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Tarnished Lady

June 08, 1986

The selling of the Statue of Liberty has been riddled with controversy ever since it was decided that restoration of the national monument for its centennial this year would be a private fund-raising affair. Stroh's Beer fought with Budweiser, Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel with Chrysler's Lee A. Iacocca. Now it is ABC Television against all its rival networks.

ABC has a $10-million contract with David Wolper Productions for "exclusive" rights to televise Wolper's $30-million Liberty Weekend extravaganza next month. These rights, ABC claims, include portions of President Reagan's rededication of the statue, Reagan's presentation of 12 Wolper-created Medals of Liberty to distinguished naturalized Americans and Chief Justice Warren E. Burger's administering of the oath of allegiance to 300 new Americans. ABC will feed highlights to its rivals, but then pull the plug.

ABC's rivals, understandbly, have cried foul. "You don't license the Statue of Liberty to anyone," an offended network news official said. Nor can you turn a presidential event into a network exclusive, the rivals say. At the White House, spokesman Larry Speakes said that he was negotiating with Wolper officials to make as much of the President's appearances as possible available to everyone. He should tell them that whatever the President does is in the public domain, and accessible to all.

There are some parallels to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, in that Wolper produced the flamboyant Olympic ceremonies and ABC had exclusive television rights to the Games. But the similarity ends at the foot of Lady Liberty, and so should commercialism. She has been an official national monument and a part of the National Park System since the 1930s.

"I lift my lamp beside the golden door," declares Emma Lazarus' famous Statue of Liberty inscription. The lamp should shine for everyone--with no time out for commercials.

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