TOPICS > Nation

Media Notebook on the Republican National Convention

BY Terence Smith  September 2, 2004 at 6:11 PM EST

September 2, 2004, 6:11 pm:

More ratingzzz, as the late John Carmody used to say….

If you were watching the Republican convention coverage on the Fox News channel Tuesday night, you can tell your grandchildren about it.

The Nielsen ratings for that night — Arnold Schwarzenegger and Laura Bush were the headliners — show that for the first time ever, a cable channel, Fox News, attracted a larger audience than any of the three big broadcast channels.

Fox drew 5.2 million viewers between 10 and 11 p.m., versus NBC’s 5.1 million, ABC’s 4.3 million and CBS’s 4.4 million. PBS averaged about 2 million, while MSNBC followed with 1.6 million and CNN brought up the rear with 1.5 million.

Republicans, it seems, and people who like to watch Republicans-at-play, seem to gravitate to the comfortably conservative precincts of Fox News. This reflects the findings of a recent Pew Research Center poll that indicated that many viewers choose their news outlets based on their presumed ideological approach.

Fox, of course, insists that it is “fair and balanced,” rather than conservative or liberal, but by some strange coincidence, a plurality of those who identify themselves as conservatives choose Fox.

Who knows, maybe the draw was the Bush twins prattling about their grandparents’ ignorance of “Sex in the City.”

***

September 1, 4:05 PM:

As they did at the Democratic Convention last month in Boston, the three major broadcast networks have confined their primetime coverage of the Republican Convention to three hours over four days. The commercial nets argue that the conventions have become pre-cooked, staged events devoid of surprise or real news.

But for the 24-hour cable channels, the conventions are a bonus in the slow summer months. And for one, Fox News, this gathering in New York is a bonanza.

Preliminary numbers show that Fox, the natural home to right-thinking Americans, drew 3.8 million viewers between 8 and 11:30 p.m. Monday night. CNN followed with an average of 1.2 million viewers and MSNBC was a solid third, as they say in the industry, with 854,000. (The NewsHour averaged 1.9 million.)

Despite their truncated coverage, the broadcast networks have deployed huge news teams to cover the Republican confab, which is located in their corporate backyard.

NBC is amortizing its expenses by providing coverage on its two cable outlets, MSNBC and CNBC. Anchor Tom Brokaw is recording the headlines and 90-second commentaries from the convention that are being beamed to Sprint cellphone users.

ABC, with no cable sister channel, is trying something different.

In addition to primetime, Peter Jennings and his crew of correspondents are providing 23 hours of convention coverage between Monday and Thursday. This expanded coverage, ABC News Now, is being carried by ABC affiliates on their digital channels, over the Internet via broadband service providers like AOL and Comcast, and to video phones by cell phone providers. Some 70 ABC affiliates are carrying the expanded reporting on digital channels available to some 65 percent of Americans.

But there is a catch. You have to subscribe to something: either a cable service, a broadband or wireless phone service or to ABC News Now (via ABC News On Demand) itself.

It is impossible to predict what kind of audience ABC News Now will attract this week. But that may not be the point. It is a new vehicle, and Peter Jennings, for one, hopes it can become a 24-hour outlet for the news division.

“We are all here covering the convention,” he said in a conversation, “We need a way to reach those who want more than the primetime coverage.”

Jennings said he has tried to persuade the ABC suits to devote one of the digital channels available to the ABC affiliates as a result of compression technology to news on a permanent, 24-hour basis.

No promises from the suits yet, he said, except a commitment to continue through the November 2 election.

***

August 30, 6:35 PM:

Some random notes from inside and outside the Republican convention:

Even before the Republican Convention got underway in New York, a couple of hundred editors, reporters and critics assembled in the stately, wood-paneled main dining room of the Harvard Club on West 44th Street to lament the wayward ways of the press.

Specifically, they were upset about the way the coverage of the presidential campaign had been hijacked by the sponsors of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the private group of Vietnam veterans who have run television ads challenging Senator John Kerry’s valor and veracity about his battlefield experiences.

Of the 500,000 political ad airings so far in this campaign, only a little more than 700 have been bought and paid for by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. But thanks to the “free media” they have received — news organizations running the ads over and over — the Swift Boat charges dominated campaign coverage for the last three weeks leading up to the convention. Polls suggest that the ads, which have been widely discredited, nonetheless have injured Senator Kerry’s image with the public.

Who was to blame? “The bloggers kept the issue alive,” argued John Podhoretz, the Fox News commentator and columnist for he New York Post. “The bloggers, talk radio and cable news channels.”

“John Kerry’s presentation to the Democratic Convention,” argued Jill Abramson, the managing editor of The New York Times. “When he ‘reported for duty’ in his acceptance speech, he invited scrutiny of his record.” Abramson added that her paper and a few others had taken the time to check the allegations against the available record and found most of them questionable at best.

Joe Klein, columnist for Time magazine, argued that cable television was the culprit, airing the charges over and again on the “shout shows” with out any checking of the facts. “The more we talk about Swift Boats,” insisted Klein, “the less we talk about George W. Bush’s remarkable decision to go to war preemptively in Iraq. That’s what we should be talking and writing about.”

In the end, (after spending most of their time doing exactly what they were lamenting — talking about the Swift Boat controversy) the assembled writers and editors decided the bloggers were mostly to blame for perpetuating such a “non story.”

That prompted a young woman executive in the audience to murmur:”It’s fascinating how the bloggers get the establishment media so riled up! It’s almost as if the mainstream media is baffled that the bloggers have the cachet that they do. It shows how out of touch the mainstream media is these days and how much the Internet has changed the world in which the press operates.”