Sunday, January 09, 2000

Ford touts plan for free campaign ads on TV, radio




BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PASADENA, Calif. — It's not my fault. All the other good questions for former President Gerald Ford had been asked during his lunch with TV critics on the winter press tour at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

        Mr. Ford, here to promote PBS' The American President April documentary, already had answered questions about his pardon of President Richard Nixon, the Warren Commission report on President John Kennedy's death and today's negative media campaigns.

        Me? I asked what he thought of The West Wing, NBC's White House drama. I bet you're curious too.

        “Well, they get some of the rooms right,” he said with a laugh, after admitting he and Betty had seen the show more than once.“It's interesting to see how television portrays what they think happens in the West Wing.”

        Mr. Ford, 86,, used the press conference to promote his campaign reform ideas: giving free TV and radio time to political campaigns (also endorsed by former President Jimmy Carter) and shortening campaigns to a few months (as in England).

        “I don't blame television or radio for some of our current political problems. But I think we could improve the discussion of substantive issues by allocating free time between the various legitimate candidates,” said Mr. Ford, who served two years (1974-76) after Mr. Nixon resigned.

        He's also troubled by long presidential campaigns, “this tortuous process month after month after month,” he said. “But I have no solution as to how we can change the system and adopt another. It would be beneficial to candidates and the public if we could condense our political campaigns.”

        Mr. Ford also talked about his role in U.S. history:

        • He pardoned Mr. Nixon 30 days after taking office because he was spending “25 percent of my time in the Oval Office on the problems of one person (Mr. Nixon) ... The quickest way, the best way, to solve the problem was to do it as I did, with a pardon.”

        • He and six fellow Warren Commission members investigating Mr. Kennedy's 1963 death “found no evidence of a conspiracy, foreign or domestic... (and) I have seen no subsequent evidence that would change my view.”

        Some people still question facts about President Abraham Lincoln's death in 1863.“This will be a continuing controversy, I'm sure, for a good long time.”

        TV Critic John Kiesewetter is reporting from the TV critics' winter press tour.