August 29, 2008

Networks Fail in Political Reality Coverage of Convention

By Dusty Saunders

The executives of the broadcasting networks should be embarrassed.

They failed to cover, live, a Monday night event that could be one of the defining moments of the Democratic National Convention.

At 7:15 p.m., Caroline Kennedy spoke in emotional terms about her uncle before introducing a 10-minute documentary tribute.

On cue, at 7:30 p.m., Sen. Ted Kennedy, fighting brain cancer, strolled onto the podium and amid cheers began an impassioned, cogent, 8-minute speech.

CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin called Kennedy's performance "an important moment in American political history."

An overstatement? Perhaps.

But I think even Sen. John McCain's supporters would agree Kennedy's appearance provided the jolt the Democratic Convention needed.

Millions of viewers saw Kennedy on PBS, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

Prime-time convention coverage on ABC, CBS and NBC began at 8 p.m. with the networks providing commentary and a tape replay.

But they failed to cover an important live event, which is what modern-day television is all about.

Do you think Charles Gibson, Katie Couric and Brian Williams were grinding their teeth in frustration?

The three broadcast networks determined months ago they would devote only a nightly hour (8 p.m. locally) to convention coverage unless something newsworthy happened. Such a philosophy has been in place since the 1996 conventions.

Well, something newsworthy happened while the networks were airing a sitcom rerun and so-called "reality" shows.

Reality was happening at the Pepsi Center.

Wouldn't it have been a gutsy, refreshing decision if CBS, for example, had interrupted How I Met Your Mother and then took viewers live to Denver?

And the networks wonder why other broadcasting venues and the Internet are making increasing inroads into their audience ratings.

The rest of the evening offered predictable opening-night convention viewing.

Prime time coverage began at 6 p.m. on cable and PBS.

If political junkies had active thumbs they saw numerous politicos and heard a lot of opinion.

CNN, MSNBC and PBS covered the live introduction to former President Jimmy Carter at 6:15 p.m. Not surprisingly, Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show stuck with its regular format, centering on an interview with correspondent Griff Jennings, who relived his Sunday conflict with demonstrators.

The 8 p.m. hour was mostly devoted to a profile of Michelle Obama, her speech and a satellite "family" visit from Kansas City by Barack Obama.

Originally published by Dusty Saunders, Rocky Mountain News.

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