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Timing Of News A Pain For Networks, Viewers

From Wire Reports

The State of the Union address is rarely a major television event, but Tuesday night, O.J. Simpson delivered a large audience, along with a big headache for network executives.

Bulletins trumpeted the news that the jury in the Simpson civil trial had reached a verdict less than two hours before President Clinton was scheduled to begin his address.

“We have two breaking news stories and something of a quandary,” ABC’s Peter Jennings noted with typical understatement.

America’s attention, as many reporters and analysts said, was divided. Eventually all of the national TV news organizations told viewers they would stay with the president’s address. Almost immediately after the speech, the verdicts were delivered to TV viewers by reporters outside the California courthouse.

Although the verdicts did not come in during the speech, TV news executives understood they had a duty to present the president.

Anchors Jennings, CBS’ Dan Rather and NBC’s Tom Brokaw each told viewers their network’s plans before Clinton’s speech began.

Jackson joins Gingrich, barely

House Speaker Newt Gingrich invited the Rev. Jesse Jackson to be his guest for the State of the Union speech, in part to show that Republicans can work together on race and poverty issues.

But the symbolic gesture nearly blew up in the beleaguered Georgia Republican’s face after Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., the black conservative who delivered the GOP’s official response to President Clinton’s address, was quoted in an article Tuesday calling Jackson a “race-hustling poverty pimp.”

After Jackson called Gingrich on Tuesday afternoon to demand an explanation, the speaker scrambled to dissociate himself from Watts, Jackson said in an interview.

“His spokesman … has unleashed a venomous personal attack upon my integrity and my person,” Jackson said. “He (Gingrich) assured me that was not his position, and he would write me a note to that effect.”

Jackson said he decided not to decline Gingrich’s invitation “in the spirit of bipartisanship and (in an attempt to) affect public policy for the common good, and to end some of the hostility between leaders” of both parties.

Guests underline message

President Clinton put faces to his call for higher education standards by seating an eighth-grade teacher and two students in the VIP gallery for his State of the Union speech.

Kristen Tanner, a ninth-grader who participated in the Northbrook, Ill., school district’s “First in the World” testing, claimed her seat to the left of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Behind them sat student Chris Getsla and teacher Sue Winski, both from Northbrook’s Stanley Field Middle School, which the president visited last month.

Also in the House gallery at Clinton’s invitation were: Kristen Zarfos, a Connecticut physician fighting for longer hospital stays after mastectomies, and Lillie Tejeda and Mary Alice Lara, the mother and sister, respectively, of Texas Rep. Frank Tejeda, who died last week.

To Hillary Clinton’s right sat the Rev. Robert Schuller, the pastor who suggested that Clinton, in calling for bipartisanship, cite the “repairer of the breach” passage in Isaiah 58:12.

First lady leads applause

From her VIP perch in the gallery, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton led the House chamber Tuesday night in a standing ovation for her husband’s call to expand preschool programs for poor children.

President Clinton, in outlining his 10-point “call to action” on education, saluted the first lady as a “wonderful wife” who’s been “obsessed with this subject for more years than I can recall.” He also credited her years of study on childhood learning with their decision to convene a spring White House “conference on early learning and the brain.”

Clinton’s budget will propose expanding the Head Start education and nutrition program to include 1 million children by 2002.

The Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea, stayed at home to watch the speech on television with friends.

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