Let's begin with all things media-related. On this November 22nd, a date that has deep, lasting and age-specific meaning in this country, we are mourning the loss of a giant in the business of writing about Presidents. Not long after we got off the air last night I received a blackberry message that Hugh Sidey had died. Because TIME magazine (along with the other giants of the era, LOOK and LIFE) was always prominent on the living room table in the house I grew up in, I knew of Sidey's work at a very young age. His "Presidency" dispatches (I was four years old when he wrote his first) always made me feel like a White House insider, even from my vantage point of a ranch house in upstate New York. Hugh was a marvelous and sparkling guy, always interested and interesting. While he weathered (with good humor) charges for much of his professional life that he was enamored with one or two of the subjects he wrote about, the truth is he was guilty only of a great love of his country, its system of government and centers of power. Hugh was a detail guy...who mined each audience with each President he covered for the rich details it offered. My favorite example is the story of Johnson's brown shoes. Sidey noticed that the usually sartorially-fastidious Lyndon Baines Johnson wore cordovan shoes with a gray suit. Sidey knew the man and his tastes enough to know that something was up. Sure enough, the shoes were meant to go with the khaki-colored safari outfit Johnson wore when he knew he was going to be mingling with soldiers. Johnson was planning a secret trip to Vietnam that day, and Sidey had the story. That's the short version. There are other tellings that have taken on much more texture with rich embellishments over the years. Hugh covered every President from Eisenhower to George W. Bush. He was in Dallas on this day in 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He famously called Kennedy's Vice President, LBJ, the most fascinating person he ever met. In later years, Hugh put his love of all things Presidential to work as Chairman of the White House Historical Society...a job that would have to have been invented for him if it didn't already exist. I was very fortunate to have come to know Hugh Sidey...who never forgot how fortunate he was to know the small club of men who have occupied the Oval Office in modern times.
In a much different way, we say goodbye tonight to a giant in our profession: tonight's NIGHTLINE will mark Ted Koppel's farewell as anchor, and the start of a new chapter for him. While I will transmit more personal thoughts privately, allow me to say here that Ted has always done it right, and on his own terms. I will always remember the sight of him standing over me in the "executive aviation" wing of Saddam International Airport in the early days of the current war. I hadn't been asleep for long (we got in late, and what with the sounds of artillery and all...) and for a time I thought I was having a very vivid dream about Ted Koppel. Until I realized that WAS Ted Koppel, ribbing me for sleeping on a cement tile floor in my dirty clothes...and for having joined up with his unit of the 3rd Infantry AFTER the initial slog through the desert that Ted weathered so seemingly easily. I thought Ted's coverage of the war was the essence of clarity, bravery and just solid journalism. Going back to Vietnam, that pretty much sums up his entire career.
H.R. Haldeman will make a brief appearance in our broadcast tonight...let's leave it at that. Note my deft use of the "tease" device to lure you into watching this evening. Tonight we will talk about terrorism, and the strange case of Jose Padilla. We'll look at the President's travels of late, and how some of his political problems have been present even while on the road. We have a Fleecing of America segment that may enrage some taxpayers...about money intended for small businesses that were victims of 9-11. Also tonight, our series on pensions continues...and we'll look at a White House tradition that continued today: the annual "pardon" granted to a lucky turkey (the actual kind, with feathers) at the White House each year.
Special thanks to our guest today, Joanne Nesti, veteran news anchor at our NBC Station in Hartford, WVIT-TV. I've known Joanne for a long time, and she's a pro. She attended our often raucous afternoon editorial meeting, and thus will now carry our secrets with her for all time.
We hope you'll join us tonight.