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Thoughts on coverage of the Democratic convention - VIDEO

by Allison Waldman, posted Aug 28th 2008 2:20PM
dem conventionWatching the coverage of the Democratic convention has caused my old carpel tunnel syndrome to act up. I've been doing so much channel surfing; going from channel to channel to find just the right coverage has been a chore.

Good luck finding a balance between astute punditry, quality reporting, over-hyped production and clear coverage of the activities on the floor and stage by the political party. It's not easy. Here's some things, good and bad, that I've noticed in these first three days:

1) The Obama family are the Huxtables
After Michelle Obama's speech on Monday night, her two daughters -- Sasha and Malia -- rushed onto the stage and Barack appeared via video hook up to speak with them and Michelle, congratulating her for the speech. It was a perfect TV moment. As good as her speech was, the image of the family was even better. In a voice that reminded me of Rudi Huxtable, Sasha talked to her father and chirped, "I love you, Daddy." The Obama's became The Cosby Show. If that doesn't connect to the TV audience, nothing will. (Check out the video below.)

2) The networks have completely dropped the ball
Remember when the news divisions of NBC, CBS and ABC were the class of the TV industry? No anymore. How can you take the network news seriously when they don't choose to devote more than an hour to covering a national political convention? Edward R. Murrow should be spinning in his grave for the way CBS is handling its responsibility. It's not Jeff Greenfield and Bob Schieffer's fault. It's not Katie Couric's fault. They would probably love to be on from 8-11 E.T.

But no, just the ten o'clock hour. It's the same with ABC and NBC, although in the latter's case they have MSNBC handling the bulk of the coverage. Still, with only an hour, the Big Three are not upholding the proud tradition of network news reporting. Reruns of Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother are not more important than convention coverage.

3) The CNN coverage
Wolf Blitzer gets on my nerves and Anderson Cooper seemed uncomfortable as the referee amid all the action in the post-speech reaction round-up, but thank goodness CNN hires people without regard for age or looks. I'm speaking of two people in particular, Candy Crowley and James Carville. They're political experts and smart observers of the process, not 8x10 glossies. I appreciate that they're included and I rely on their information. On the other hand, Glenn Beck is a joke and I'm not sure if Larry King is alive or a robot?

4) Is that MSNBC or the WWE?
I think the problems with MSNBC's coverage starts with the production set up. Who's idea was it to put Matthews and Olbermann in front of a train station where real trains are departing regularly? Who's idea was setting up another platform for insider coverage in front of screaming protesters? The on air personalities are fighting the elements just to be heard, and that's leading to the on air fighting amongst the personalities. Joe Scarborough is snippy on a good day and he's out of his mind this week. Mika Brzezinski has never seemed more meek. Olbermann only plays nice with Dan Patrick as his partner; you can tell he doesn't feel like he needs motor-mouth Chris Matthews at his side. Pat Buchanan is on the verge of popping a blood vessel he's so red in the face and screechy. Taking MSNBC on the road but not putting them in a studio was a mistake.

5) Let's hear it for...
PBS! Yes, the best coverage has been on public TV. They're in a studio, for starters, so there's no screaming. Jim Lehrer is a calm, fair and assured anchor, as is Gwen Ifill. They have independent voices as commentators, including Michael Beschloss a presidential historian. One other really great thing about PBS coverage is the lack of banners, crawls, promos and other mishegoss (Yiddish for craziness) on the screen. When the Spielberg film, a tribute to the U.S. veterans, aired, you could see it full screen on PBS.

6) Brian Williams
Speaking of mishegoss, last night I actually heard NBC's anchorman Brian Williams use the word mishegoss to describe the media build up about the Clintons. Perfect use of the word! I loved it, especially because I know that Yiddish is not Williams' mother tongue.

