|HOW'S IT PLAYING?|
August 16, 2000
A recent study shows increasing numbers of people get their political news from late night television.
The NewsHour Media Unit is funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
|TERENCE SMITH: We're joined by three media analysts for a critique of the coverage. Los Angeles Times television columnist Howard Rosenberg. U.S.A. Today media reporter Martha Moore. And syndicated columnist Norman Solomon. Welcome to you all. Howard, if politics is theater, then I suppose convention can be viewed as television. Is it good television so far?|
|Conventions: Good television?|
HOWARD ROSENBERG, Los Angeles Times: I think it depends what night you're talking about. Bill Clinton was extraordinary television, whether you like the guy or not, he's amazing in front of the camera. Teddy Kennedy - pretty good television -- Bradley, boring, terrible television. But the more important point is whether it's relevant television. There are lots of important stories that are sort of tedious, but we should do them any way. I just don't think this is relevant television because I don't think it's making any news. Just like the GOP in Philadelphia, this is a story in which non news is breaking out all over the place. Nothing really is happening.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, certainly the outcome is known. Martha Moore, what's your take?
MARTHA MOORE, USA Today: Well, I think it's got more of the elements that make good television. It's got a little bit of drama with the departure of the president. It's got the history-making run by the First Lady as a Senator, and she gave a speech in trial time, conveniently enough.
TERENCE SMITH: More drama than in Philadelphia, is that what you're saying?
MARTHA MOORE: Yeah. Which was focused entirely on George Bush. There are just a few more story lines here, I think. And that makes it interesting.
TERENCE SMITH: Normon Solomon?
NORMAN SOLOMON, Creators Syndicate: Well, I think the programming is doing a very good job of staying within circumscribed values, high production values. But a frame is relevant not only for what's inside of it but what's excluded. And when you look at what is sealed out almost hermetically from the TV screen, from the imagery, what you have really is almost a Potemkin village, a kind of Wizard of Oz plotline without the revelation, without the curtain being pulled. I would argue that there are at least two curtains that should be pulled that aren't being pulled by television in covering these conventions. One is the big money, the bank rollers. We have several corporations for each convention kicking in at least a million bucks, in some cases more than that, substantially, to finance what is supposed to be a political deliberative event. Also excluded is what's happening just a few blocks from here, and I'm not even in this case talking about the protests so much as when I walked to get my car on a side block four or five blocks from here, the houses are falling down, today I saw a guy pushing a cart trying to eat, apparently, by collecting bottles. That is sealed out of the TV picture as well.
TERENCE SMITH: That's a good question, Howard. Does television convey the event as a whole to you?
HOWARD ROSENBERG: Well, there's something about walking out on the convention floor, in person, that cannot be matched through television. Even if nothing is going on in the convention, it's very exciting. And there is a certain theater involved. But I sort of disagree with you. I think generally that kind of story is the kind of thing that should be covered within newscasts. You shouldn't wait for a political convention to talk about the homeless, you shouldn't wait for a political convention to talk about other things, the big money. You don't need a convention for that. The convention itself is a venue just for promoting the party, and that's what they're doing, and that's why the coverage I'm talking about - newspaper coverage - as well - to me is really excessive.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, you know, it's not really an either/or, because we shouldn't just turn off our sensibilities at any point. There's been a lot of, in passing mention, that this is a TV show kind of as an aside, sometimes some cryptic or even tough criticism in passing from the anchors and correspondents and so forth. But in a sense the TV networks are serving as enablers, even maybe as co-participants n turning what should be politics, in a deep sense, into just froth. And how real is the journalism involved if we have podium feeds, President Clinton talking about how much he cares for the poor, when everybody knows that while they keep saying we don't stop thinking about tomorrow, that's like a horizon keeps moving, and nobody in that hall really believes that the Clinton program, the Gore program, the Lieberman program will stop poverty. They've all given it up. So it's always about tomorrow, hypothetical and meanwhile people around the country are suffering.
