Cameras capture Bush family saga on historic day

TV keeps close tabs on inaugural dramas

January 21, 2001|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Throughout George W. Bush's Inauguration Day, leading lights on television emphasized the timeless civics lesson unfolding in Washington.

"The peaceful transfer of power is so awesome," former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey told NBC's Tom Brokaw, in a typical comment. "I think President Bush's speech was good, his substance was good. But it's the ceremony itself that impresses me."

Occasionally, however, the camera revealed some of the more compelling narratives taking place beneath the surface.

The camera captured brief but enduring images of the pride and vindication of the Bush clan, such as the embrace of father and son, the former and current president. Barbara Bush, the family's matriarch, could be seen saying, "I'm so proud of you," just before kissing the new president on the cheek.

"What an emotional day for the American political family that chooses not to use the term `dynasty,'" said MSNBC anchor Brian Williams, while a reflective elder George Bush was shown. "Others will apply it later."

Remarkable footage also showed, in close proximity on the platform, many of the players who took part in the intense partisan combat after last fall's most unusual Election Day.

Few who followed the wrangling over the Florida vote could have imagined the sight of the vanquished Al Gore shaking the hand of James A. Baker III, the silky former secretary of state disparagingly described by Democratic partisans as the Bush family consigliere. But there they were, along with soon to be ex-President Bill Clinton, jawing and smiling tightly. Off to one side stood the all-but-forgotten Dan Quayle, himself a former vice president and one-time primary competitor of President Bush, in search of friendly hands to shake.

The rain appeared to have dampened the turnout of a promised throng of protesters who had sought to create the same kind of havoc that accompanied the meetings of world bankers last year. A few thousand appeared to cause minor mischief, which was covered periodically by all of the television news outlets.

The real protest, the one with heat, could be found only on CSPAN-2. More than 1,000 people, including such civil rights leaders as NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, gathered in Tallahassee at the Florida state Capitol to denounce what they called the disenfranchisement of many Floridians.

Bush appeared to try to reach out to those who felt marginalized in his 14-minute speech yesterday.

The squint was there, but the trademark smirk that had danced across his lips during the campaign was absent for his sober inaugural address. He spoke clearly and crisply, and stood straight. Even as others in the sedate crowd on the cold, drizzly day were shown wrapped in plastic, Bush donned a presidential demeanor.

Television also caught one other thing: Clinton still managed to overshadow Bush, just as he had Gore. "Rarely in recent history has the outgoing president been so much at the center of attention on the day when his successor is sworn in," marveled Brit Hume, the anchor at Fox News Channel.

Clinton and Gore walked side by side in what must have been the longest televised walk of Gore's life, through the winding corridors of the Capitol to the balcony where dignitaries were seated for Bush's address. Clinton seemed to shake every last guard's hand, smiling and waving throughout. Gore, who had received more actual votes than Bush, walked very precisely, his face drawn, his gaze directed forward.

Even on the day Clinton relinquished office, even as reporters were recounting the details of his plea agreement to avoid prosecution, the camera lingered lovingly over him.

"I left the White House, but I'm still here. We're not going anywhere," Clinton said, laughing, as he spoke to supporters and officials from his expired administration at Andrews Air Force Base. He then boarded a presidential jumbo jet for a short flight to his new home in New York.

Several commentators speculated on how Citizen Clinton would manage in his new life. Said CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield, "He'll have to stop at red lights. After eight years, that's got to come as a shock."

His colleague, Judy Woodruff, chipped in, "How long will he have someone hold an umbrella for him?"

After his address, Bush joked with South Carolina Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond as he signed document after document with a commemorative pen at a desk in a Senate antechamber.

Earlier in the day, Fox News reporter Carl Cameron took pains to warn viewers of a danger they faced: "People who make the mistake of channel surfing will hear that it's the Lincoln table." But that's not true, he said.

"Thank heavens you cleared that up, Carl," Fox anchor Paula Zahn said, lightly tweaking him.

The civics lessons continued to be explored throughout the day. But the history proved less interesting than some of the dramas playing out nearby.

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