7) Instant analysis

After Senator Hillary Clinton's speech, the reactions from the media was immediate and nearly all positive. Olbermann called it a grand slam. Carville said he expected her to do a great job and it was a bad night for Republicans. All around the dial, Hillary was getting thumbs up. Six hours later, I turned on Morning Joe and the talking heads were all tearing apart the speech, accusing Hillary of not delivering a compelling reason for Obama to be the next president of the United States. Seems to me the instant reaction was the real one. The Monday morning quarterbacking smacked of "talking points" delivered via the McCain campaign to rip Hillary's speech. Speaking of the McCain camp; why are they horning in on the Dem convention? Couldn't they have sent Romney, Guiliani and other G.O.P. representatives to campaign elsewhere? There's no respect for the other side anymore.

8) Fox
I did turn on Fox News for some analysis from the right. When Chris Wallace said he liked Hillary's speech, however, Brit Hume told him -- in no uncertain terms -- that Hillary had failed. Wallace backed down at that point.

9) CSpan
Another way to watch the coverage is unfettered at CSpan. It's a little dull, but pure. In the post speech coverage last night, I heard one guy call in and complain that he wants the Democrats to offer a list of what they'll do for the country, like Newt Gingrich's Republican "Contract with America." That was more of a bumper sticker than a real set of initiatives that they delivered, but it shows you that bumper stickers work. That's what the Democrats need for Obama, a bumper sticker. Maybe the Hillary line -- No way, No how, No McCain.

One last thought, I'm really looking forward to the coverage today of Obama's speech at Mile High Stadium. The night is fraught with historical implications because it's the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Let's see if the networks -- broadcast and cable -- rise to the occasion.

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Thank you for praising PBS's coverage. I am a CNN junkie, but sometimes I think they talk too much. In turn, I feel we miss out on several great speeches. Last night, I decided to watch PBS and was extremely impressed. I never considered PBS for political coverage before, but I will in the future.

August 29 2008 at 9:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

First I thought that "7) Instant analysis" was going to be a complaint on the "You know that thing that just happened, it was great" type of reporting. Instead, actually thinking about what was said, removing the emotional impact of what was said, and actually trying to find other people's reactions is a much better analysis then just instantaneously saying something was perfect.

August 29 2008 at 9:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joe stalin

Damn, I thought I saw all the episodes of Cosby. Mus thave missed a whole season though. Which one was it where Cliff got his job from a convicted terrorist? One that also paid for his education? And those Marxist rallies, must have missed those too ...

August 29 2008 at 8:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What happened to political coverage that was neither conservative or liberal? I don't consider "balanced" coverage being coverage with an equal number of liberal and conservative pundits and blowhards. I consider coverage to be balanced when the NEWS is presented and individuals are reacting to the events happening rather than putting their political spin on it.

For the most part, the major news anchors have at least always tried to remain neutral. You can almost be certain that Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams are liberal-leaning, for instance, but when discussing politics they try and stay away from their own personal political views -- and it's noticeable amongst all the yappers out there complaining about this and making digs about that.

For all its supposed "liberal bias" up here in Canada, I'd say the CBC (and in general CTV and Global, the other 2 major networks) tend to be extremely unbiased when covering political events -- both Canadian and American. I wish I could see more of that down there. It'll be interesting to see the comparisons more directly, as it's looking more and more likely that we'll end up having a federal election BEFORE yours in November.

August 29 2008 at 2:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

On a lighter note...

anyone catch Brian Williams say interwebs?

August 28 2008 at 7:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jake's comment

That dude has a kickass sense of humor. He could be a permanent cast member on either The Daily Show or SNL, of course that won't ever happen, but I can settle for him hosting the latter once a year and making appearances sporadically on the other.

August 29 2008 at 12:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have to say that I was very disappointed in CNN for not running Tammy Duckworth's speech in its entirety last night. She is a wounded OIF veteran and the kind of person I want to see represent the Democratic Party in the future.

I hope that along with with the heavy hitters tonight we at least get to see Nate Fick's speech this evening. He's another OIF vet and with his level of intelligence and military experience could run for President in the future.

