Networks "pull together" for Ford funeral coverage
Tuesday's state funeral for President Gerald R. Ford has been years in the making, a result of the wishes of Ford and his family and, in the coverage, years of work by TV networks.
Ford's six days of memorials began Friday, when his casket was brought to a Palm Springs church, and continued during the weekend in Washington, where his body lay at state in the Capitol Rotunda. After Tuesday's funeral, it will be brought to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where another service will be held, and then, it will be interred at the president's library and museum.
Even though they didn't know when it would occur, network TV's preparations for Ford's services were in the planning stages since before President Ronald Reagan's passing in 2004. Ford, at 93, was the longest-living former president and had been in ill health for a while.
"We've been having pool conversations about this story for a while now," said Phil Alongi, executive producer of NBC News special coverage. "This has been in the planning stages for years."
Like such other big national events as inaugurations and State of the Union Addresses, a presidential funeral is covered by the so-called network pool that includes ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News Channel, CNN, and MSNBC. Each network takes responsibility for a portion of the event, which will take place in three regions of the country and in four states and the District of Columbia.
"These logistically are very, very big projects," Alongi said. "This is one time when all the networks pull together."
CBS is the pool network for the motorcade and Andrews Air Force Base, where the casket was flown to Saturday and is due to be flown out of Tuesday. NBC is the pool for the Capitol, ABC for the Washington National Cathedral, and Fox News Channel for the initial viewing in California and the burial in Grand Rapids. CNN is the overall pool producer.
"The assignments are done and the right people have been to Grand Rapids a couple of times, they've known where the cameras are going to be," CNN Washington bureau chief David Bohrman said.
Planning began in earnest after Reagan's funeral in June 2004, when executives from the networks discussed how the coverage went and what could be improved. Network personnel have gone to the Ford museum and library, where the former president will be buried, several times over the years to plan the coverage. The networks have met several times since 2004 about the coverage of the state funeral; those calls became daily and more frequently after Ford died.
While the networks waited until well after the family announced the plans Wednesday, executives said it generally was understood what each of the former presidents wish when their time comes.
"We know as much as the [National] Military District and each presidents' library has decided to share with us," Bohrman said. "It's usually a lot. The planning is complex and it's in everybody's best interest."
There haven't been many state funerals in recent years, with the first in 30 years for President Reagan. The last one was in 1973 for President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Richard M. Nixon declined to have a state funeral when he died in 1994.
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