In Death Coverage, a Broadcast Rite of Passage Manages to Avoid the Melodramatic





Death is sad, at least in most cases. But the death of a former president has become an almost cheery television event.

It’s been more than 40 years since John F. Kennedy was assassinated. His successors died out of office, relatively quietly and well into old age. The passing of a retired commander in chief perks up the day with a wallop of stately special reports and bittersweet nostalgia, (plaid jackets, “Saturday Night Live,” détente) without undue anxiety or grieving.

And in Gerald R. Ford, who was 93 and served less than one full term, television found the avatar of comfortable presidential fadeouts. The deaths of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon were too fraught with the Shakespearean tragedies they lived in office. Ronald Reagan’s life and two terms were so momentous that the days leading to his funeral, though full and colorful, were also weighed down with mourning and Hollywood pageantry.


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