When Al Gore spoke to the Democratic convention here last Monday, Fox News Channel didn't carry it live.
Host Bill O'Reilly allowed viewers to hear the former vice president for about 40 seconds before saying: "Oh man, I wish I was out there. I would have said hey, a deficit, we've got a war on terror, we're attacked. What are you talking about?"
Whatever happened to "we report, you decide?" Shouldn't Fox viewers get to hear Gore before O'Reilly and his guests start sounding off?
O'Reilly, responding to this reporter's criticism of that move on washingtonpost.com, told viewers: "The newspaper pinheads claim that because we aren't covering the speeches we aren't fair. That, of course: a bunch of baloney. . . . How desperate some in the print media are to smear Fox News. In the words of Teresa Heinz Kerry, the newspaper critics can shove it."
But sometimes even pinheads have a point, as some Fox staffers, both publicly and privately, acknowledge.
"I don't know if that was the right call or not," says Brit Hume, Fox's Washington managing editor, who replayed a few minutes of the Gore speech two hours after O'Reilly passed it up. "At that point we were in a program that is principally about one man's analysis. It wasn't part of our live coverage. If it had been my hour, I'd have done it. Bill O'Reilly chose not to do it. It's his program."
On Tuesday, O'Reilly interrupted an interview with Jerry Brown to listen to about four minutes of Ted Kennedy's 25-minute address. On Wednesday, he took Al Sharpton for two minutes of a 20-minute speech, interjecting: "That's our pal Sharpton, doing what Al does. He's whipping them up."
"He's never held a job," Fox analyst Dick Morris said.
In an interview with this pinhead, the host of the "O'Reilly Factor" says his job is to analyze the news. "I read Gore's speech [in advance] and there wasn't one thing in there that was new or groundbreaking," he says.
Most of the speeches are "propaganda," O'Reilly says. "The 'Factor' is not an infomercial. The decision was made to stick with the format, unless it's a dramatic situation."
But aren't conventions basically about speeches? Why come to Boston just to use the FleetCenter as a colorful backdrop?
"Am I, as a news analyst, to do what the parties want? That's ridiculous," says O'Reilly, who plans to cover the Republican convention the same way. "I have to make a decision on informing the audience that comes to the 'Factor' as best I can."
All the networks, of course, make editorial decisions to blow off what they view as lesser speeches in favor of their own anchors, correspondents and guests. And, of course, the talking heads like to talk.
Toward the end of Sharpton's speech, MSNBC broke away, with host Chris Matthews complaining that the reverend had gone on too long. "This is a partisan act here," he said. "We're taking him off the air." CNN has missed speeches by sticking with "Larry King Live." On Thursday, as MSNBC carried Sen. Joe Biden and Wesley Clark, CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Judy Woodruff and Jeff Greenfield were chatting, followed by an interview with Kerry campaign chief Mary Beth Cahill, while O'Reilly was interviewing Newt Gingrich and then Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
But Fox News Channel has been most wedded to its highly rated prime-time lineup. On Monday, it blew off Jimmy Carter, carrying just a few minutes of his speech, after which host Sean Hannity told conservative activist William Bennett: "I call this the reinvention convention. One of the things the Democrats want to do is create a false perception of who they are." Hannity later played the video of Heinz Kerry telling a reporter to "shove it."
Some Fox executives see this approach as counterprogramming, since the speeches are widely available elsewhere. They also believe that Kennedy and Gore, who have refused to appear on Fox in recent years, should hardly expect free airtime for their speeches. Gore has sharply criticized Fox as a conservative network.
Critics will have a hard time blaming Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes for this approach. The former Republican strategist had little involvement in the convention coverage here and plans to be on vacation when the Republicans convene next month in New York.
Hume, for one, thinks the networks should take a pass on the first three nights of these increasingly scripted and choreographed conventions.
"You could make a very good case for not being here until Thursday -- even for the cable channels," he says. "If we were inventing this from scratch and there was no history here, no tradition, no custom, we wouldn't design it this way. You wouldn't anchor from here, you just wouldn't. Nobody has quite had the stones to say let's call a halt here."
The 2008 convention planners should take note.
Footnote: Cable and PBS were the big winners in Boston. With ratings slipping for the broadcast networks as they scaled back their coverage, cable news more than doubled its viewership from 2000. CNN averaged 2.3 million viewers in prime time, up from 1.7 million four years ago. Fox finished second with 2.1 million (up from 400,000), followed by MSNBC with 1.3 million (up from 607,000). Meanwhile, Jim Lehrer's coverage averaged 2.9 million viewers for PBS, 23 percent higher than four years ago.
Kerry, for his part, proved a big draw, attracting more than 24 million viewers for his acceptance speech, compared to 21.6 million for Al Gore at the last convention.
When John Kerry announced John Edwards as his running mate, Time sent veteran White House photographer Diana Walker to take a series of behind-the-scenes pictures for the magazine.
