Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Gerald R. Ford was a great, patriotic American who was the just the right person to ‘end the long national nightmare’ that was Watergate.
But, for the past three or four days, it’s been a non-stop Ford love-in on television. His various speeches, photo ops and flops (Comedian Chevy Chase must have gotten a few, new stand-up gigs as a direct result of his Ford impersonations) are literally everywhere. And, it’s still not over.
Again, no offense, but, based upon the 24×7 coverage, one would have thought a combination of Lincoln, Washington and FDR had just passed away.
My beef isn’t with Ford. It’s with the so-called ‘news judgment’ of our leading media. Someone in some sort of responsible position needs to know when to say when. Between Saddam Hussein’s hanging, Ford’s memorial services and college football bowl games, there was priceless little TV fare to choose from this past weekend.
On the other hand, maybe the Ford homage will trigger an entrepreneurial thought in some entertainment mogul’s mind, namely: an all presidential funerals cable channel! Just think of the possibilities. There could be actual documentary footage (think JFK), talk shows to debate the merits or lack thereof of the dead president in question (imagine a rousing discussion about James K. Polk’s contributions), recreations of presidential funerals that occurred in pre-CNN days (I know I’d be fascinated to view the reenactment of John Tyler’s lying in state), etc. And, the advertising possibilities also have to be limitless: everything from funeral homes and presidential libraries/museums to presidential alma maters and home town travel bureaus would line up to buy air time).
So, in retrospect, maybe Gerald R. Ford was a trendsetter after all.
I think your timing is way off. Your blog creates a negative feeling in me. I’m somewhat touched watching the Ford funeral as it represents a day of healing which this country needs badly. It has an element of calmness and kindness which doesn’t exist in this country. I only wish the Sadam thing didn’t happen at the same time.
I agree with all written above. From a practical standpoint, we got at least one extra day of this “Ford Fest” because they could not have the state funeral and national day of mourning during a three-day holiday weekend. They need three full days of prep (and pomp and circumstance.) If he had passed away the weekend before Christmas, or even on the 25th, we would not have had so much air time.
I agree that the overkill is mainly broadcast. To wit, I was on a 6 am conference call this morning (I’m on the West Coast so a frequent occurrence) and had NBC on mute during the call. From 6:30 to 6:50 we were treated without interruption to watching the motorcade make its way to the National Cathedral. It’s probably just as well that the accompanying sound was off.
P.S. Ironically and to your point, Gene, my NYT showed up the morning after Ford’s death with nary a word about it, obviously having been printed beforehand. TV coverage during those first couple of hours after the news actually broke was welcome. It’s the incessant babble that follows that we could do without.
And Nixon and Regan got similar days-long — and largely positive — coverage upon their deaths. And the same likely will happen when the next president passes. The media can be partly forgiven for this trend, if forgiven is the right word. Consider:
1. In Ford’s case, his demise came during the traditional “slow news days” of Christmas/New Year’s: The only other big, new story was Saddam’s execution.
2. Presidents are a symbol of the nation, so their passing is considered A Big Event. The president is both a metaphor and a historical marker.
3. Journalists, like historians, tend to be revisionists. Thus, the passing of a president is an opportunity to review the past coverage of the person. Ford’s legacy is indeed underiong much revising. (Interestingly/weirdly, some of the post-death coverage of Saddam focused on his statesman-like qualities.)
Howie Kurtz, the best media critic in this business, has smart things to say about this phenom in a great column in which he also reveals that Ford was the most media-friendly of the modern presidents. Look here:
4. The overkill problem really is primarily one of TV journalism. TV journalism has been overlooping/overdoing it for years now, ever since CNN got its first serious competition. Consider: How often do you see the scroll “Breaking News” on the TV re: a story that actually broke hours if not days ago. In contrast, major newspapers have had plenty of other stories on the front pages in addition to Ford.