Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Caution on Utilizing the Online White House Diaries for Reagan Historical Research

As  I was preparing to write my weekly Reagan in Retrospect post today, I came across what is listed on the Reagan Presidential Library website as the entry for March 31, 1986.  It reads in part:
…During our stay got a night time call re: the bombing of the Disco in West Berlin where 50 or so of our servicemen were wounded and killed.  Evidence is adding up that the villain was Kadaffy although that hypocrite went on T.V. to say “it was a terrorist act against civilians and he wouldn’t do such things.”
The problem—which I did not realize until I began searching other primary sources for contemporary reactions—is that the bombing did not take place until five days later (April 5, 1986). 

My assumption is that this is simply the result of a data entry error.  However, if there’s anyone else out relying on the digital diary record to do primary Reagan research, I thought you ought to be made aware.

Update: I received the following communication from the Reagan Library in response to my question about this diary entry.

Dear Justin,

That is a good question.  You are correct that the bombing took place on April 5, 1986.  In the unabridged print version of the Reagan Diaries, there is only one diary entry for the period of Friday, March 28, 1986 through Sunday, April 6, 1986.  President Reagan wrote about the Berlin bombing in this entry, so he must have written it at the end of that week.  Because there is only one diary entry for all of these days, in the online version of the diary, the same entry is repeated for each day in this period.
If you have any other questions, please let us know.

Best regards,

Shelley Nayak
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

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