TERENCE SMITH: Martha.
MARTHA MOORE: I saw it in Philadelphia, I will say that, that there was some coverage, actually for TV quite hard hitting coverage of the amount of money that was being raised, at that convention and is being raised at this convention as well for this party. And there was also coverage of the sort of standard TV reporting, let's go to the poor neighborhood that's five blocks from the convention center and write about that -- so I have to give them more of a bye on that than you are.
|A matter of time|
TERENCE SMITH: The Democratic convention is getting more time on the networks, and the Republicans are crying foul. Do they have an argument?
HOWARD ROSENBERG: I don't blame them. I watched Caroline Kennedy and Teddy Kennedy, and Teddy Kennedy gives a heck of a good stump speech, but why this was carried widely on live television, you got me no reason for it whatsoever.
MARTHA MOORE: Well, I think it's unfortunate for the Republicans that their guy isn't the President of the United States, that's why they didn't get as much coverage. Democrats are messy, they run long, and their last speaker was the President. But it worked against them on Tuesday night, they ran long, and so their keynote speaker, Harold Ford, wasn't on the networks, they cut him off because he went past 11:00. So this moderate they brought out after the parade of liberals to show people that the Democrats are still new Democrats, they didn't get that across.
NORMAN SOLOMON: The parity issue is being circumstance couple scribed by the mass media, because the Reform Party got some coverage - albeit - it didn't look so hot -
TERENCE SMITH: Actually quite a lot of coverage, given its size.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Yes. These conventions -- massive -- Ralph Nader, Green Party convention, higher in the polls than Buchanan, and it's an index of something that there's this swirling controversy about, hey, is it unfair to the Republicans or whatever, the Green Party, off the map, off the media map.
HOWARD ROSENBERG: Could I just go back to one point Norman made before, and that is the notion somehow that whatever is said on the podium is not refuted is not really true -- because this is like a Rolodex of talk shows here, and there's a traveling truth squad going from sky box to sky box.
NORMAN SOLOMON: But it's so circumscribed -- it's so limited.
HOWARD ROSENBERG: No, no, they're not. No, they're very wide ranging as a matter of fact..
NORMAN SOLOMON: I disagree with that.
MARTHA MOORE: I'm amazed to hear you say that because one of the two complaints of convention coverage is that there is too much talking over the speeches and that if you want to know what is actually said you have to turn to C-SPAN. Some of the job of TV coverage is to show what happened the let viewers draw conclusions from that without rebutting everything.
NORMAN SOLOMON: But you have to talk about how wide ranging the critiques are that go on from the skyboxes.
TERENCE SMITH: There is balance, in that of course the Republicans two weeks ago and now it's Democrats, so one answers the other. Howard, you mentioned the Clinton speech as a television moment. There was a phenomenon in the hall in which many of the delegates chose to look up and watch it on the screen rather than the man in person. We really live in a television age.
HOWARD ROSENBERG: As "Survivor" has affirmed to us. There are people who really confuse reality with reality on television. And the overlapping is so intense now, most of us no matter how sophisticated we are really can tell the difference. I think that's a great example of it.
TERENCE SMITH: Was there an irony in that, Norman?
NORMAN SOLOMON: Very much. A lot of us were looking up at the screen. And, even more important than that, before Clinton came onto the stage, this very, some might say flattering, some might say smarmy bio flick, very high Spielberg quality. I want to emphasize that the essence of propaganda is repetition. And once in a while there's another story dropped in, it's hard to get more than a few words in edgewise that aren't part of the overall, I would say, corporate media strip.
TERENCE SMITH: Finally, just a couple of seconds. Martha, a big night for Al Gore coming up Thursday night.
MARTHA MOORE: Yes. And he's already up against the standard Bill Clinton with the dramatic walk down the long hallway to the podium, so on and so forth.
TERENCE SMITH: That's great. Thank you all three very much.
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