It is routine. The President waits in front of the amphitheater entrance for the wreath to come forward and then he moves forward with it and places it on a stand before the Tomb of the Unknowns. After taps, the party repairs to the amphitheater itself where the colors are presented, the President speaks, a benediction is said, and the nation once more has memorialized its war dead. It is stirringly the same through the years, an event that decency requires be covered by those licensees of the public good and interest. It disappeared this year.
Not entirely. MSNBC and CNN carried most of it while the broadcast affiliates in Washington, D.C. went about their usual weekday drivel. A game show here, a screaming phony judge there, a guy explaining to a group of women how he had his nose pierced over there, the faux animals running around for the kiddies on PBS. In addition to the aforementioned commercial cable outfits, one C-Span channel carried the Arlington Memorial Day Observance in its entirety. It should be noted that both MSNBC and CNN were gone before the benediction and the retirement of the colors to some stirring themes of the military services. Only C-Span stuck it out until not only was the official program ended, but also we saw the veteran’s veteran Bob Dole embracing a comely blonde on the stage before he took his leave.
It is true that this annual event follows a tradition that affords no surprises. No temporary mate is selected from among a gaggle of applicants; no one is voted off the platform by his companions; no strained set of vocal cords is selected for a recording contract; in sort, it just ain’t good TV. What is it? It is an American obligation. It is 35 minutes of duty out of 365 days of play. It is an interval which, some years ago, it would be unthinkable for any broadcast network not to carry. And to make it “must carry” for affiliates.
The excuse for maintaining normal, and remunerative, programming nowadays is the proliferation of cable channels and the prospect that somebody somewhere will carry this money-losing proposition. And if you want to see it just keep clicking. But does any executive sit alone in his Cape den on a Memorial Day holiday and happen across it and have the nagging thought: “Gee, I wish we were carrying that. I mean …”
I wish you were, too. I wish you and the other nets were risking a charge of collusion by carrying a solemn, dignifying moment all together so that no matter how escape-prone the viewer there would be no looking away for just that little span of time. So little in the reach of it all. So much in the realm of those for whom there is no more time.
P. S. Not to worry. The FCC is considering some rule-making that may one day allow one guy to own all of it, and you won’t have to answer to anybody.
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