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The Buchanan-media Back-scratch

December 12, 1986|HOWARD ROSENBERG

On the road again . . .

News media and newsmakers continue to be partners in a back-scratching ritual that serves the needs of both sides. The former have a stage to fill. The latter need a stage. Here's how it worked this week.

Someone was needed to champion beleaguered President Ronald Reagan. Hence the dispatching of White House Communications Director Patrick Buchanan on a media blitz. His apparent mission: Cool down the heat over the President's Iran arms deal and the subsequent diversion of funds from that sale to arms dealers supplying anti-government contras in Nicaragua.

The aggressive, volatile, dogmatic Buchanan is not exactly Mr. Cool. So he may have alienated more people than he swayed. But the effort was there, and so was the opportunity.

He launched his public propaganda campaign this week with a rip-roaring piece in the Washington Post that, among other things, defended Lt. Col. Oliver North, the mysterious former National Security Council aide said to be at the center of the Iran/ contra connection.

Buchanan called North a "patriot" and continued that theme Monday in a Miami speech that got wide TV coverage. Then on Tuesday, he was interviewed by "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" on PBS before moving on to CNN's "Larry King Live," where he again bashed the media and Reagan critics from both parties.

Through the magic of videotape, Buchanan could be seen in Los Angeles appearing simultaneously with King and MacNeil/Lehrer. On the King show, Buchanan called North and former National Security adviser John M. Poindexter "fine, courageous officers." When King asked Buchanan if he was media hopping at the request of Reagan, Buchanan paused and then replied with a grin: "Next question."

Buchanan was almost as busy Wednesday, appearing on radio and also being interviewed by Barbara Walters on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Besides being a crafty put-on artist and media manipulator, Buchanan is also a master at slipping questions, as he showed with Walters.

The White House position is that the President still doesn't know the details of the reported illegal funneling of money to contras at a time when it was illegal. If so, Walters reasoned logically, why doesn't Reagan simply summon Poindexter and North and ask them for details?

Walters asked the question twice, and twice Buchanan ducked it, the last time turning his answer into a plea for media restraint.

Very slippery. Buchanan uses the media even as he attacks the media. Along the way, however, he was able to raise a valid question about the Iran/ contra affair: If North did circumvent a law he felt was unjust, does that make him less an idealist than others who did something similar? Less than anti-Vietnam War activists who broke laws to protest a war they felt was unjust or civil rights activists who violated segregation laws they felt were unjust?

So the President's man got his stage, which illustrated anew how media and people like Buchanan play ball with each other when it's mutually beneficial. He clearly needed TV to deliver his message, and TV was happy to have such a blunt, provocative subject in front of the camera.

Each side got what it wanted. Tea for two and tit for tat.

THE LINE BLURS: There's little difference between TV newscasts and TV entertainment shows.

First KABC-TV Channel 7's "A.M. Los Angeles" rushes a camera to the hospital bed of departing co-host and new mother Cristina Ferrare, shortly after she had given birth.

Well, "A.M. Los Angeles" never pretends to be anything but an hour of entertainment fluff.

What about that hard-hitting 4 p.m. newscast on KNBC Channel 4, though, which this week sent its own camera into the hospital room of co-anchor/new mother Kirstie Wilde for an exclusive live interview about the joys of maternity?

TV is an intimate medium and Channel 4 viewers were undoubtedly curious about Wilde's status. So . . . announce the birth, but don't make it a focal point of the newscast.

This little episode of News Babies is classic, showing again the dominance of news personalities on news programs. Once upon a time, anchors merely reported the news. Now, they are the news.

A COMMERCIAL I would like to exile from the air:

It's that spot for the "feel-good" Medaprin, showing an assortment of ache-free people happily engaging in various strenuous activities accompanied by someone repeatedly singing that they "haven't got time for the pain."

The product's purpose is to relieve minor hurts, but there's something repugnant about that jingle, which sounds almost like a pitch to bury your problems in booze or drugs. And besides, isn't pain supposed to be the body's way of letting us know we have a problem?

A COMMERCIAL I would like to see:

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