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Whatever Happened to Hail to the Chief ?

Steve Hammel is a writer and producer of radio commercials at Dick Orkin's Radio Ranch in Hollywood

Et tu, Walter?

Following David Brinkley’s rambling attacks on President Clinton during ABC News’ election night coverage, in which he repeatedly referred to the commander in chief of our country as a “bore” and even a “god---- bore,” Walter Cronkite, an even more venerable journalistic institution, has weighed in with his comments (Calendar, Nov. 27).

Brinkley, according to Cronkite, was entitled to air his opinions and should not have apologized to Clinton in a subsequent interview on “This Week With David Brinkley"--an interview it seems to me Clinton was most gracious to have not canceled in the first place. Cronkite claims that Brinkley should have said something like, “Mr. President, you know that I think you’re boring. You now have 10 minutes to prove me wrong.”

This makes me wonder for whose presidency these two broadcast veterans are nostalgic? Colorful Gerald Ford? Dazzling George Bush? The scintillating Dwight D. Eisenhower?

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Can one imagine Brinkley attacking Eisenhower on national television as being a “god---- bore” and then having the further temerity to challenge him in a subsequent interview to prove him wrong? One can only imagine the uproar even the initial comments would have received in this different era.

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This brings us to the question, what has happened to the respect due the office of the president of the United States?

For nearly four years now, attacking the president, usually on the basis of rumor and innuendo, has been a staple of Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” monologue. By using a constant barrage of jokes about the president’s supposed womanizing and sexual peccadilloes, Leno has, in essence, turned mere allegations into hard-and-fast facts in many Americans’ minds.

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Gone are the days of the gentle bipartisan jabs of Johnny Carson. A new mean-spiritedness has entered into the late-night monologue, and often one in which the political leanings of the host are transparent. It was no surprise when Dennis Miller admitted voting for Bob Dole after his flagrant attacks on Clinton in the last few years.

Recently, during the news sketch on “Saturday Night Live,” Norm McDonald did an unfunny sketch that involved the president having sexual relations with a bagel. Think about it. This is the president of our country we’re talking about, and yet there seems to be no joke too crude to give anyone pause these days.

If this is a mere matter of partisanship, I think these people need to understand that by ridiculing and diminishing the office of the president, they are creating an atmosphere that will creep over into subsequent administrations and infect presidents more to their liking.

It is one thing to disagree with, or even dislike, the president. But as Americans, isn’t this office due our respect, regardless?

When we strip the office of its dignity through tasteless insults, unapologetic name-calling and tawdry innuendo, we irretrievably belittle the office and subsequently our own country.


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