NO, VIRGINIA, ABC NEWS is not clairvoyant. You remember that ABC alone declined to carry the President's "non-political" speech live on the grounds that it was not only not "nonpolitical" but that it was not news.
They turned out to be absolutely right. Any claims of nonpartisanship slid right off the screen when the president quoted his party's campaign slogan, "Stay the course."
As for news, there was none. It was hardly the first time that the president, having deplored those who "play the blame game" waded right in and divvied up the discredits for the mess we are in: the Demos did it.
Says ABC news executive David Burke, "We didn't see a copy of the speech in advance. We knew there was an election coming up. We knew that the White House had tried to buy time for a presidential speech this week. We kept asking what was in it and we didn't hear about anything that was nonpolitical or news."
The address may have done something for jobless Judith in Selma, Ala. It was her letter the president read, with feeling, to show how full is the pool of patience in which he hopes he still splashes. She should get a bid to do GOP speechwriting. For the candidates, the president may have done less. The only "action" section in the text was a reminder that, win or lose, hey have to come back to Washington on Nov. 29 for a lame-duck session.
It so happened that another "nonpolitical" broadcast was available later that night. "Nuclear War: The Incurable Disease" was turned down by all three commercial networks, and was carried only by PBS. It was truly "nonpolitical" in that none of the participants said whose fault it is that the planet is hurtling towards nuclear confrontation. But it was much more of a political event than the president's speech.
The unprecedented program brought together three Soviet doctors and three American doctors united in a diagnosis about the terminal nature of a nuclear exchange.
That's not news. Americans have been hearing it ever since doctors became alarmed about this new illness, for which even the ultraconservative AMA has said,"there is no medical response." Few Americans have not seen by now the ghastly footage from Hiroshima or heard the horrendous statistics and scenarios.
What was new is the fact that this unprecedented joint meeting, which was arranged by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Inc., occurred in Moscow, and was aired twice, on prime time, on Soviet government television.
The doctors had agreed that there would be no finger-pointing and no recriminations. They only wanted to convince audiences in both East and West that they are working from the same data, that it is as final and irrefutable as an X-ray.
Dr. Bernard Lown of Harvard Medical School brought up civil defense. Reagan asked for an additional $4 billion for evacuation plans because, supposedly, we had to catch up with the Soviet effort.
Lown spoke of the folly of the scheme, and there was no dissent from the Soviets.
In fact, Dr. Yevgeny Chazov, Leonid Brezhnev's personal physician, ended the discussion by saying: "There can be no winner in a nuclear war. A nuclear war means death to all human beings."
Now maybe, certain minds will conclude, he was programmed to say it for propaganda purposes. But he said it, and millions of Soviets heard it. And it goes directly counter to what our leaders tell us. The U.S., according to Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger, does not think nuclear war is winnable, or survivable.
But he knows -- we do not know how -- that the Soviets believe it is both.
The meeting of the doctors at one point turned into a little nuclear-freeze rally. Dr. Lown said that "When you are the edge of an abyss, progress is not going forward. It's stopping."
The Soviets nodded. Under the constraints of the program, it was not possible for the Americans to point out that ordinary Russians who advocate the nuclear freeze get themselves arrested. It was as glaring an omission as Reagan's failure to mention the defense budget as a culprit in our fiscal crisis.
The summary for the U.S. side -- although there really were no sides in the discussion -- was given, movingly, by Dr. James Muller of Harvard. He spoke in Russian, which he learned when he studied medicine in Moscow.
"Forty years ago, Americans and Soviets worked together against Hitler. But we must now join together against the far greater threat of nuclear war. The struggle is much more difficult. . . . We must remember that human beings can live with kindness and love, in friendship and peace."
"That was good speak," (sic) said one of the Soviets when Dr. Muller concluded.
It certainly was. And more enlightening than what we heard from the Oval Office this week.
Mary McGrory's column appears three times a week in The Washington Post.