There weren't any shots of delegates yawning, napping or reading racing forms when Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) reawakened the Democratic National Convention and a national TV audience last night with a speech that brought the convention to a premature emotional climax two days early. It didn't hurt, either, that the enormous demonstration that followed it was longer than the speech itself.
Watching this on television one couldsuddenly feel the convention turning from a negative spectacle of acrimony and special pleading to a positive and even inspirational event. Kennedy turned its mood and personality from a chorus of "we wants" to a bracing call to principle. "We as a people are ready to give something back to our country in return for all it has given to us," he said.
It sounded like the good old days that ended in the early '60s.
Kennedy's dramatic, mesmerizing political roof-raiser cast doubts on the popular media-think that says only low-key and soft-spoken rhetoric -- Carteresque or Reaganic --works on television. Easily as affecting as the speech itself were the reaction shots, especially on NBC and CBS, of those spellbound by it atMadison Square Garden.
Faces reflected awe and wonder and tears filled eyes or dribbled down cheeks. This was a montage of faces which Norman Rockwell would have been proud to paint and which made the speechappear to be even more magnificent than it probably was.
The networks, no doubt grateful for having something to cover, immediately gave Kennedy fare reviews John Chancellor of NBC News called it "one of the high emotional and dramatic points of this convention", and David Brinkley, no pushover, said he couldn't think of a comparable moment from among his 16 political conventions.
Even Miss Lillian Carter, doing her dowager Mammy Yukum routine for a chuckling Walter Cronkite of CBS News, declared, "I thought it was an excellent speech. I don't see how he could have lost, he was such an excellent speaker."
Even intransigent conservative James Kilpatrick went mushy on CBS, hailing the speech as "one of the great moments I've ever experienced in the 15 conventions I've covered" and as "a beautiful speech superbly delivered."
Throughout his campaign for the Democratic nomination, Kennedy was repeatedly criticized, even by his own aides, for the thunder and bombast in his podium manner. Everyone said, in effect, "Cool it out, Teddy," for this is supposed to be the age of television in which all must kowtow to the camera and remodel ourselves in the image of weathermen or sportscasters.
But usually, only glimpses of Kennedy speeches were seen on network newscasts. Most often these exerpts showed the candidate at the height of one fervor or another. Like many news reports on television, these amounted to nothing less than a distortion, and theyvirtually never represented adequately the incredible emotional power Kennedy holds over crowds, for whatever mystical, chemical or nostalgic reasons.
Last night, with his "new hope" speech, Kennedy demonstrated this more than graphically and also gave new hope to network news people who were beside themselves with boredom over the convention. The outcome isn't exactly a riddle out of Agatha Cristie. But even the reporters seemed renewed and energized; it seemed to be saying that the whole ornate and antiquated exercise of a political convention maybe wasn't so outmoded after all and that what Bill Moyers of CBS News called "the power to move poeople with the human language" still counts for something in a cynical visual era.
Otherwise, what might pass for highlights on the second night of convention coverage by the networks were few. NBC News was again, overall, the most impressive source of information -- polished, thorough, and seasoned with the irreplaceable asides of David Brinkley.
After convention chairman Thomas P.O'Niell rushed through votes on platform measures that had been disputedby Carter and Kennedy forces, Chancellor observed that "What we have here is the Carter forces giving because they were going to lose that battle anyway" and Brinkley noted, "If you're going to take a horrible defeat, it is better to take it in a minute than in about an hour and a half on primetime television."
Brinkley and Chancellor had their own little sewing bee in the anchor booth with Miss Lillian about two hours before she met with Chairman Cronkite. Told that she was now appearing "on television at night" by Chancellor, Miss Lillian, who is nothing if not inimitable, said, "Oh, I love it. This is what I like best." As with Cronkite, she declined to answer questions about her mischievous son Billy ("He bein' investigated right now") and said of hergood son Jimmy "He's great at cleanin' up the yard."
Sometimes what you don't see is as important as what you do see, ABC News missed much of Teddy Kennedy's grand entrace into the hall at 8:25 because they were busy selling tires andthat boon to the culinary arts, "Shake 'n' Bake." However, NBC News was caught futzing around when Kennedy unexpectedly returned to the podium during the frenzied demonstration that followed his speech.
ABC News missed all kinds of things because it chose to air its rinky-dink magazine show, "20/20." Among the things omitted by ABC was that little detail known as the nationalanthem.
Viewers of WMAR-TV, the CBS affiliate in Baltimore, got to miss more than anybody, however. The station irresponsibly pre-empted convention coverage, including all of Kennedy's history-making speech, so that it could air another lame baseball game by the Baltimore Orioles. The orioles lost to Kansas City, 4-3. A telephone operator at the station said at 10:30 p.m. tthat only phone call of protest had beenrecieved. What planet is Baltimore on, anyway?