Last Tuesday, Walker appeared in a Democratic film shown at the convention, singing the praises of Teresa Heinz Kerry. She spent the week in Boston and did interviews about Heinz Kerry that were set up by the senator's campaign.
Walker says that after a long career with Time she is now a freelance photographer, although she may do more campaign work for the magazine.
"I'm happy, proud and delighted to have the opportunity to talk about Teresa," whom she has known since the 1970s. "I'm free to talk about my close friend who happens to be the wife of the Democratic nominee." Walker says she is "very comfortable" that there is no conflict with her role as a photojournalist.
Other editors and photographers, however, say that competing shutterbugs are getting few backstage opportunities from the Kerry campaign. "It just seems unfair," says Pete Souza, a photographer with the Chicago Tribune, and magazine rivals "are very perturbed that the only real behind-the-scenes access is being given to a friend of Teresa Heinz Kerry."
"I don't have any control over what contributors do," says Time Managing Editor Jim Kelly. "If she was a full-time staff photographer, that would be a different matter." Kelly, noting that he picks the pictures, says when he sends Walker on a Kerry assignment, "she puts on her professional press hat."
Moved to New Address
Howell Raines made frequent appearances in The Washington Post's news columns when he was being ousted as the New York Times's top editor last year over the Jayson Blair fiasco. So what was his name doing on an op-ed piece in The Post last week, calling Republicans "the champion panderers in American politics"?
Despite Raines's quarter-century at The Post's archrival, "I reached out to him," says Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt. "My thinking was, he's a great writer and has a very interesting outlook on politics and a lot of experience covering politics. I said I'd be interested when he was inspired, and then he sent this piece."
Besides, jokes Hiatt, who is hoping for more contributions, "he lost his job as executive editor. I think he probably needs the $200."
Moving right along. . . . With the Democrats decamped from Boston, media attention is naturally swinging back to the Bush campaign. And the Bush crowd is sending a message, eagerly scooped up by the New York Times | http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/01/politics/campaign/01CAMP.html:
"President Bush's campaign plans to use the normally quiet month of August for a vigorous drive to undercut John Kerry by turning attention away from his record in Vietnam to what the campaign described as an undistinguished and left-leaning record in the Senate.
"Mr. Bush's advisers plan to cap the month at the Republican convention in New York, which they said would feature Mr. Kerry as an object of humor and calculated derision.
"The summer campaign plans described by aides to Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry, who is in the midst of a two-week cross-country bus tour, suggest that August is no longer the slow and sleepy month it once was in presidential campaigns. Campaign aides described the period this year as an opportunity to shift the dynamic for their campaigns, because the race is so tight and because voters appear to be paying attention to what is going on."
They must be serious, because Rove goes on the record:
" 'This gives us a chance to lay out an agenda, to tell people what he wants to do over the next four years,' said Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's senior political adviser. 'We need, as we go into the convention, to put more of an emphasis on our agenda. But we still need to explain the war on terror and we need to offer a contrast with Senator Kerry.'"
Contrast! Translation: More negative attacks.
The prez wasted no time:
"President Bush launched into an impassioned defense Saturday of gun-owner rights as he chastised what he said was Democratic nominee John Kerry's failure to understand heartland values," says the Chicago Tribune | http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/specials/elections/chi-0408010323aug01,1,7574545.story?coll=chi-electionsprint-hed. . . .
"Bush's comments came on the final day of a two-day return to the campaign trail after the Democratic National Convention, which ended Thursday. The president was continuing his 'Heart and Soul of America' tour, a monthlong string of thematic trips designed to mark a new chapter in the re-election battle.
"The aim, campaign strategists say, is to promote the incumbent's leadership and accomplishments while countering the unity the Democrats displayed for Kerry in Boston last week.
"By using a down-home appeal for votes in Midwest battleground states, Bush is attempting to return to the everyman style he exhibited in the 2000 campaign as he heads toward renomination at the Republican National Convention in New York late this month, aides said."
Teresa's speech drew plenty of negative reviews in the press, and now the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/2004/la-na-gender1aug01,1,5791414.story?coll=la-home-headlines says she may have a big bullseye painted on her ketchup-red convention dress:
"Teresa Heinz Kerry is a political wife unlike any this country has seen. But can she affect an election? Some think it's possible."
Of course, a reporter can always assert that "some think" anything, but never mind.
"An heiress to immense wealth after being widowed by a Republican senator from Pennsylvania and now married to another senator -- Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry -- the 65-year-old Heinz Kerry is a philanthropist who is foreign-born and unafraid to speak her mind. And as this year's fight for the White House enters its final months, she increasingly evokes curiosity and interest. Heinz Kerry's nationally televised speech at the Democratic National Convention was among the most anticipated moments of the four-day event. . . .
