It was reported incorrectly in Style Wednesday that ABC had cut away from President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as they walked down a White House hallway after signing the INF Treaty. In fact, ABC showed a small inset of the scene in the lower right portion of the screen, while a map of the White House occupied nine-tenths of the picture. (Published 12/11/87)
Admit it, it was thrilling. Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, the signing of the treaty, the ceremonial panoply, the quotations from Ralph Waldo Emerson, and that little saunter the two world leaders took down a red-carpeted hallway between the East Room and the State Dining Room of the White House.
"Nice moment here," understated Dan Rather on CBS as a camera followed the two ambling men. Gorbachev stopped to shake hands with an unseen person behind a pillar. The Marine Band played a sprightly air.
NBC had the same shot, but ABC unwisely went to a map of the White House, missing one of the small informal details that helped make yesterday's signing of the INF treaty enormously moving to watch on TV.
When the two men got to the State Dining Room and were outfitted with earpieces for the simultaneous translations, Ronald Reagan approached the podium and said, "Well thank you, and thank you all very much. And, I think that maybe I got out the wrong set of notes here. Still," he continued, unfazed, as he brought out the right set, "I do say thank you very much."
In making his bid for greatness, The Gipper sacrificed not a scintilla of his incomparable charm.
Earlier, during presigning remarks in the East Room, Reagan had revived yet again his favorite Russian maxim, "Trust, but verify." Gorbachev began to chuckle. "You repeat that at every meeting," he chided. "I like it," Reagan said cheerfully. Then he continued with his talk.
Network reporters were still combing the earth to ferret out every conceivable objection or complication to the treaty, and estimating its chances for ratification (on CBS, Jeane Kirkpatrick predicted there'd be no problem getting it approved), but no amount of carp nor cavil could sour the overwhelming sense of accomplishment and fellowship. This was Christmas, Hanukah, the Fourth of July and your most fondly remembered birthday party all rolled into one.
On NBC, correspondent John Hart said from Moscow that for an American to wander the streets of that capital and speak of the historic agreement being signed in Washington was to "risk getting a bear hug" from a Soviet citizen. The world has relatively few opportunities for such salubrious celebration. Who could be blamed for not wanting to hear any discouraging words?
Not that television anchors and reporters should have showered the occasion with gush, and few if any did. They instead seemed a bit in the way; the event was too big for them, and they didn't know quite what to do with it.
They are not allowed to just sit back and say how wonderful it all is. But they must have been tempted. "Nice moment there" was about as close as it got.
Reagan's short speech in the State Dining Room was one of the most gracious and deftly delivered of his presidency, which is certainly saying something. How odd that both the American and Soviet leaders quoted Emerson. Perhaps we're in for a big transcendentalist revival. Worse things could happen. And better things, too.
Quoting an unnamed Russian soldier present at the end of World War II, Reagan said the treaty helped ensure "a time to live." He said America was more than free markets and materialism: "The true America ... is a land of faith and family." In the context of the occasion, these did not sound like platitudes.
Reagan concluded his speech and NBC's Tom Brokaw couldn't think of anything to say but, "President Reagan -- getting in a pitch for human rights," as if this were a sports event. Later, Brokaw reported that the Americans would be hosting a black-tie dinner at the White House later that night and said, "We'll see whether the Soviet side shows up in formal wear."
Right, Tom, we'll see. There was little danger of Brokaw being carried away by the emotions of the occasion. Too bad.
It was Gorbachev's speech that contained all the pitching. One sympathized with Reagan having to stand there while the Soviet leader praised Lenin. Yech. This was clearly a campaign speech for the folks back home, and the folks back home were watching. Mark Phillips reported on CBS from a square in Moscow over which a giant TV screen loomed, turning the live transmission from the States into a luminous billboard.
Phillips said there had been "spontaneous, and I mean spontaneous, applause."
Pictures from Moscow became a bone of contention between ABC News and NBC News, however, disrupting the overall harmoniousness of the day. ABC charged that during coverage of the morning's activities, NBC punched up ABC's pictures of crowd reaction in Moscow three times. "Once could have been a mistake, but three times smacks of deliberate action," ABC News spokeswoman Elise Adde charged.
Joseph Angotti, executive producer of NBC's coverage, said, "It was not thievery" and called the incident "just such a simple little thing." He said the pictures were coming over "on our bird," meaning on NBC's satellite time, and that the moment he heard there was some dispute about whose pictures they were, he stopped using them.
