posted online about the 40th president.

The Straight Story

There are several "official" sources of information on Reagan. The White House gives a brief biographical sketch with links to a biography of former First Lady Nancy Reagan, portraits of the Reagans and similar entries on every other president. Also see Reagan's biography as produced by the state of California.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library has an enormous photo gallery and a trove of other information such as videotapes of his speeches that can be ordered from the site. Reaganlibrary.com is a separate site but also is an official part of the presidential library. It includes interesting links to a list of gifts the Reagans received (it is partially finished at this time) and handwritten letters to Soviet premiers Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Mikhail Gorbachev. The site also features an exhaustive list of books chronicling Reagan's life and times.

In a similar vein, 2,800 pages of Reagan's archives are available for purchase at Paperless Archives. One of the best excerpts is a letter from Nixon to Reagan dated Aug. 13, 1987: "You gave the lie to the crap about your being over-the-hill, discouraged, etc... Don't ever comment on the Iran-Contra [sic] matter again... The committee labored for nine months and produced a stillborn midget. Let it rest in peace!"

The U.S. Army, Military District of Washington provides information on the military's involvement in Reagan's funeral arrangements and a biography of Maj. Gen. Galen B. Jackman, Nancy Reagan's military escort during the viewing and funeral process.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation includes a condolence book and a lengthy tributes list from heads of state such as U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and former President Jimmy Carter, as well as an uncharacteristically perfunctory e-mail from National Review founder and Editor-at-Large William F. Buckley.

Reagan's life in Hollywood gets thorough treatment from the Internet Movie Database, which notes that Reagan, among his many other performances, was the chief victim of a Dean Martin Celebrity Roast in 1973. If you're curious about what films the Reagans watched on their weekend jaunts to Camp David, a full list is here.

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