As a liberal I tend to gravitate toward CNN's coverage but I too believe that PBS is the best place to watch the convention. I plan on watching tonight on PBS and I will probably watch the Republican convention there.

Whether you believe there should be a two party system or a multi-party system like the rest of the world... this election is about this election. I'm liberal, very very liberal. I'd love to hear Barack be much more left in his speeches but I know enough to know that ALL of MY own personal ideas don't necessarily equal the needs of all americans.

If you're a conservative vote for McCain, I won't vote for him but if you believe he's the best choice for America then please vote that way. So many people fought so that we could all vote that it bothers me to think that people refuse to vote as a means of showing displeasure with the system.

I say this, vote for the best option you have now. Then in the next four, eight or ten years go on and do your best to help people move into a third party system.

Finally, whether you love or hate him... the fact that Barack Obama is going to give an acceptance speech tonight is historic. It's something I get to see in only my third presidential election. My parents have had a much longer wait, and I'm sure my grandparents may have thought they'd never see this day. Don't like him, don't watch it.

I have many friends who are conservative; the area I live in New Jersey is a red island in a sea of blue. We have managed to discuss this election sensibly and with respect to each other's candidates. I respect the world out of John McCain. If he does win in November I'm not moving out of the United States. I think he just believes in a different vision for this country than I do. That's it.

I'd prefer that TV Squad not become yet another place for liberals and conservatives to squabble.

August 28 2008 at 6:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to maestro610's comment
chadwick hansford

Well, agree with you. I prefer this wouldn't be a place where everyone squabble either but when something is written so liberal people take notice. By the looks many have.

August 28 2008 at 7:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well said Maestro, well said.

August 28 2008 at 8:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think it would be fun for TV squad to compare the Democratic and Republican conventions. You know, it's going to just be an half an hour report for one day on two networks and a blurb about it after the 15 minute top story(Which by the way is 'Obama plays with puppy') before it gets buried by another Obama story ('Obama gives name to mystery puppy, Patches. Reactions and our exclusion journey into Obama's past and his history of puppies).

Seriously, how is everything suppose to be fair and even in the media if one candidate is constantly getting attention?

August 28 2008 at 6:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Melody Warbington

Even according to Ms. Clinton, Fox News has provides the most balanced coverage. I am a conservative and haven't watched much of the convention, but in the few moments I've watched, I've seen analysis from the following liberals, some Fox analysts and others guests: Kirsten Powers, Michael Dukakis, Lanny Davis, Ed Rendell, John Podesta, Terry McAuliffe, Al Sharpton, Howard Wolfson, Geraldine Ferraro, Susan Estrich and Alan Colmes. Has any one of the networks or their affiliates even come close to having as many conservatives on their coverage?

I find it amusing that you compare the Obama's to the Huxtables since Bill Cosby has been attacked by liberals for his comments (see www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/cosby.asp).

August 28 2008 at 5:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I question why the "big 3" cover the conventions at all. In the old days when there were just three networks that was the only place to get coverage. Now, between CSPAN and a multitude of cable news channels you can certainly get your fill. Even with out cable PBS does a good job of covering them. While I would rather watch paint dry (and peel) than listen to Harry Reid, it was interesting that other than CSPAN I couldn't find a single network carrying his speech. Clearly they feel we'd rather listen to their "experts" than the actual speakers.

August 28 2008 at 3:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So true about the PBS coverage - much better than any of the major networks have to offer.

Oh, and for StillBash - it's not like our 2 parties are set in stone. The founding fathers didn't establish only Democrats and Republicans. And even those 2 parties don't stand for the same things they did 100 years ago. Instead of moaning about how much nonsense it all is and acting above it all, why not get off your butt, turn off the Daily Show, and do a little activism in the real world. Hate our current parties? Start a new one.

August 28 2008 at 3:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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