It's official: The Democratic National Convention is not a reality-show hit.
Just-released Nielsen numbers show that television ratings for Monday night, despite the heavily touted Bill Clinton speech, were down 10 percent from the first night of the Democratic gathering in Los Angeles four years ago.
The combined audience for CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC was 18.4 million, compared to 20.4 million four years ago.
All the broadcast networks, which have been criticized for devoting only three hours each to live convention coverage, took a hit. Ratings numbers for ABC dropped from 4.8 to 3.1, for NBC from 4.8 to 3.3, and for CBS from 3.8 to 3.2. (One ratings point is equal to 1.08 million households.)
This will give a boost to those who say the broadcast networks have made a rational decision in the face of convention ratings that have been declining for decades.
A small portion of the audience, however, is migrating to cable. Fox was up dramatically, from 0.3 to 1.1, reflecting its rapid growth since 2000. CNN won the night on cable, rising from 1.3 last time to 1.5, and MSNBC, which is anchoring its coverage from Faneuil Hall, was up from 0.5 to 0.7.
The tabloids are painting John F. Kerry as an out-of-this-world figure.
The New York Post's front page Tuesday featured a huge picture of the Democratic presidential nominee-to-be in a blue spacesuit, crawling out of the shuttle Discovery at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Next to the headline ("BOSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM") and a description of Kerry's "ridiculous outfit," Rupert Murdoch's paper ran a smaller shot of Woody Allen dressed as a human sperm from the movie "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask."
The same Kerry photo ran in the Boston Herald, whose front page this week has been devoted to Kerry-bashing, with the story comparing his donning of the "clean suit" to 1988 nominee Michael S. Dukakis's infamous flub of riding around in a tank. (The Herald's banner headline, "TERESA'S TED K TIRADE," spotlighted some remarks that Kerry's wife made in a 1975 book.) The in-your-face pictures landed like a meteor, with cable networks showing them throughout the day.
Kerry spokesman Phil Singer said the candidate was required to wear the suit. "Given the challenges facing our nation today, you'd think these papers could find something better to write about," he said. Campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill, asked by Fox News whether NASA's release of the picture was a dirty trick, said: "Well, what do you think?" No photos were supposed to be taken, she said.
But Kennedy Space Center spokesman Mike Rein said a video was routinely made of Kerry "as we have done for the last 40 years." He said NASA takes such footage because Kerry was in "a very confined and hazardous area" and that the pictures are always made public.
New York Post Editor in Chief Col Allan said he was just having "a bit of fun" before Al Gore, Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed the convention Monday night. "The candidate as a sperm lasted exactly one edition" on the front page, he said. Asked if he was trying to make Kerry look silly, Allan said: "He needs no help from us."