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Olympian Feat of Political Magnitude : A Bush-Versus-Dukakis Debate as a Highlight of the Games

It has been learned that NBC, in reversing itself and agreeing to air the George Bush-Michael Dukakis debate live next Sunday evening, exacted an Olympian promise from their key media advisers.

The promise, say very reliable sources, is that the two presidential contenders would go to South Korea two days before the debate and argue as part of the network’s coverage of the Games.

NBC, you’ll recall, stirred up a calm the other day when it refused to air live prime-time coverage of the first debate between the two candidates because of its Olympics coverage then.

It warned everyone months ago that this would happen, it said then. It also said it would air a tape of the first debate--great issues facing America will be discussed--a little later. Like at 2:05 a.m.

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A storm of apathy greeted NBC’s decision to be the only network not showing the debate live. It spent $300 million to buy the Olympics rights, which it is airing as a public service, although it will run commercials to fill out the quiet times.

But now, with NBC having changed its mind, excitement is pretty much staying the same.

Speculations is swirling about the new, secret “deal” in which Bush and Dukakis would hold their special Olympics debate Friday, exclusively on NBC, live and during prime time. This would give NBC a jump on the other debate, note political analysts.

Network executives are said to be trying to persuade key media advisers for Bush and Dukakis that they should compete in the synchronized men’s platform diving debate event.

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This and other alternate campaign events were created at the behest of NBC, say Western diplomats even though the International Olympics Committee thought it a partial break from tradition.)

The synchronized men’s platform diving debate event would occur at 8:15 p.m. There also is a possibility of participation in the synchronized canoeing debate event at 8:30 p.m.

However, relate very, very reliable sources, top media advisers in the Bush camp want the synchronized Pearl Harbor debate event at 9:30 p.m.

A major reason: Bush has more experience in discussing the Pearl Harbor attack of Sept. 7, “a date which shall live in infamy,” according to Bush loyalists. Bush, in effect, beat the old date by three full months!

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But most senior media aides for Dukakis feel their man is weak in that event, insiders say. They want him to face Bush instead at 10 p.m. in the synchronized Massachussetts state budget-balancing debate event.

“He is particularly strong there, and not just because Massachussetts law requires the state budget to be balanced each year,” one analyst explained.

So far, all the key media advisers from the Bush and Dukakis camps are refusing to budge. They even have rejected NBC’s compromise offer to let the candidates compete in the synchronized Pledge of Allegiance debate event.

The International Olympics Committee also has balked at that idea, arguing that to hold what basically is an American event might provoke an invasion from South Korea’s good neighbor to the north, North Korea.

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Were that to happen, the committee argues, it might lead to NBC’s demand for yet another Olympics entry, the synchronized North Korean invasion event.

That, in turn, point out senior diplomats, might lead to the Indiana National Guard’s recall of Bush’s running mate, Sen. Dan Quayle, to his old job as a public information specialist.

Quayle, they note, would then have to explain why he went back in the Guard during the North Korean invasion.

Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Dukakis’ running mate, probably would be recalled as a bomber pilot by the Air Force, they add, “and fly around until they figured out if the North Koreans just want to play volleyball or something.”

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Many industry observers don’t expect the impasse to be resolved until Wednesday, when political strategists from the Bush and Dukakis camps meet in Seoul to iron out final details.

The meeting is expected to be tense and full of discord, with each side refusing to budge, then budging a little, then refusing to budge any more, then budging just a little more.

However, insiders say, it is expected that, as a gesture of the good will that is part and parcel of the Olympics Games, each side will agree on one thing, to participate in the synchronized photo opportunity event.


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