Democrats Messages Come
Through Clear -- And Happy
By Ferrel Guillory
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
RALEIGH, N.C. Here in John Edwards home town, 712 miles from Bostons
Fleet Center, the central messages delivered at the podium on the first night
of the Democratic National Convention passed through the news-media filter with
hardly an adulteration.
The decision by the three commercial networks to limit prime-time coverage
to an hour has diminished reporting and commentary. The networks' decision has
several consequences. The Democrats received an hour to pack its most potent messengers
and messages. Thus, there were two kinds of journalism on commercial television
-- both inadequate. The cable networks and public broadcasting featured panels
of punditry of uneven quality. Public Broadcasting Service had a dual panel of
journalists and historians with sober analysis. The commercial cable networks
placed more emphasis on their own pundits than the views of the real-life politicians
around them in the convention hall.
On network and local television and in newspapers across the South, interested
citizens heard clearly what big-time Democrats vouched for in their 2004 nominee
John Kerry: He possessed courage and judgment forged in battle in Vietnam, and
his priorities contrasted sharply with those of the incumbent Republican administration.
Partys Stars Embrace Ticket, said the headline of the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution. Democrats looked so uncharacteristically harmonious
and disciplined that they almost seemed like Republicans as they aimed
mostly at moderate swing voters, reported Adam C. Smith, the political editor
of the St. Petersburg Times.
The networks could hardly take their cameras off the proceedings featuring
former President Jimmy Carter, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President
Bill Clinton, as well as a haunting rendition of Amazing Grace
by a 16-year-old violin soloist. Thus, there was little time for celebrity anchors
and even less for the reporters dispersed through the convention hall.
Clintons speech ended at just about 11 p.m., the time for local news
programs on the East Coast to break in. The networks had just a few moments to
dissect and analyze the former presidents performance. NBCs Tim Russert
noted that Clinton had pointed to himself as among the wealthy who received Bush-inspired
tax cuts and as among those who had avoided military service in Vietnam. Russert
proclaimed it a very clever speech.
Barely had Clinton finished waving to the crowd when WRAL-TV, a CBS affiliate
and the top-rated station in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., market, broadcast a live
report from its chief anchor, David Crabtree. Stationed near the North Carolina
delegation on the Fleet Center floor, he quickly interviewed three Democrats,
including state party chair Barbara Allen. Not surprisingly, they hailed Clintons
message. Delicately alluding to Clintons sexual dalliance in office, Allen
added that, while many Democrats didnt like what he [Clinton] did
personally, the country was better off under his
eight years in the White House.
WRALs chief competitor station, Durham-based ABC affiliate WTVD-TV, broadcast
a more generic report, focusing on the Clinton speech. WTVD-TV's report also included
the comment that the convention promised four nights of party unity and
Aside from vouching for Kerry, two additional messages have swept through the
news coverage of the convention:
-- Boston has so many bomb-sniffing dogs and so much chain-link fence that
the site is just short of an armed camp.
-- Despite the heavy security, delegates are having a splendid time.
This is especially so for the North Carolina delegation. As a result of Kerrys
choosing Edwards as his running mate, the state's delegation now has prime front-of-the-hall
seats -- a development much remarked upon in the states news media. N.C.
Delegates Getting First-Class Treatment, said a headline in the Winston-Salem
The News & Observer, the newspaper delivered to Edwards Raleigh home
each morning, had two front-page stories focusing equally on the convention proceedings
and the senators preparation for his speech on Wednesday accepting the vice
North Carolina newspapers and TV stations have noted an ancillary development:
That Democratic Gov. Mike Easley and Democratic Senate candidate Erskine Bowles,
both facing election campaigns this year in a state that has voted Republican
in every presidential race since 1976, have remained in North Carolina rather
than join in the festivities in Boston -- fearing the dreaded Massachusetts-liberal
Ferrel Guillory is director
of the Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life at the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill and former editorial page editor of the News &