By Brian Williams, Anchor and managing editor
As the father of a daughter in the performing arts, the death of Margaret Truman yesterday gave me reason to repeat my favorite Harry Truman story on the air. Incensed by what critic Paul Hume wrote in the Washington Post after Margaret's concert at Constitution Hall, he pulled a sheet of White House letterhead out of the top drawer of his desk and fired off what might have amounted to the last unguarded, unvarnished and completely unhinged outburst by a President on paper, reproduced here:
It went like this:
I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. I've come to the conclusion that you are an "eight-ulcer man on four-ulcer pay." It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful... Someday I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose and a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below.
Speaking of varnish: there's been much talk among my friends in what I call the "blue curtain crowd" -- the political advance people who set up campaign events -- about Obama's performance on primary and caucus nights. While many viewers may notice that his speeches seem smooth and practiced and orderly, (even amid the hubub and controlled chaos of a ballroom on election night) they may not instantly notice the reason why: the teleprompter that joins the Senator on stage for major events. Advance people who are aware of Obama's "secret weapon" (of course a prompter only helps if you're adept at reading one while seeming not to) have been wondering why other campaigns haven't started using them as well. Now they have. Kind of.
For viewers who noticed a slightly different forward stare during McCain's acceptance speech in Florida last night, there was a reason for that, too: a single, head-on prompter. These are usually big-screen TV's converted to the purpose at large events (big hotel ballroom banquets and televised award shows) and not often seen in politics except at conventions, to supplement the two glass plates on either side of the speaker. The interesting aspect of its use last night was that it was the ONLY prompter screen available to the Senator -- who kept returning his sharp gaze to a fixed spot seemingly in the middle of the room, looking away only occasionally to ad lib or pause for applause. The truth is that after the victory McCain pulled off last night, his supporters would have been happy if he'd read aloud from the phone book.
Tonight on our broadcast (delivered using my customary forward stare), we'll have this new day in politics. Edwards and Giuliani are out, and now it gets even more interesting. Two campaigns that attracted a lot of interest, expended a lot of energy and raised a lot of money -- will now try to transfer the heft of support to others. McCain is the recipient on the Republican side, and Edwards was non-committal today. We'll have it all. We hope you can join us for the best political coverage on television, and the rest of the news of this day.