Wednesday, January 19, 2005

TV notes: the inaugural

The big story last night was the "Boots and Black Tie Ball," held every four years on the eve of the presidential inauguration.

I was not invited, again, so was forced, again, to glean what I could from the TV.

MSNBC screwed up and sent Ron Reagan to cover the quadrennial party that is sponsored by The Texas State Society, a 100-year-old, 5,000-member organization in our nation's capital that exists because people from Texas who live in Washington, D.C. like to talk to anyone who'll listen how they're from Texas and someday soon plan to return to Texas, God willin'.

I changed the channel after Reagan's intial live report from the ball because he rolled his eyes and smirked while reporting about all the bar-b-q, cowboy boots and "big hair" that was on display at the fiesta. I'm serious. His body language was saying he would rather be covering a pie-eating contest than be amongst all the Texans, who apparently were drinking and hollering, "Yeeeeeh."

Over on CNN, Larry King interviewed former Secretary of State James Baker, who said he went to the Texas ball four years ago but couldn't get anything to eat because of the huge crowd, so he was skipping the party this year and going to bed after chatting with King. I immediately wondered if Baker speechwriter John Williams, the former Houston Chronicle political columnist, wrote that line for him. We'll never know.

King, wearing his trademark suspenders, next introduced the son of Jimmy Carter, the son of Gerald Ford and the heterosexual daughter of V.P. Dick Cheney and Lynne Cheney.

Chip Carter was wearing a checkered sport coat, a tie that didn't match and an earring in his left ear lobe. I forget whether the left or right ear lobe carries special significance. (Note to self: check home library for all "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" VHS tapes). The checkered sport coat did NOT work. Did NOT work in the sense it reminded me of the ad salesman on "WKRP in Cincinnatti." Chip said his dad is 81 now and recently monitored the elections in Mozamibique and Palestine. He said his dad is an amazing human being. Seeing Chip made me think back to Billy Carter, the president's brother, who is dead, and the innocent, happy-go-lucky days of Billy Beer, which helped the country forget about inflation. Good times.

Jack Ford said his dad is 91 now and reported that he played golf with the former president five of the nine days he spent with him last Christmas in Palm Springs. He said his old man usually played about 7 holes. This impressed me. You've gotta keep moving. Or you'll end up like Billy Carter. Correction. You've gotta keep moving and probably drink a lot less than Billy Carter, or you'll end up like Billy Carter.

The daughter of the vice president didn't say anything newsworthy, in this correspondent's opinion, but I noticed that she used the word "focused" at least two times, maybe even three, when describing what's up with her parents on the night before the inauguration. Oh, yeah, she said the Veep & wife had decided to use a Bible belonging to her grandparents (or maybe Dick & Lynne's grandparents) at the inaugural ceremony. (2nd note to self: Monitor ebay in the coming weeks)

King crafily included a historical perspective in the show.

David Gergen declared that Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy gave the last two memorable inaugural addresses while Lincoln's second inaugural address, only 156 words long, was the the most famous in American history. 156 words? That'll be the number of words in the lede of the NY Times inaugural story Friday. (Editor's note: Methinks the correspondent is confused, as he was switching channels, back and forth, back and forth, usually to espn news; the referenced shortest speech likely was made by George Washington. Look it up if you want to make sure. Thanks.)

Joining Gergen was historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony, who noted, with a misplaced chuckle, that William Henry Harrison caught a cold while giving his inaugural address and died a month later of pneumonia. NOT funny at the time, but after 160 or so years, somewhat funny, so long as you're not one of the remaining few who talk wistfully about a return of the Whig Party.

Over at Fox News, the Texas hokum was kneecap deep, as Greta Van Susteren opened her show with live coverage of the Boots and Black Tie hootenanny, which was in full thrall after the president himself gave a short speech which, I noticed, still exceeded Lincoln's second inaugural address, but only in word count.

Greta interviewed U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, asking if Texas women really wear boots, too, like Texas men.

Yes, they do, Kay said with a smile she began honing more than 30 years ago as a Channel 2 reporter in Houston. Sen. Hutchison also gave a plug to Houston bootmaker Rocky Carroll, who made special boots for the occasion.

It was more than apparent that boots, especially boots worn by women, tickled a special part of Greta's psyche because she soon returned to the topic.

Speaking to Fox News reporter Brian Wilson (not the Beach Boy Brian Wilson), who was broadcasting live from the Boots and Black Tie Ball, Greta asked, "Did you see some fancy boots on women?"

Wilson paused a brief moment, as if unsure he heard the question correctly, then answered as professionally as possible, almost as if he had decided he would pretend to himself that he was delivering a live report from the Pentagon about terror and death.

Wilson reported that, in fact, he had seen a woman who appeared to be wearing boots, but noticed that they appeared to be open-toe boots, which, upon closer inspection, were actually FAKE BOOTS.

Greta gave one of those "Oh Those Crazy Texans" smiles.

Beer, bar-b-q, big hair, country music, fake boots, real boots ... really, it's just so wild! And the president's from this place called Texas. And all these people from the place called Texas are having this hoedown right here in Washington, D.C.!

"I can only imagine what my home state of Wisconsin would be doing if we had one" of these inaugural ball party things, Greta said to Brian.

"I would imagine they would be having a lot of cheese, Greta," responded Brian, still in Pentagon mode.


It's these kinds of live television moments that cry out for some canned laughter, the kind you can hear on reruns of "I Love Lucy," "F Troop" and such as that.

related links

The Texas State Society
Wm. Henry Harrison
Rocky's celebrity boots

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