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MEDIA POLITICS : His Greeting of Astronauts Is a Media Consultant’s Dream : Shuttle Gives Bush’s Campaign a Blast

Times Political Writer

The job of vice president of the United States has been ridiculed over the years, but, on Monday, George Bush was quite happy he holds the title.

The Republican nominee for President was the first person to greet the Discovery astronauts when they landed at Edwards Air Force Base. Talk about photo opportunities. Given renewed American hopes about the space program, this was a media consultant’s dream as it got not only live coverage on several of the networks but made the evening news as well.

According to NASA officials, the rules were relaxed to allow reporters and cameramen onto the dry lake bed landing site to record Bush with the astronauts.

Bush, a World War II fighter pilot, also accompanied the astronauts on a quick inspection of the shuttle’s belly. All seemed fine.

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But the event--and its staging--was fair game in the TV-driven world of presidential campaigns. Bush’s opponent, Democrat Michael S. Dukakis, would have done the same thing.

Dukakis in Midwest

That being impossible on Monday, Dukakis chose to make his campaign day in the Midwest simply routine and got almost no mention in newscasts dominated by the shuttle landing and by reports of a hostage freed in Lebanon and efforts to free others.

The hostage development, by the way, is described privately by some Democrats as “the October surprise.”

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Like all Americans, these Democrats say they will welcome the release of the hostages--should it occur--but they know that Bush could be designated by President Reagan to do the greeting.

That would be another impossible television image for Dukakis to top.

The President has denied that the United States is in the process of striking a deal with Iran to get the hostages released, but “The CBS Evening News” reported Monday night that French television was describing “secret U.S.-Iranian talks” in Switzerland.

“The French report said,” CBS anchorman Dan Rather added, “that the United States representative was an emissary from Vice President George Bush and the Bush campaign.”

But a spokesman for Bush denied any involvement.

Sponsor Quits Debate

The networks mentioned also that the League of Women Voters on Monday withdrew its sponsorship of the second presidential debate, scheduled for mid-October in Los Angeles.

The league was upset with both presidential campaigns for insisting on a format that it said would “hoodwink voters” by minimizing debate and spontaneity.

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One TV anchorman noted dryly: “That is the same format as the first debate.”

But the league, proud that it is among the least impressed with the television age of politics, was having none of it and left the debate for others to sponsor.

Staff writer Cathleen Decker contributed to this story.


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