Anybody remember when political conventions used to be the biggest events in politics? All the networks used to pre-empt their entire evening schedules for the duration of political conventions, and people watched the wall-to-wall coverage for hours every night. (We didn't have too many other channels to watch.) Even in those days, of course, there was often a lot of down time and boring speeches, and sometimes the reporters were hard-pressed to come up with actual news. But at least reporters were swarming all over the floor and the back rooms, trying to find stories. I remember watching as a child of 10 when John Chancellor was ejected from the floor of the Republican convention in 1964. The incident made Chancellor famous. And who can ever forget the drama of 1968 in Chicago, when reporters were swept up in the mayhem?
Times have changed, and conventions are not the events they used to be. Political conventions are now more like giant infomercials for the political parties, and therefore do not deserve the coverage that they once got. But sometimes actual news takes place at political conventions. And TV viewers are not well served merely by being shown a bunch of political reporters sitting around in a studio and analyzing the speeches. Wouldn't it be nice if the news organizations made at least a token effort to get their reporters around a little more to dig out whatever real news is taking place?
And when there is an actual event, such as last night when some convention-goers apparently threw nuts at a black CNN camerawoman, telling her "this is how we feed animals," wouldn't you think that CNN, at least, would be highlighting a story involving one of its own people? Instead, they have given the story minimal coverage. I can understand how the parties want to cover up any unpleasantness at their respective conventions. They have learned from the past that scenes of confrontation do not reflect well on their brands, and damage their chances in the fall election. But why would the news media become complicit in this effort to cover up any conflicts or negativity?
Look at Joe Scarborough and Tom Brokaw (and really, Tom Brokaw should know better) on Scarborough's show earlier this week tut-tutting Chris Matthews' suggestion that the Romney campaign is making appeals to racism. It's almost as if they are afraid to offend the Republican party brass by making any impolite suggestions about what is going on within their party. And look at the restrained coverage of the huge fight that broke out yesterday over the seating of Ron Paul delegates. This is the kind of thing that used to get gigantic play in tv coverage of political conventions, especially during the Democratic conventions in the civil rights era, when there were enormous battles over the composition of delegations from Southern states.
There is a stereotyped view of the Republican party, that these are respectable people who manage their differences well, and get their message together in a harmonious way; as opposed to the fractious Democratic party, which always seems to air its differences in public. We ought to re-examine whether that stereotype has outlived its usefulness. We ought not to buy into Republican leaders' desire to minimize their differences, and pretend that prejudice and other forms of ugliness do not exist among the Republican party faithful. There are important battles and undercurrents going on in the Republican party right now. We don't need to sensationalize them. But we really shouldn't sweep them under the rug either.
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