With repeated close-ups of his widow’s pained face and mostly silence from anchors, broadcasters brought viewers into the Washington National Cathedral Tuesday for Gerald R. Ford’s memorial service.
NEW YORK (AP) — With repeated close-ups of his widow’s pained face and mostly silence from anchors, broadcasters brought viewers into the Washington National Cathedral Tuesday for former President Gerald R. Ford’s memorial service.
ABC, CBS and NBC all used their top anchors for the coverage, which was most notable for what they didn’t say.
CBS’ Katie Couric and NBC’s Brian Williams remained virtually silent from the start of the service until widow Betty Ford was escorted down the aisle at its end. ABC’s Charles Gibson was more chatty, yet generally limited his remarks to the lulls between speakers.
It’s a technique borrowed from sportscasters told to be quiet during a game’s climactic moments, and made the coverage less like a news event and more like a national gathering.
Not that there was much to tell. The remembrances of Ford’s character and accomplishments had dominated news reports since his death on Dec. 26, leaving little but trivia left. Did you know that Ford and Harry S. Truman both died the day after Christmas? Or that comic Chevy Chase was physically hurt by his pratfalling presidential imitations, for which he began taking painkillers, for which he became addicted, for which he was treated at the Betty Ford Center?
Williams was left to note how the cathedral had concealed construction of a parking garage, and how the fender flags of official vehicles were “just snapping” in the high winds.
“It’s not often that we get to say goodbye to a president,” Gibson said. “This has been a very moving ceremony.”
The networks all used the same pictures. There were many close-ups of Betty Ford’s face, her eyes often distant and filled with hurt and fighting drowsiness during Henry Kissinger’s eulogy.
Former NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw, who also delivered a eulogy, noted that Ford realized, upon leaving office, that he wasn’t perfect.
“But what president ever was?” he said. The camera cut to a picture of President Bush.
Reality wasn’t far away. Fox News Channel noted that many politicians, as they exited the church, were checking their Blackberrys. CNN switched to other news more quickly than its cable news rivals; Fox trained a respectful camera on an unmoving plane with Ford’s body until it took off for Michigan.
Then Brit Hume uttered his version of the day’s most frequently repeated line, also used by Gibson and Couric.
As Couric said it, Ford “was about to leave the nation’s capital for the very last time.”