Peace on CBS was brought to you by General Motors. Peace on ABC starred Barbara Walters as herself. And as NBC, David Brinkley wasn't so certain there was peace in the first place.
No one from any of the network news departments was asked actually to sign the Middle East peace Treaties between Egypt and iIsrael on Monday, but in a way the networks were parties to them. The live telecast of solemn services from a windblown White House lawn could be considered just as significant and symbolic as the event itself. Indeed, the event may not have taken place without it. We are living in an age of video diplomacy-videoplomacy-and this baby has been the networks for a long time.
And so it is not being in the least bit snide or disrespectful to suggest that after the signing Monday afternoon, the participants could have thrown the treaties in the rubbish. All they really need to save is the video tape of the ceremony. The tape is the document. The live telecast was the event.
The treaties themselves were mere props in an impressively staged theatical production.
For maintaining a tone of seasoned skepticism in the face of the religious spectacular tossed by the White House, Nbc News deserves especially high marks, since in television it is often much more inviting to tell viewers what they'd like to hear rather than deal with the grimmer realities. Not that the other networks trotted out the party hats and noisemakers-at least, not until the evening celebration at the White House-but NBC SHOWED THE MOST INTELLIGENT RESTRAINT.
WHILE ALL THREE NETWORKS AIRED LATENIGHT SPECIALS ON THE TREATIES MONDAY, NBC called its report "The Treaty: A Cautious Celebration," whereas CBS preferred the more pretentious and optimistic "An Act of Peace"-a broadcast fully sponsored by GM-and ABC the slightly more trite "Middle East Peace: Signing at the SUMMIT."
THE SIGNING CEREMONY, COVERED LIVE BY ALL THREE NETWORKS. FOUND ABC News in particularly good and aggressive form. ABC stayed with live pictures from the White House longer than CBS of NBC did. So only ABC had a live shot of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter walking back into the White House hand in hand afger bidding bye-byes to their guests, Corny, maybe, but real."Jimmy's wave at the door was priceless," said ABC News Vice President Jeff Gralnick yesterday.Gralnick produced the telecast for ABC and is glad now he lingered at the White House rather thant going off the air, as NBC was the first to do, or going back to the studio for a confab to correspondents, as CBS is wont to do and did.
ABC News was also the first to show pictures of demonstrators shouting and chanting in Lafayette Park during the ceremony. Like it or not, this was part of the story, and since viewers could plainly hear the chants, as least until the band drowned them out, it only made sense to tell and show us who was chanting. But on CBS, Walter Cronkite seemed more concerned with describing the table on which the treaty was signed and yhe leather binding around it.
Walter tends to take these breaches of decorum personally.
NBC produced the pool coverage of the event, and it was NBC's version that was beamed bank live to Egypt and Israel, whete ebullient celebrations, seen on the networks' late-night reports, were taking place. But pool director Charles Jones relied too much on long, wide shots of the White House grounds. "for some reason," Gralnick says, "NBC was in love with that God's eye shot from across the street."
This was a story of faces, hands, pens and flags, however, and not of crowds. So Gralnick at ABC estimates about 30 percent of his pictures were from ABC's five supplementary cameras.
Some of the shots, pooled or otherwise, were striking, particularly a triple profile of Sadat, Carter and Begin facing forward motionless as they listened to national anthems. They seemed to be posing for a commemorative coin; it was a beautiful picture. Later, at least once, Jimmy Carter could be seen accidentally applauding a reference to himself. At least one assumes this was accidential.
At the begining of the ceremony, the men were three shaded figures from within a dark White House doorway until Carter signaled his guests that it was time to march out and face the nation. Indeed-the world!
Naturally there were some instances of excessive zeal on the part of correspondents-except in Brinklry's case, since excessive zeal has never been his problem. Over at ABC Barbara Walters kept up an embrace watch during the ceremony - the three men had shaken hands, she noted, but had yet to "embrace" as they had at Camp David. She found this very, very interesting and promised to keep us informed. Oh Barbara, you old embraceable you.
Walters, Cronkite and Brinkley were all invited as guests to the party thrown that night at the White House. Brinkley did not attend because he had work to do at the studio. But Cronklite and Walters went both as guests and as reporters, signing on from the White House grounds in their evening finery, while other reporters, not yet among the guest-list set, did the nuts-and-bolts work.
Gralnick, for one, sees no conflict in a reporter like Walters also being part of such an event. "it's dammed helpful," he says.
Again though, NBC was showing the keenest news sense in stressing the tentative nature of the treaty and the possible perils that may lie ahead, particularly in an excellent report filed by John Hart from the West Bank of Jordan. It may not have been what we most wanted to hear, but if helped give a sense of balance and offset the glamor of the James Earl Carter production, "Peace '79," a great little television show and perhaps even a pilot for a series.