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Politics and Economy:
Election 2004
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Covering the Republican National Convention

According to the Pennsylvania paper the TIMES LEADER, this year's Republican convention in New York City was the most elaborate and costly of all presidential conventions in history. It's unlikely that living in America, however far from New York you might be, you could have missed media coverage this week of the big show, both inside and outside Madison Square Garden. The media has emphasized the notion that New York City isn't a typical Republican town. According to the OREGONIAN, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 5 to 1.

But that fact was probably not the force responsible for early media speculation that the moderate stance of the primetime speakers was not representative of the Republican party as a whole. The chairman of the Republican National Committee criticized such coverage for focusing on moderate speakers, insisting that the mix of speakers was broad and the party united.

While the chants and cheers of delegates within Madison Square Garden may have shown the world a united party, critics of the Bush administration took this week's convention as an opportunity to show that the country as a whole is not united. Protests were staged in many locations around New York City... and the media was there. Those tuning in to television coverage of the protest march around Madison Square Garden the day before the convention began probably caught as many glimpses of television crews as protestors.

In an effort to avoid being limited by mainstream media coverage, protestor-friendly independent media sources such as Indy Media and TruthOut provided their own ongoing coverage of the activity outside the convention in New York this week. Meanwhile, the conservative FRONTPAGE magazine was angered by the protestors presence, stating:

"Valuable prime time national airtime is the prize in these carefully-planned leftist attempts to grab network attention. Every primetime minute they can steal by seizing the eye of network TV cameras — worth perhaps $100,000 per minute in equivalent advertising — is a minute that the networks would otherwise have provided to Republican speakers or spokespeople."

The value of airtime has indeed been an issue for those analyzing media coverage in this election season. Major networks ABC, CBS, and NBC all showed a decline in coverage of the conventions this year, as was widely reported around the time of the Democratic National Convention. But viewers had ample opportunity to follow the events in Boston and New York. William Powers, media critic for the NATIONAL JOURNAL, told NPR's Melissa Block:

"I think the media are, by and large, doing really well. There's an incredible sort of cafeteria of coverage to choose from now. Remember the other night I went at one point from C-SPAN live coverage in the hall to C-SPAN2, with historic speeches — they had Eisenhower speaking to a convention in the 1950s — to Bob Woodward on LARRY KING talking about whether John Kerry is qualified to be commander in chief vs. George Bush. And I don't find myself missing the networks at all... There's not much to miss about the network coverage because we've got so much else replacing it."

One of the things replacing it is what the SACRAMENTO BEE calls "alternative media," suggesting that young people looking for news about the conventions turned to political blogs and Comedy Central's THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART instead of traditional news networks. As the Online Journalism Review sums it up, "Polls, ratings and media watchers show that youth want news that reinforces their point of view and encourages interactivity — all with a healthy dose of irony."

On the other end of the coverage spectrum was the controversial introduction of "convention jockeys" to this year's GOP convention. As the BOSTON GLOBE describes these new players, they are a group of "media-savvy staff members — some with journalism backgrounds — who are producing interviews and stories shown inside Madison Square Garden as part of the convention pageantry and propaganda." While some complain that this is a dishonest attempt to pass off party priorities as news, C-SPAN and ABC have been showing some of these reports as part of their full convention coverage, careful to identify the segments as RNC-produced. Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs wasn't surprised by the use of convention jockeys, seeing them as part of the administration's ongoing "media management." Alex Jones of Harvard's Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy found the jockeys "mildly disturbing," warning that "people would be confused" by the blurred lines between journalism and spin.

Also under attack was Fox News. Often criticized for bias toward the Republican party and the Bush administration, the network was under close scrutiny during the course of the conventions. Media analysts were interested to see if the network would devote equal time to covering the Democrats in Boston and the Republicans in New York, as Fox's Cal Thomas said they should in the interest of fairness. Media Matters for America monitored FOX News Channel's live speech coverage and produced a daily chart comparing the coverage, "holding FNC accountable for its hosts' comments and its motto of being 'fair and balanced.'" After the third day of the convention, MMFA's tracking chart showed that Fox had aired more of the Republicans' speeches than the Democrats'. Fox reporters and anchors deny any bias, and say that they are "traditional journalists who don't buy into attempts to spin the news." In a related story, the Associated Press reported on ratings and an earlier poll that show that Republicans prefer to get their news from Fox News Channel.

Commentators on many networks took the start of the Republican convention as their cue to look forward to the 2008 election season. Speeches by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and Senator John McCain prompted reporters to start making predictions as to who is "heir apparent" to George Bush. THE HILL's Jim Snyder comments, "reporters and analysts seemed more inclined to judge the speeches for political points scored than for substance."

Read more about media coverage of the conventions.

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