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SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ | TELEVISION

Bush's Address Is Almost Anticlimactic After Weeks of Drumroll

March 18, 2003|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Sure, they liked him personally and endorsed his vision for America. Even his most ardent followers, though, could not have imagined a couple of years ago that the future of the nation and much of the globe would come down to a 15-minute TV speech by, of all people, George W. Bush.

But it has.

Live television is at times his friend, at times his foe. Spontaneity, often his friend. A prepared speech, rarely his friend.

"The world is watching and waiting to hear what President Bush has to say at this hour," CNN's Wolf Blitzer reported Monday from Kuwait City, three hours before Bush went on TV and ordered Saddam Hussein and his crowd out of their own country in 48 hours or else.

The minutes leading up to Bush's speech projected high, lump-in-your-throat importance on TV. At least that was the intended aura. Instead, weeks of saturation media coverage of U.S.-Iraq tensions produced a deja vu moment that made Monday almost anticlimactic.

Oh, you knew it was important when CNN deployed Aaron Brown and Judy Woodruff on a Washington rooftop to co-anchor by satellite with Blitzer and Christiane Amanpour in Kuwait. You knew it was important when the Fox News Channel's Sheperd Smith predicted that Bush's words would "blare through the desert night."

You knew it was important when MSNBC upgraded its coverage to orange alert and positioned a digital clock in the lower right corner of the picture, counting down minutes and seconds not only to war with Iraq but to Bush's speech.

You knew it was important when network anchor royalty -- Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings -- appeared on their respective screens almost simultaneously, just ahead of Bush grimly sliding up behind the White House podium.

You knew it was important when Bush spoke not only directly to Hussein but also to his underlings and others in Iraq, urging them to not destroy oil wells or "obey any command to use weapons of mass destruction against anyone, including the Iraqi people."

But just who in Iraq, beyond Hussein and his entourage, would be watching or listening? You knew it was important, too, when after the speech, KNBC-TV Channel 4 had Paul Moyer anchor the news at times by standing in front of an American flag and clutching a sheaf of papers like a real journalist. Perhaps to swat flies.

You knew it was important when ABC blew off Monday's prime-time schedule for a three-hour news special to dissect the day's events. Well, it was important, certainly an epic moment early in this century, one that surely will define Bush's presidency and influence how we and others across the globe live our lives in years to come.

That his speech may have landed with an emotional thud in some quarters had nothing to do with how it was written or how he delivered it. It had everything to do with the topic's familiarity. Talk about a very strange time.

Bush's ultimatum was the tail end of a drumroll that had been building for many weeks. He previously had ordered Hussein from Dodge.

And just as swarms of TV commentators predicted Monday that Hussein would not bend to Bush when it came to relocating, the multitudes had long assumed that the U.S. would invade Iraq.

It was predicted repeatedly, also, that Bush would not get the support for military action he sought in the U.N. Security Council.

All that came to pass Monday, in a strange way rendering this old news. That will change only if Hussein surprises everyone and flees Iraq ahead of U.S. and British forces.

Or if he doesn't and bombs fall on Baghdad, turning a nightmare scenario into reality.

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