"Indeed, that notion has become a minor theme of the Kerry campaign. He made brief note of her outspokenness in his nomination acceptance speech Thursday. And on Saturday, in Greensburg, Pa., Kerry told a cheering crowd, 'Teresa, she speaks her mind, and she speaks the truth, and we love her for that.' For President Bush and his campaign, however, such references to Heinz Kerry may be welcome news. . . .
"Bush campaign advisor Mary Matalin said of Heinz Kerry: 'One thing is irrefutable -- she is a distraction. She's one of those polarizing people.' But Democratic pollster Celina Lake predicts Heinz Kerry will prove an asset to her husband's White House hopes, especially among single women."
Yesterday's umpteenth Tom Ridge Alert is impacting the campaigns, says the NYT | http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/02/politics/campaign/02campaign.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1091446588-VG05lAjud9An28WOZTvEBQ:
"John Kerry was supposed to spend Sunday traveling through small-town Ohio and Michigan, going to church and talking at rallies. But by afternoon, his campaign was also searching northern Ohio for a secure telephone line so Mr. Kerry could squeeze in a briefing on an issue that was overtaking the day: the terrorist threat announced in Washington.
"Three days after he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, Mr. Kerry, along with President Bush, received a bracing reminder about how the fear of another terrorist attack on American soil had shaped the contest and about how the most pivotal thing that could happen between now and Election Day was beyond the control of either campaign.
"Campaign aides said they could not recall a contest fought against such an uncertain and unsettling backdrop since 1968, when Richard M. Nixon and Hubert H. Humphrey battled as an increasingly bloody war was being waged in Vietnam, polarizing Americans at home."
But the former Democratic front-runner is skeptical, reports the New York Daily News | http://nydailynews.com/front/story/218254p-187724c.html:
"The nation's latest terrorism jitters had two former Democratic presidential candidates fighting yesterday over whether the Bush administration is playing politics with terrorism.
" 'I am concerned that every time something happens that's not good for President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism,' said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. 'It's just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there's some of both in it,' Dean told CNN's 'Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.'
"Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), speaking on the same program, said no one 'in their right mind would think the President or the secretary of homeland security would raise an alert level and scare people for political reasons. That's outrageous.' "
I wrote in The Washington Post | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A25845-2004Jul29.html the other day about how the media fixation on the bounce, or lack thereof, is both silly and simplistic. We're always fighting the last war. In this election, so much of the country has already taken sides between Bush and Kerry that there aren't that many undecided voters left to propel a bounce.
Nevertheless, Newsweek | http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5568072/site/newsweek/ has a new survey (which a couple of experts I talked to think was flawed) that sees a minimal bounce:
"Coming out of the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Sen. John Kerry now holds a seven-point lead over President George W. Bush (49 percent to 42 percent) in a three-way race with independent Ralph Nader (3 percent), according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll.
"The poll was taken over two nights, both before and after Kerry's acceptance speech. Respondents who were queried after Kerry's Thursday night speech gave the Democrat a ten-point lead over Bush. Three weeks ago, Kerry's lead was three points.
"Kerry's four-point 'bounce' is the smallest in the history of the NEWSWEEK poll. There are several factors that may have contributed to the limited surge, including the timing of the poll. On Thursday, Kerry had just a two-point lead over Bush (47 percent to 45 percent), suggesting that his Friday night speech had a significant impact. Additionally, Kerry's decision to announce his vice-presidential choice of John Edwards three weeks before the convention may have blunted the gathering's impact. And limited coverage by the three major networks also may have hurt Kerry."
Except that more Americans saw his convention speech than watched Gore's.
Atrios | http://atrios.blogspot.com/ disses the Newsweek poll:
"So, Kerry had a tiny bounce from the convention, a record small bounce, except, well, half of the poll was taken before he gave his speech, unlike all those other polls, and, okay, well, if you only include the part taken after the speech he got a really big bounce, but that's not the headline we want to write."
In a USA Today/CNN | http://www.usatoday.com/news/politicselections/nation/president/2004-08-01-poll-kerry_x.htm poll, Kerry may even have gotten a negative bounce, if the law of physics allows that:
"The Democratic National Convention boosted voters' perceptions of John Kerry's leadership on critical issues, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll finds. But it failed to give him the expected bump in the head-to-head race against President Bush."
Expected? Expected by who, the media?
"In the survey, taken Friday and Saturday, the Democratic ticket of Kerry and John Edwards trailed the Republican ticket of Bush and Dick Cheney 50% to 46% among likely voters, with independent candidate Ralph Nader at 2%.
Before the convention, the two were essentially tied, with Kerry at 47%, Bush at 46%.
"The change in support was within the poll's margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points in the sample of 763 likely voters. But it was nonetheless a stunning result, the first time in the Gallup Poll since the 1972 Democratic convention that a candidate seemed to lose ground at his convention."
If that's true. But it may be that Bush doesn't bounce much in New York either, rendering the conventions a wash. And here's why the normal bounce rules don't apply:
"Nearly nine of 10 voters say in the survey that they are confident they won't change their mind between now and the Nov. 2 election."