COMMENTS: Kennedys’ Nod Trumps Lame Duck Bush

All three networks sent their anchors to Washington DC to cover President George Bush's final State of the Union address. But their hearts really were not in it. The headline political news of the day came from the campaign trail. All three newscasts led with the Story of the Day, the endorsement of Barack Obama by Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Senator, and Caroline Kennedy, whose father was President John Kennedy. ABC expanded its newshole, as has been its wont on January Mondays, courtesy of sponsor Pfizer (24 min v CBS 18, NBC 20) and used its extra time to conduct an Exclusive interview with the Democratic uncle and niece, a former First Brother and former First Daughter.

The Obama rally inspired a certain giddiness. The candidate "snagged a big one," in the words of NBC's Lee Cowan. CBS' Jeff Greenfield called it "a moment packed with political significance." ABC's David Wright (embargoed link) wondered how much influence it mighty have with ordinary voters. "This may be one instance where a lot of people" will be persuaded, he assessed, calling it "no ordinary endorsement." NBC's Tim Russert pinpointed the specific Democratic voting blocs liable to be swayed as blue collar workers, Latinos and whites.

The significance of the event concerned Obama's relationship with two huge names in Democratic politics, the Kennedys themselves and the Clintons. Concerning the Kennedys, ABC's Wright waxed poetic: "Today the audacity of hope had its rendezvous with destiny. The Kennedy clan anointed Barack Obama a son of Camelot." NBC's Cowan invoked "the Kennedy mystique" and CBS' Greenfield picked up on the Massachusetts senator "declaring that the torch has been passed." In that interview with ABC anchor Charles Gibson, Edward Kennedy cited Obama's "unique abilities…to galvanize the young, to speak to hope…not only to win an election but to govern." Caroline Kennedy stated: "We have a chance to change history here."

As for the Clintons, for the candidate herself it was "an embarrassment," according to NBC's Cowan. CBS' Greenfield heard Ted Kennedy taking "dead aim at one of her core arguments" that Obama is too much of a rookie to be President. NBC's Andrea Mitchell called it an "enormous blow for Hillary." But, more important, it was seen as a rebuke to husband Bill. ABC's Wright saw "a slap in the face" for the former President when Kennedy hailed Obama for turning the page "on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion." ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported that Kennedy had told Bill Clinton that "he did not appreciate" his campaigning in South Carolina. NBC's Mitchell characterized Kennedy as being "appalled" at Clinton's attacks and had "urged him to tone it down."

Both NBC's Mitchell and CBS' Greenfield replayed Bill Clinton's apparent race-based belittling of Obama's landslide victory in South Carolina--"Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in '84 and '88"--which would make his wife this generation's Walter Mondale or Michael Dukakis.


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