Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Baltimore Sun: Kennedy funeral mass somber, stirring - CNN shines

The Baltimore Sun - The gray sky, steady rain, a sea of umbrellas, tolling bells and the ancient stones of the Boston basilica. Televised coverage Saturday of the funeral mass for Ted Kennedy was somber, stirring and deeply moving.

I can't explain this except by the weather, perhaps, but the opening images as mourners waited at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica for the coffin of Senator Kennedy to arrive seemed very British somehow. Maybe it involved all the gray and black suits, dresses, coats and umrellas. or all the present-day politicians and former heads of state moving with such solemnity.

But even the rain drops on the lenses of the cameras somehow seemed right. Maybe I'm thinking metaphorically, as in, even the heavens wept.

The Catholic funeral liturgy has its own sort of somber majesty, but the musical performances of Yo-Yo Ma, Placido Domingo and Susan Graham seemed to elevate their moments onstage to the ethereal.

I am not going to make this a long post; I feel emotionally spent from watching the Friday and Saturday services, and I want to watch and post on the burial later. The words Saturday of Ted Kennedy Jr. alone as he described his father helping him up a snow-covered hill shortly after he lost a leg as an adolescent to bone cancer were overwhleming.

But I do want to highlight one aspect of the TV coverage of the funeral mass -- the work of John King on CNN.

I broke my pledge to watch only C-SPAN. As I waited for the mass to begin, I started surfing all the coverage and I came upon King, host of CNN's "State of the Union" show, standing in the rain outside the church reporting on the scene in the old neighborhood at the foot of the basilica. What I saw kept me glued to CNN.

King and the CNN cameras (which appeared to be those of Boston's outstanding news station WCVB-TV) caught the first glimpses of the funeral motorcade as it came up a hill toward the basilica on a street lined by old rowhouses that could have been in almost any working or middle class neighborhood in Baltimore.

It was a powerful tableau that grounded the larger-than-life Washington image of Kennedy in the brickand mortar reality of the people in Boston whom he served.

"As the hearse made it's way up the hill, " King reported that he could hear applause and some cheering from people on the street.

"... There was a woman holding a child out the window to see," he said.

King's words provided a great bit of detail that the cameras didn't. But more important than anything he said was the fact that King was there in the rain reporting a small part of this very large story.

King was the star of CNN's widely-praised and highly-rated election coverage last fall -- in fact, he was the star of all the coverage on all the channels and networks. He is now the host of the most thorough and wide-ranging Sunday morning show on network or cable TV, "State of the Union." He does not have to be standing in the rain outside the church.

But he was, and he was doing the straightforward, just-the-facts, honest work of reporting a piece of history without ego or pretense.

Roland Martin, Ed Rollins, David Gergen -- I didn't need or want more analysts sitting in a studio talking about Kennedy. In fact, that was the last thing I wanted -- studio heads telling me what I was feeling.

I wanted the kind of effort King was providing to modestly help CNN report every aspect of the story of the funeral mass and burial of this towering political figure.

In that moment in the rain, King reminded me of what I felt when I saw ABC anchorman Charles Gibson standing on-camera alongside the road leading to the Kennedy Hyannis Port compound the night after Kennedy's death. They were both doing the core work of journalism, and each in his own way, was also paying tribute to Kennedy his on-the-ground out-of-the-studio efforts.

They made me proud to be part of the working press -- and that is a feeling one rarely has these days.

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