Everything was in place to launch Clinton’s two-peat: A flurry of policy initiatives suggested the White House was trying to run up the score in the days before the convention. The president didn’t arrive in Chicago until Wednesday, instead letting Hillary, his own personal Jordanaire blazing her own political recovery, take the lead in suppressing serious dissension and orchestrate a self-serving love-in.
Ever the campaigner, Clinton is keenly aware that viewers will stay away until the president is scheduled to speak. Yet he knows how much mileage the train stops will get on newscasts.
Monday’s program clearly not as scripted or as smooth as the GOP show, yet hardly spontaneous was for real people, delivering sentimental messages with little political significance, though it was marred by an awkward welcome to the delegates by Hillary from outside the arena, and by an array of bland Dems.
Tuesday evening’s session, with its “Families First” theme, began with Aretha Franklin singing the anthem, the only decent entertainment caught on camera. (Earlier in the day, “The Star Spangled Banner” was butchered on a fiddle, the night before on a horn.) With unabashed nostalgia for the clear-cut liberalism of a bygone party, anchors and pundits lauded Jesse Jackson and Mario Cuomo. Although they shone in comparison to the majority of speakers, the scarcity of such oratorical skill could be why conventions are out of favor with television auds.
The three major webs limited themselves to one hour of primetime coverage Monday and Tuesday; NBC, as always, displayed the slickest production values. Their coups: scoring an interview with Al Gore on Monday and Maria Shriver getting to Hillary Clinton first after her speech Tuesday.
The Peacock presence was substantial and successful. In addition to MSNBC and CNBC, joint coverage with PBS between 8 and 10 p.m. played with distinction. PBS used a panel of historians and presented the most trenchant analysis. Tom Brokaw and Jim Lehrer passed the baton back and forth, with the NBC anchor making preliminary observations and a sleepy Lehrer moderating rarefied discussions with a series of observers who eagerly fed off one another.
The gang at ABC, particularly Peter Jennings and Jeff Greenfield, projected a sense of weariness and skepticism. Jennings’ aloofness might be responsible for millions of households tuning out. And veteran David Brinkley, covering his last convention, was downright cranky with Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd on Monday and nowhere to be seen Tuesday.
The status of pollsters continues to rise, with CNN’s pedantic Bill Schneider wearing many hats. CNN also fielded two young female analysts with fresh if partisan takes Republican pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick and Democrat Farai Chideya. Gene Randall of CNN wins the award for best floor reporter.
Thorough coverage, naturally, remains the bastion of C-SPAN. On Monday, it was the only place to catch delegates dancing the Macarena.