"I'm still not convinced it wasn't material we had every right to use," Angotti said. "I'm not absolutely convinced we did the wrong thing, but I don't think they'd lie."
It isn't always easy to know whose feed is whose, Angotti said.
Trust, but verify! There you go again.
All three networks have aired special reports on the summit as well as live unfolding coverage. NBC put together an all-star show Monday night, with Brokaw playing host to a rapid succession of correspondents and guest experts -- one of them Soviet spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov, who said of Gorbachev, "He's in a businesslike mood." White House correspondent Chris Wallace was on and off in about 30 seconds, zip zip.
From Moscow, Hart held up a Pravda headline: "Great Expectations."
The Cable News Network (CNN) was the only network to cover, live, Gorbachev's get-acquainted session with an invited crowd of celebrities late yesterday afternoon. Yoko Ono, Billy Graham and John Denver were there -- one of the few summit events likely to turn up on "Entertainment Tonight."
Seated at an ornate table in an ornate room of the Soviet Embassy, the Soviet leader responded to "Dear Gorby" letters sent to him by young people. Nothing much of substance, but another chance to stare long and hard at the glasnost guy, and attempt to determine if he's on the level.
Last night, from 9:32 to 9:50, ABC was the only network to air, live from the White House, the Reagan and Gorbachev toasts that ended the state dinner. Peter Jennings anchored. CNN, supposedly an all-news network, did not interrupt its scheduled talk show for the toasts. Both the president and Gorbachev looked very tired. They earned their paychecks yesterday.
The elusiveness of Raisa Gorbachev was apparently frustrating network reporters. "She literally whipped through town," correspondent Anne Garrels told Brokaw. Mrs. Gorbachev did a whirlwind ride-by of monuments and historical sites, leaving her limo only for minutes. "She never got up to the top of the Jefferson Memorial," noted Garrels.
Henry Kissinger made the network rounds, as did former assistant defense secretary Richard Perle (an unusually assured and calming presence on the air). Howard Baker showed up, tight-lipped, on "ABC World News Tonight," and George Shultz, in his tux, dropped by "The CBS Evening News." Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) was on more than one network, sizing up the treaty's chances once it hits the Hill. This was not a day for sour grapes, or grapes of wrath for that matter, and nobody was very eager to toss any. Caspar Weinberger got into a spat with a Russian on "CBS This Morning," but you know how he is.
Many of the Soviet experts employed by the networks have beards; it's an oddly consistent facial feature. Maybe they become what they behold. CBS correspondent Wyatt Andrews, as it happens, is actually starting to look like the Kremlin, gray and impervious. Dan Rather had to suffer through the pompous verbosity of Soviet scholar Georgi Arbatov on an otherwise pithy CBS special Monday night, but yesterday got a delightful visit from Vitaly Korotich, editor of the allegedly feisty Soviet magazine Ogonyok.
Rather met Korotich when he anchored the "Seven Days in May" special CBS did in the Soviet Union earlier this year. In the CBS booth on the Ellipse yesterday, Korotich interrupted one of his own responses to a Rather question by saying, in English, "but excuse me for long answer."
One thing these Soviets will have to learn if they are going to come over here and be on television is to keep it short. Lord knows we are not known for our vast attention spans. And yet as the events transpired yesterday, one well might have wished it could all have been slowed down and stretched out so that the magnitude of it would sink in better.
Maybe one sports-coverage touch would have helped: instant replays of the signing and the hearty handshake that followed.
To begrudge television its absurdities would be to deny the very nature of the beast. On the outer fringes of summit coverage, Rona Barrett guest-hosted "Larry King Live" on CNN Monday night and complained to Soviet spokesman Vladimir Posner that we Americans see far too few "attractive" Russians and that too many of them run around in those awful "fur hats."
Posner, a seasoned slickster, didn't let this ruffle him. He assured Barrett that the Soviets are a "handsome" people, and that she'd run around in a fur hat too if she was in chilly Moscow. Miss Rona seemed to understand.
Undoubtedly there are those who think there's been too much summit coverage. Surely the networks will report having received phone calls of protest over preempted soap operas. Just as surely, most who watched the ceremonies and caught the little grace notes yesterday have to be encouraged. To top it all off, Coca-Cola prepared a special commercial for the milestone, an international children's chorus singing about peace.
"As the leaders of the world come together," the ad concludes, "we offer this message of hope." Message received. Loud and clear. Who was it? -- oh yeah, it was Emerson -- who said, "Nothing can bring you peace but yourself." But then, he never got to drink a Coke.
Or watch TV.