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     TYNDALL HEADLINE: HIGHLIGHTS FROM DECEMBER 27, 2006
By the standards of history, the death of President Gerald Ford was hyped. Ford was never elected to the office and served for little more than half a term. Yet the first day after his death attracted saturation coverage: 44 minutes on the three networks combined. Compare that with 108 minutes for the entire week of mourning for two-term President Ronald Reagan in 2004--and the paltry 34 minutes for the death and burial of the infinitely more newsworthy Richard Nixon in 1994.    
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video thumbnailNBCFormer President Gerald Ford dies, aged 93Memorials planned for Capitol Hill, MichiganAndrea MitchellCapitol Hill
video thumbnailCBSFormer President Gerald Ford dies, aged 93Tributes from former Presidents, politiciansBill WhitakerCalifornia
video thumbnailABC
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Former President Gerald Ford dies, aged 93Memorials planned for Capitol Hill, MichiganDean ReynoldsMichigan
video thumbnailCBSFormer President Gerald Ford dies, aged 93Succeeded to office during troubled timesBob SchiefferGeorgia
video thumbnailNBCFormer President Gerald Ford dies, aged 93Succeeded to office during troubled timesBrian WilliamsNew York
video thumbnailNBCFormer President Gerald Ford dies, aged 93Reflected on Presidency during interviewsBrian WilliamsMichigan
video thumbnailCBSFormer First Lady Betty Ford was trailblazerBroke taboos about cancer and drug addictionHattie KauffmanCalifornia
video thumbnailNBCFormer First Lady Betty Ford was trailblazerBroke taboos about cancer and drug addictionCampbell BrownNew York
 
TYNDALL BLOG: DAILY NOTES ON NETWORK TELEVISION NIGHTLY NEWS
ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT GERALD FORD DIES By the standards of history, the death of President Gerald Ford was hyped. Ford was never elected to the office and served for little more than half a term. Yet the first day after his death attracted saturation coverage: 44 minutes on the three networks combined. Compare that with 108 minutes for the entire week of mourning for two-term President Ronald Reagan in 2004--and the paltry 34 minutes for the death and burial of the infinitely more newsworthy Richard Nixon in 1994.

ABC's Dean Reynolds (subscription required) previewed the week's schedule--from his home near his golf course at Rancho Mirage to the Capitol Hill Rotunda to his Presidential Library in Grand Rapids. "The affection was mutual between Ford and his hometown," Reynolds found about the Michigan city's 13-term Congressman. As "first and foremost a man of the House," NBC's Andrea Mitchell told us, the former Minority Leader will lie in state at the US Capitol.

CBS' Bill Whitaker surveyed tributes from current President George Bush, Nancy Reagan, Dick Cheney, former President George Bush and Jimmy Carter. Perhaps Ford attracted so much coverage because he died in a traditionally light week of news, so his obits had little to compete with.


THE NON-NIXON Of course, Nixon was the underlying reason why Ford was newsworthy. "It is hard to believe just how tense the nation was during those final days of the Nixon Presidency," CBS' Bob Schieffer reminded us, with threats of a military coup in the air. "He succeeded a man seen as duplicitous, dishonest," ABC's Charles Gibson (no link) introduced his obituary. "Gerry Ford was precisely the opposite." After the trauma of Watergate, Ford "was welcomed as a regular guy--but much of that goodwill evaporated" when he pardoned his predecessor, NBC's Brian Williams noted. "The pardon cost Ford politically but he defended it for the rest of his life."


HE GAVE INTERVIEWS Another reason for the extended coverage was that Ford--unlike Reagan, who left office already Alzheimer's impaired--offered plenty of network interviews in the 30 years between his defeat by Jimmy Carter and his death. All the networks played soundbites. "My total political ambition was to be Speaker of the House of Representatives. I was about to quit the Congress," he told ABC about his mood just before his appointment as Nixon's Vice President. "The Nixons were close personal friends," he told NBC.

CBS aired Ford's explanation for that famous choice of words--"our long national nightmare is over"--in his first speech from the Oval Office. He was "jarred" by speechwriter Robert Hartman's draft as being "too harsh" against Nixon. "Bob really put his foot down…we decided to keep it in. In retrospect I am awfully glad we did."


POLITICAL PROZAC Pundits mused on Ford's political style. ABC's Cokie Roberts (no link) recalled that her Congressman father was "fast friends" with Ford when they led their respective parties in the House. NBC's Ford-era White House correspondent Tom Brokaw will be among those offering a formal eulogy to Ford next week: "He was steady as a rock through it all. He had no demons. He had no agenda. He was not complex. He was straightforward. He told the truth--so far as he could, politically." ABC's George Will (no link) called him "no Superman" lacking in eloquence. "The country wanted political Prozac and got it in Ford. It had had a decade of traumas…and in walked a man conspicuous for his normality."

CBS' in-house historian Douglas Brinkley (no link) gave Ford credit for having the "courage" to cut and run from Vietnam: "His policy allowed the South Vietnamese to emigrate to the United States."


SNAPSHOTS Ford's White House photographer was David Hume Kennerly and NBC closed with an In Their Own Words montage of black-and-whites by the photojournalist. "They treated me like part of the family. I was able to go upstairs, downstairs…they were normal people living in a fairly abnormal situation. It was kind of like Ozzie and Harriet."

Check out that checkered jacket in the dog photo.


NOT DEAD YET Both NBC and CBS took the opportunity of Ford's death to pay tribute to his widow Betty. CBS' Hattie Kauffman listed where the former First Lady stood on social issues--in favor of women's rights, legalized abortion, marijuana use, sex before marriage--and asserted that "a lot of women are alive today because of Betty Ford going public" about her mastectomy: she inspired millions of women to undergo screening for breast cancer. As a couple, Gerry and Betty were "loving, flirtatious and often publicly playful," NBC's Campbell Brown observed. Later, after Betty kicked booze and pills and founded her rehab clinic, "aiding those struggling with substance abuse became her calling."


POLAR BEARS The Fish & Wildlife Service at the Department of the Interior is revealing the first hints that the Bush Administration may be reversing its opposition to action to halt manmade global warming. ABC's Bill Blakemore (no link) reported from a melting ice floe in the Arctic Ocean on the habitat of the polar bear, a species that may be officially listed as threatened: "This sea ice could be gone in 40 years."


MENTIONED IN PASSING The network newscasts do not assign correspondents to all of the news of the day. If Tyndall Report readers come across videostreamed reports online of stories that were mentioned only in passing, post the link in comments for us to check out

Today's examples: former Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee John Edwards will announce his candidacy for 2008…the criminal probe into the baseball steroids scandal was granted access to the positive results of player drug tests conducted by the major leagues.