PHILADELPHIA — Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart mocked the media and public-interest groups bashed them as the 37th Republican Convention moved into full swing Monday with parties galore, golf outings and even a fishing trip with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (the last only if you’ve given the party at least $250,000).
Stewart and a team of phony correspondents laid out their convention coverage plans at a surprisingly well-attended morning press conference, handing out Altoid tins that read “Liberty and Fresh Breath for All.”
“Our message, of course, is always don’t vote. But then again, our demo is 16, so they shouldn’t vote,” said “The Daily Show” host. “We’re a fake news organization and this is a fake news event. So I think we’re the only people who should be here.”
He urged reporters to head to a zoning committee meeting in nearby Bucks County. “It’s always been about zoning,” he intoned, then plugged the net’s profile of George W. Bush, “From Wealth to Riches.”
Bob Dole and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich are serving as special correspondents for Comedy Central, which is banking that if it makes this four-day GOP snoozefest funny, people will watch.
The net’s decision comes as interest groups slammed broadcast networks for devoting scant time to the political process, leaving the field to cable and the Internet.
That was one theme at the upstart Shadow Convention, running alongside the real one at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center. Speakers and panelists at the protest event griped about campaign financing that favors a wealthy minority and cuts a big swath of the population out of the political process, while filling the coffers of television stations and networks with ad dollars.
“More than half the money goes to your friendly, local TV station — the profiteer of democracy,” claimed Paul Taylor, a former Washington Post reporter and head of Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Better Campaigns. At the same time, he insisted, broadcasters “have decided that politics and democracy are a ratings loser” and are cutting back coverage. He said the nets are making these decisions about public airwaves that he called “the most valuable things we collectively own.”
TV networks acknowledge that they are giving the political conventions, at least, less and less airtime, but some execs say they can’t be blamed if the events themselves have turned into newsless formalities.
Getting out message
For the GOP, however, the coverage it gets this week could be crucial as the party seeks to refine its image as all-inclusive with its mantra of compassionate conservatism. RNC chairman Jim Nicholson hosted a party for Teamsters chief James Hoffa Jr. Monday. (Republicans and unions don’t honor each other much.)
J.C. Watts, the only high-ranking black Republican in Congress, is ubiquitous here in Philadelphia. Retired Gen. Colin Powell was to speak Monday night about community service, and Texas first lady Laura Bush will weigh in on literacy. Today, Elizabeth Dole discusses “the principle of strength through compassion.”
The highest-profile speakers don’t get started until after 10 most nights after a parade of community activists and common folk with stories to tell.
Celebrities remain scarce. Republican and NRA stalwart Charlton Heston apparently isn’t attending the convention, although Bruce Willis could pop up. Several delegates said they were anticipating Bo Derek tonight as well as WWF celebrity the Rock, who will introduce Speaker Hastert on Wednesday.
Even without Hollywood, the Republicans, as usual, are managing to raise quite some cash with more than 474 parties, including lots of fundraisers. A luncheon gala planned for Wednesday honoring candidate Bush will bring in upward of $5 million. The convention cost an estimated $60 million.
Much of the tab comes from transportation, as the city hired several hundred tour buses to move delegates, security and press from often far-flung hotels to the convention center off I-95 in South Philadelphia. An army of several hundred more golf carts carries attendees around the stadium’s periphery. Protesters are gathered in a field off to one side.
Buses shuttle back and forth between the convention — at the Comcast First Union Center — and the Pennsylvania Convention Center. After half a day of confusion, people realized that’s the place to go for various events and GOP pins, bumper stickers, stuffed elephants and other merchandise, which is all fairly tame this time around. An exhibit called Political Fest features a model of Air Force One and a replica of the President’s desk in front of an Oval Office backdrop. “Give a speech, sign a bill, and run the country. All in one afternoon,” reads an ad.
For those who’ve never been invited to the Lincoln Bedroom, there’s a tiny model of it there.
The convention center itself is decked out with banners and balloons, with delegates in chairs on the convention floor and organized by states. The Shadow Convention, which claims that the two parties have grown disturbingly similar and neither addresses the country’s pressing issues, mimicked the set up, with standards reading Disappointed and Call To Renewal instead of the names of states.
Outside, streams of police on bicycles patrol the downtown streets and face down the occasional demonstration. Protests so far haven’t been as large or as violent as some had feared.