TV Coverage of the Conventions

After the first night of the DNC, it was clear the news network commentators were much more interested in listening to themselves talk, than listening to the speeches at the convention:

We’ve only seen one night of the Democratic convention, but already critics are chastising the broadcast networks for only covering one hour of the proceedings each evening.

On Monday, it was the missed opportunity to cover the tribute to, and speech by, Senator Ted Kennedy…NBC, ABC and CBS showed Senator Kennedy’s speech when they came on the air at 10 p.m. Eastern time, shortly after the address had ended.

The networks also failed to cover an important speech from Senator Kerry, as well as Republican-turned-Obama supporter Jim Leach.

So what happened the next week, when the GOP took its turn?

During their September 2 and September 3 coverage of the Republican National Convention, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News each dedicated more on-air time — significantly more in most cases — to speeches and other official Republican convention programming during the most-watched portions of their coverage than each channel dedicated to official convention programming during the same times on comparable nights of the Democratic National Convention one week earlier.

I had noticed this the first night, on MSNBC, as the speeches from the President (by video), his wife, Fred Thompson, and Joe Lieberman were covered completely in full. And according to Media Matters, I was correct:

MSNBC dedicated 1 hour, 19 minutes, 52 seconds to scheduled convention programming during the 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET hours of its September 2 Republican National Convention coverage; by contrast, MSNBC dedicated 56 minutes, 13 seconds to scheduled convention programming during the same hours during its August 25 coverage of the Democratic National Convention, and 59 minutes, 28 seconds during its August 26 coverage.

This is not to say that it’s “media bias” — I really don’t at all believe the media is ideologically for or against either party. I think the difference in coverage can be explained by two things. First, I am sure all the networks took heat from viewers for the coverage of the DNC. Then, to compensate, they made sure they adjusted their coverage the next week.

Second, this is, as always, about ratings and money. Rather than listening to the speeches, the news networks spent all their time creating the illusion of drama, about Hillary Clinton’s speech, about whether or not Bill Clinton would support Obama, and, most of all, overplaying the extent to which Hillary Clinton supporters would not support the nominee.

No drama up on the stage, in those boring speeches about the “issues” and “policies.” No, the drama could only be created on mic.

The RNC, on the other hand, had all its drama up on the stage.

Sarah Palin was picked for the VP slot just days before, and received a thorough vetting — by the blogs. And as scandal after scandal emerged, the real question, from the networks perspective, was, “How will the party react?” That is, how will the major players in the party bring this newcomer into the fold? How will they spin what could only be seen as a disasterous first few days of Palin’s candidacy into a positive?

The Sarah Palin phenomenon was so new, the pundits needed those speeches to fill in the gaps, and provide fodder for more commentary. (As opposed to Biden, for example, who was a known entity.)

One other final thought is that this is why “home field advantage” is important in politics. Having to go first at the conventions seems to be an incredible disadvantage, especially considering just how much these events are scripted, media-driven affairs.

The solution? Next time, watch them on CSPAN.


2 responses

  1. Hi Carlo,
    Great piece. Let’s watch them on CSPAN next time!
    Hope to catch up soon.

  2. Thanks, Jae!

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