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...Or forever hold your peace

By Brian Williams, Anchor and managing editor

I was the recipient today of several emails from well-intentioned people, telling me I was being attacked in parts of the blogosphere for something I wrote and said on the air in last night's broadcast. It was a closing piece about Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip celebrating their 60th anniversary. I noted this accomplishment, especially in this era when, as I put it, marriage seems "under attack" as an institution. My meaning?  Our national divorce rate, which is currently somewhere between 40 and 50 percent. Others took it upon themselves to decide that I was somehow attacking gay marriage. The simple fact is that nothing could have been  further from my mind, as many others easily understood. In fact, one comment shared with me today came from a respected member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, who said, "It seemed to me he was talking about the sky-high heterosexual divorce rates. Marriage IS under attack -- by straight people. It had nothing to do with the gay marriage movement."

The upside of the web today?  The emails I've received from my fellow loyal Springsteen fans. Yes, I'm proud to say that my wife and I (tacit, embedded defense of marriage!) have been to three concerts so far on this tour: Meadowlands, Madison Square Garden and Boston. It just gets better every time.

I hope you can join us for tonight's broadcast. Until then, here's an interesting take on a couple of things that happened today, from my colleague Andy Franklin.

A Pardon and a Star

Two American traditions played out today, in ceremonies on opposite ends of the country. In Washington, President Bush pardoned the National Thanksgiving Turkey. In Hollywood, the Munchkins were awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We call them American traditions because it's safe to say that these two rituals take place nowhere else on earth.

The idea of teaming up presidents and turkeys (your punchline here) got its start 60 years ago, with President Harry Truman. Contrast this to the United Kingdom, a place with a lot more experience in the tradition business: 60 years ago today, they were enacting the centuries-old ritual of a royal wedding (between Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip; see above). America's own turkey-presentation ritual got its start as a way for the poultry industry to push its product during a time of peak demand. What better way to sell Thanksgiving turkeys than to have one pose for pictures with the president? The notion of the president "pardoning" the bird – sparing it from being killed and eaten after the photo-op – actually took hold later, although the "pardon" has now become a central element of the ritual.

The White House turkey presentation takes place every year, but the president himself is not always the recipient. Richard Nixon got out of it after the 1970 turkey got agitated and spoiled the photo-op. (A Washington Post article headlined "White House Flap" said in part, "Reporters at the presentation in the Rose Garden witnessed what seemed to be mutual dislike: the president stayed well back of the agitating wings; the turkey gave the President a baleful red-eyed glare.")

The following year, Nixon chief of staff Bob Haldeman (a former advertising executive who knew lousy PR when he saw it) kept the president off stage – as indicated by the following conversation, recorded by Nixon's White House taping system: 

Haldeman: It's turkey presentation time again, and I thought we'd present it to Mrs. Nixon this time, because they're presenting a dressed turkey rather than a live turkey. They finally wised up on that. Totally asinine bringing that wild turkey into the room. 
Nixon: Very good. (laughs)
Haldeman: I got you out of that.
Nixon: (laughs) The turkey story. It's always so silly.
Haldeman: That's a bad one, anyway. In the first place, it's an unsympathetic story. People don't like the idea of killing birds –
Nixon: A beautiful white turkey –
Haldeman: They put that beautiful bird there, and say I'm gonna kill and eat it. And it's always a stupid picture.
Nixon: Hoo-hoo, God. All pictures with animals, except dogs. King is the only good picture I've ever seen of a dog.
-- Executive Office Building, November 18, 1971

"King" was Nixon's Irish setter, King Timahoe. Four days later, a live turkey was in fact presented to Mrs. Nixon at the White House. President Nixon himself never again participated in the ritual.

Meanwhile, Hollywood continued today with its tradition – placing stars in the sidewalk and naming them for entertainment figures. This is also a tradition that has commercial roots. Fifty years ago, a group of Hollywood business owners got together and decided the neighborhood needing spiffing up. They came up with putting stars in the sidewalk, and the idea took hold. Today it was star number 2,352 – in honor of the Munchkins, the diminutive stars of "The Wizard of Oz." There were 124 actors playing Munchkins in that classic film. A few of them were actually children, but most were adult "little people." We're told that eleven of those adult Munchkins are still alive, and seven of them were present for today's ceremony, which took place outside Grauman's Chinese Theater, where "The Wizard of Oz" premiered in 1939. Sadly, all of the principal stars of the film – Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton and the rest – are gone. (They are not only merely dead, they are really most sincerely dead). Toto too; the Black Cairn Terrier named Terry who played Toto died in 1944 at the age of ten. "The Wizard of Oz" was just one of 13 films Terry appeared in; perhaps one day he will have his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Until then, our congratulations to the members of the Lollipop Guild, the Lullabye League, as well as to all those Munchkins who remain unaffiliated.