August 28, 2008
Timing Helps Get Networks to Tune in for Nomination
NEW YORK (AP) -- A carefully timed roll call and a sudden recognition of history may prove to be a turning point for Democrats at a convention that hadn't been going well for them as a television event.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's move to proclaim rival Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee for president came at a crucial time, when ABC, CBS and NBC were in the midst of their evening newscasts. All three newscasts carried the event live on the East Coast.
Almost immediately, network anchors and pundits -- tipped off by some of the genuine emotion they saw in the room -- took a step back to recognize the historical import of a black man being nominated for president by a major party.
"However it turns out and however you feel about his candidacy," this is a moment "about America finally beginning to come to grips with the complexity of the racial issues that have bedeviled us for so long," NBC's Tom Brokaw said. "This is a huge step. This is a generational step."
"The word 'history' gets thrown around and it's used rather loosely," said ABC's Charles Gibson. "But in this instance it truly is."
It was a perspective largely missing during the first two nights. On Tuesday, most television coverage had been singularly focused on what Clinton would say when she addressed the convention, to the exclusion of messages delivered by any other speaker about Obama's upcoming campaign against Republican John McCain. When she was done, the analysis focused on whether or not Clinton had healed the rift between her supporters and Obama's.
Political strategist and CNN commentator James Carville had bristled Monday, saying Democrats had essentially wasted the first night of the convention. "If this party has a message, it's done a hell of a job of hiding it tonight," Carville said.
Again, the news networks focused on a couple of events Wednesday almost to the exclusion of anything else -- in this case speeches by former President Bill Clinton and vice presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Fox News Channel and MSNBC essentially ignored a speech by 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry -- remember him? Fox's Sean Hannity was debating 1988 Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis while Kerry was speaking in the background.
Clinton's speech was called a "home run" by CBS' Bob Schieffer, while Fox News Channel analyst Charles Krauthammer reached for another sports comparison for grudging praise.
"It was like watching Muhammad Ali come out of retirement," he said.
With eyes on the clock again, Biden finished his speech about five minutes before the broadcast networks were to go off the air. It was just enough time for Obama to stroll on stage, work up the crowd, and remind viewers he'd be back for his own acceptance speech tonight.
Same time, same channels.
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