Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nation's Leaders Profiled in PBS Series, 'The American President'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nation's Leaders Profiled in PBS Series, 'The American President'

Article excerpt

********** CORRECTION (4/10/00)

There are four living former U.S. presidents. Because of a reporter's error, a story on Page E-1 yesterday said otherwise.


For the first time in history, five former U.S. presidents are living and, with one exception, active citizens.

But while past commanders in chief are often helpful in matters of diplomacy and negotiations on the hill, former President Gerald Ford is vigorously opposed to a formal council, which has been suggested.

"That would just be another bureaucracy, as I have often said, and we have too much of that already," Ford told reporters. "I know from personal experience that whenever a sitting president asks a former president for any advice, counsel or help, the former president responds very quickly and hopefully beneficially."

Ford made his comments while publicizing The American President, an epic series billed as the first documentary ever to profile all 41 of America's chief executives. The 10-hour production will air today-Thursday in nightly two-hour blocks starting at 9 p.m. on PBS (WJCT TV-7).

In fact, he is one of four living former presidents interviewed for the production --- the exception is Ronald Reagan, who is suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

Major political, military and media figures who provide voices for presidents who held office before sound recording include Gen. Colin Powell, Sen. Robert Dole, Walter Cronkite, Ben Bradlee, Sen. John Glenn, Andrew Young and the Rev. Billy Graham.

Narrated by Hugh Sidey, Time magazine's White House correspondent for four decades, The American President presents stories of several leaders in each hour, their tenures linked by a common theme.

Tomorrow's episode, for example, includes An Independent Cast of Mind, which focuses on America's occasional tendency to elect a president who claims to be removed from partisan politics. The examples are John Adams, Zachary Taylor, Rutherford B. Hayes and Jimmy Carter. As the hour concludes, independence does not always lead to effectiveness. The Professional Politician, which follows, examines the relationship between skills required for success in politics and those for a successful presidency.

Other program themes are generals who became presidents, American political dynasties, vice presidents who assumed the office and presidents who advocated limiting the powers of the federal government. The Balance of Power, which concludes the series, focuses on the rise and fall of powers vested constitutionally in the three branches of the federal government. Included is an interview with President Clinton.

Ford is included in Wednesday's installment, The Candidate and the segment Compromise Choices. Along with Franklin Pierce, James Garfield and Warren G. Harding, he is depicted as an example of what happens when a president is chosen not so much for his positive qualities as for his lack of negative ones. Although his pardon of President Nixon was controversial, Ford remains firm in his conviction he did the right thing in 1974.

Upon taking office, Ford said he was faced with a full platter of problems both domestic and international, including a serious economic recession and nuclear negotiations with the Soviets. At the same time, he was bombarded by lawyers and Justice Department staffers telling him what he could and couldn't do with Nixon's papers, tapes and other materials. …

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